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A Tale of Two Conferences

Computer keyboard

In my last article, Cats and Dogs Blogging Together, I said there are two species of blogger: career bloggers and hobbyist bloggers. The North American Wine Bloggers’ Conferences could serve each type of blogger better by acknowledging the differences and playing to those differences rather than continuing the current “one size fits all” strategy. Below are my specific proposals. I welcome your comments on them.

WBC currently has two classes of attendee: Citizen Blogger ($95 fee) and Industry Blogger ($295). Like Career Bloggers, Industry Bloggers make their living through the wine industry. However, most Industry Bloggers are employed by a particular winery or reseller so their focus is on promoting that employer rather than exploring and writing about a wide range of wineries and topics. I suggest creating a new category, specifically for Career Bloggers, with a $195 fee and maximum attendance of 50.

The higher fee will do three things. It will discourage Citizen Bloggers from signing up under that category. It will make them feel a little better about the exclusivity of Career Blogger activities. It will also subsidize those activities, allowing certain aspects to be upgraded, enabling a lower fee structure that might allow small producers to participate, and/or paying an honorarium to one or two speakers. Careful vetting of Career Blogger registrants will help ensure people sign up in the appropriate category.

Limiting the number of Career Blogger tickets will allow for quieter, more focused sessions, use of smaller rooms/wineries, easier transport for off-site events, and pouring lower production and/or more expensive wines. It will make networking between like-minded bloggers easier. Grouping attendees in this way may also introduce new sponsorship opportunities.

Attendee badges would be color-coded to easily differentiate between categories. There should still be events which all bloggers attend jointly, but several each day would be designated for Career Bloggers only. Industry Bloggers could attend those events but, for planning purposes, would need to register for each such event prior to the conference.

Career Bloggers should leave WBC with deep knowledge of the host area’s terroir, history, wine styles and place in the market. This would be achieved through detailed seminars, extensive tastings and multiple excursions. Seminars should be focused, deliver on their title’s promise and emphasize education over entertainment. Q&A with winemakers and growers is essential.

No regional seminars or AVA-wide tastings should be held concurrently with each other. Some excursions might. Details on excursions should be disclosed well before the conference though, and attendees given the opportunity to choose their destinations—no mystery tours.

Seminars, workshops and tastings not focused on the host region are also important. Topics might be very similar to those already offered, such as consumer research, the business of blogging, writing workshops, tasting techniques and tutorials on media, web tools, etc. Tastings from non-host regions should deliver educationally and feature high-quality—or, at least, very representative—wines. All sessions should be led by very well-prepared moderators and panelists. Most sessions ought to be interactive. There shouldn’t be more than two such seminars running concurrently.

There should be no tasting of wines that come in bags, boxes or “paks.” Ideally, unless it’s a truly amazing value, there should be no tasting of wine that retails for less than $10. There could still be sessions where winemakers move from one small group of bloggers to the next. But each segment should be 10 minutes long, to allow for questions, and the groups of bloggers ought to be well separated so noise isn’t an issue. If sweet or fortified wines will be poured, each blogger needs two glasses so that one wine doesn’t color the next.

Removing some of the detailed and/or career-oriented components from the main WBC curriculum will allow for more events that Hobbyist Bloggers really enjoy. Add a third Live Blogging session. Add sessions where Hobbyist Bloggers interact with each other more, perhaps talking about what’s going on in their home regions.

I realize pulling all this off successfully will require more work. And I’d also recommend having a separate advisory board just for the Career Blogger segment. In the end though, I think WBC will be better for the new structure and might recapture some of those career bloggers who are abandoning it.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. The Wine Bloggers Conference logo is the property of Zephyr Adventures. The photo of typing is in the public domain. All rights reserved.

Comments   

Becca Academic Wino
#1 Becca Academic Wino 2014-07-29 17:18
I completely support the idea of a separate "Career Bloggers" category. I find myself in that category, and have been somewhat disappointed in the content (or lack-thereof?) aimed to those looking for something more in-depth.

If I can be of help at all in planning/puttin g together/etc of this sort of thing, please feel free to contact me.
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Melanie Ofenloch
#2 Melanie Ofenloch 2014-07-29 18:48
Fred, while I do have a "full time" career in addition to blogging, this is exactly the type of conference that I would pay for and actively participate in. You may want to also consider another level (for maybe an additional fee) for people like me who actively contribute to their blog but do have a full time gig.
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Fred Swan
#3 Fred Swan 2014-07-29 19:17
Thank you both for your comments.

Melanie, nobody—literall y nobody—is making enough money to feed a family solely from their personal wine blog. Everybody has either a part- or full-time job. The term "career blogger" is aspirational, not actual. And you would certainly qualify.
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Marcy Gordon
#4 Marcy Gordon 2014-07-29 19:30
This is very similar to what I suggested in my post for offering a soluting for “fixing” the writer workshop. Panelists/speak ers need to be paid to properly prepare and spend the time to create and deliver quality content.-- tinyurl.com/nfrrvno

I would galdly pay more for a higher quality of content and a “career blogger” track although I'm not sure I would call myself that. But I am interested in a deeper exploration of the region in which the conference is held.

Thanks Fred-- I hope the powers that be pay attention to this.
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Doug Wilder
#5 Doug Wilder 2014-07-29 21:03
Quoting Marcy Gordon:
Panelists/speakers need to be paid to properly prepare and spend the time to create and deliver quality content.-- tinyurl.com/nfrrvno

I would galdly pay more for a higher quality of content and a “career blogger” track although


Maybe getting Joe Roberts a bigger battery is a good place to start! :)
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Tom Natan
#6 Tom Natan 2014-07-29 21:58
I like this idea a lot -- although as someone who is an industry blogger I'd love to go to the career blogger sessions myself.
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winebratsf
#7 winebratsf 2014-07-30 02:02
Fred,
while I respect you immensely I think this might be going too far to the otherside.

I have often advocated the return of the "track" - which we had in Walla Walla and frankly, I thought was successful.

This is a format that is often used in the MANY technical conferences I attend each year
-New Bloggers
-Experienced Blogger
-Professional Blogger/Writer
-Industry

This would not only allow us to have more sessions, they would be clearly marked and defined for those of us who want more serious content or a more in depth look at, let's say Wordpress. Using that example, those that attended the WP session said it was great - for a new blogger. I however, would have greatly valued a Wordpress for Smarties session, which would give me more insights in to how I could bring it to the next level (as a non coder).

My concern with the somewhat exclusionary approach to the citizen vs career blogging nomenclacher is that it would feed the beast that has developed with TasteCamp and the other exclusive, elitist and downright nasty events and talk that occur surrounding WBC and those that choose to attend it.

The LAST thing we should do is create more animosity.
Bringing back the focus on the blogging, and the wine, would do a lot to smooth the ruffles.

iMO, though I didn't attend either of the panels that caused some of the noise, having better dialouge with the bloggers is mandatory. Right now, a one stop survey of "would you like this" is not getting to the level of info that the organizers need. To create good content, sessions need to be clearly defined as Print Writers critiquing Bloggers or Print Writers talk about Tasting. Not to harp on those two points but some of the pain could have been avoiding by selecting different panelists. That is a clear communication issue . A simple question of "do you want print writers to review your work or successful bloggers to review your work" and then making that obvious would have been a huge improvement.

As someone who straddles citizen and industry, I want to bridge the gap, not cut the rope.

Cheers!
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winebratsf
#8 winebratsf 2014-07-30 02:08
Quoting Doug Wilder:
[quote name="Marcy Gordon"]Panelists/speakers need to be paid to properly prepare and spend the time to create and deliver quality content.-- tinyurl.com/nfrrvno

I would galdly pay more for a higher quality of content and a “career blogger” track although


Agreed! I don't think it makes ANY sense to be charging $95 at this point. I pay $750 at a min for tech conferences; I consider this as an adjunct to my business at this point and given that DWCC is 450 EUROS I think that bloggers who are serious would happily pay $200.

Case in point: In PDX (my WORST rated WBC by FAR) was overrun by "citizen" bloggers who never blogged, haven't blogged in a year, or have something that perhaps in 1999 qualified as a blog.

As a result, WBC12 was overrun by people who did not know what a spit bucket was for, didn't attend a single session, and were otherwise obnoxious and presented bloggers in a very poor light.

In contrast: WBC13, being physcially remote, drastically reduced the number of attendees. People that really CARED attended. Great attention was given to CONTENT.
I would have been happy to fork over for that experience to be replicated.
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Alana Gentry
#9 Alana Gentry 2014-07-30 02:08
Right on. Zephyr doing this? I have little hope and you know I'm a positive person. So I'm totally into Plan B, your outline of what pros want is perfect. I will support you and others who want to do this.
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Fred Swan
#10 Fred Swan 2014-07-30 02:54
Thea, thank you very much for your extensive comments. I understand what you're saying. Mostly anyway. I've never been to TasteCamp and don't know anything about it.

My worries though are
a) that raising the price across the board and/or cutting overall attendance may cause the organizers concern with respect to getting sponsorship/adm issions revenue

b) that some types of events can only work with small groups—50 people at the very most.

c) that without serious changes, there won't be enough "career bloggers" attending to make panels directed at them worthwhile.
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David Honig
#11 David Honig 2014-07-30 03:07
Hear! Hear!

I could not agree more.

My time is far more valuable than my money. As much as I love a party, I can't spend five or six days (travel to and from, plus the conference) to attend a "speed tasting" with people who can't wait to tweet symphonic about the acidified "white blend" and the oak powdered "California Cab," just so they can see their own name up on the screen. I spend more of my time embarrassed about the state of wine blogging than I spend learning or doing business. I skipped the last two, and unless there are some changes, plan on making it three in a row.
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Allan Wright
#12 Allan Wright 2014-07-30 03:19
Fred, you never actually define what a "career blogger" is. As was pointed out, it isn't someone making a career from blogging, since we have few of those. How would you define it?

After the 2011 conference in Virginia, we had strong feedback saying there were too many industry folks and not enough Citizen Bloggers. So we raised the price of the non-Citizen Blogger categories. Now some seem to be saying there are too many Citizen Bloggers? Keep in mind the whole point of blogging is that anyone can choose to blog and that we do require "three current blog posts" to qualify for a reduced rate.

We at Zephyr constantly strive to change and improve the Wine Bloggers Conference via our post-con surveys, the annual improvement plan we create, and our advisory board's involvement. We rarely make changes based on one person's opinion, since someone else will always have the opposite opinion. Every attendee has my email address and you are all always free to email me with suggestions you want to make sure I see.

Allan
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winebratsf
#13 winebratsf 2014-07-30 03:29
Quoting Fred Swan:
Thea, thank you very much for your extensive comments. I understand what you're saying. Mostly anyway. I've never been to TasteCamp and don't know anything about it.


Which is part of my issue with that particular event, and concern with any other exclusionary type event.

But to address your points:

a) my point of view comes from the basis that quality vs quantity will garner BETTER sponsors and no more... thieving wine if you know what I mean.

b) agreed. Perhaps, it's time to add Value Add sessions instead / in addition to excursions. I'd much rather pay $100 for an additional day of great content; they actually do this at the wine tourism conference and it works.

c) That is very true.
However, I don't think that the organizers are going to get that message until a mass exodus of the old guard occurs.

So the key is, then, to poll the people that have NOT attended in recent years and find out why. For us, that matters. I'm not entirely convinced that it matters to the powers that be however as there has NEVER been an exit poll to determine why people didn't return.

While Zephyr has a point that you can't please all of the people, you can certainly tailor who your audience is. Your point about limited wines poured to the local area / quality is a good one. However, that takes the cooperation and money of the region - something that has consistently been a challenge.

There is no simple solution.
A little of this, a bit of that. Some fairy dust. Opening the eyes of the powers that be. Not an easy task, nor is organizing any conference. Of course, if you had organizers that were professional conference organizers on purpose and not by default...
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winebratsf
#14 winebratsf 2014-07-30 03:36
Quoting Allan Wright:
Fred, you never actually define what a "career blogger" is. As was pointed out, it isn't someone making a career from blogging, since we have few of those. How would you define it?

After the 2011 conference in Virginia, we had strong feedback saying there were too many industry folks and not enough Citizen Bloggers. So we raised the price of the non-Citizen Blogger categories. Now some seem to be saying there are too many Citizen Bloggers? Keep in mind the whole point of blogging is that anyone can choose to blog and that we do require "three current blog posts" to qualify for a reduced rate.

We at Zephyr constantly strive to change and improve the Wine Bloggers Conference via our post-con surveys, the annual improvement plan we create, and our advisory board's involvement. We rarely make changes based on one person's opinion, since someone else will always have the opposite opinion. Every attendee has my email address and you are all always free to email me with suggestions you want to make sure I see.

Allan


So who is saying there are too many citizen bloggers?
It is the BLOGGERS conference after all.
I'm curious.

I think Fred's point is that there are really varying degrees of dedication to our blogs. We ALL have day jobs, obviously, since we like to eat BUT - some of us are more interested in education and interaction vs what we drank last week.

I know for a fact that some bloggers in past conferences were not vetted and just popped up a blog and were "citizen" bloggers. That has been a huge issue. Maybe it's time to review the vetting process for the citizen blogger rate?

There is no ONE solution we're just trying to come up with some creative ideas to polish the silver here.
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Fred Swan
#15 Fred Swan 2014-07-30 03:46
Allan, thank you for reading and for your comments and questions. I defined "career blogger" but it was in the previous article. It's essentially someone who is, or intends to, make their living in the wine industry and sees their blog as an important component of that. So, it's somewhat aspirational but also implies a certain seriousness and the awareness that everything they do or write has an impact on their perception within the industry.

I am not concerned about the number of Citizen Bloggers and I think Thea's concern is that some in Portland were bloggers in name only. They were just there for the party. I know Zephyr did some vetting this year and I think it was pretty effective.

I'm confident that Zephyr can succeed in doing whatever you decide is right for your company and customers (eg. bloggers and sponsors). I also appreciate your solicitation of feedback. My concern in that respect isn't with Zephyr, but with fact that career bloggers are very much a minority and that many of them have turned away from WBC and no longer provide feedback.

Unlike most Citizen Bloggers who mostly just go to WBC and local wine events, Career Bloggers have access/invitati ons to many conferences and readily skip anything they don't find compelling. I think WBC and Citizen Bloggers will benefit from having more Career Bloggers in attendance.
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winebratsf
#16 winebratsf 2014-07-30 03:50
Well said Fred.

Where is the LIKE button? :-)
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WineWonkette
#17 WineWonkette 2014-07-30 06:13
Quote:
Unlike most Citizen Bloggers who mostly just go to WBC and local wine events, Career Bloggers have access/invitations to many conferences and readily skip anything they don't find compelling. I think WBC and Citizen Bloggers will benefit from having more Career Bloggers in attendance.
I fall into the "Career Blogger" category if defined that way, I receive numerous invitations that I can pick through, but I have a full-time career doing something else entirely. I like to think a have a career and a half. I'm looking for in-depth events where adults are treated like professionals. But I don't have a wine industry career, yet anyway.

The best, hands-down event I went to in Buelleton wasn't part of WBC, it was the Santa Barbara wine seminar at Star Lane Winery prior to the start of the WBC.


I want to learn about wine regions, AVAs, wine and the farming and the science behind it. I don't need countless after-parties and being over-served to do so (which is why you rarely see me at the WBC late night events). There is a time and place for that, but to me, that's not the responsibility of WBC -- there are hospitality suites for that sort of thing.

I would be willing to pay more for in-depth quality content, but I also think that bloggers learn from each other, and a pure "elementary" "Middle school" and "university" tract (for lack of a better analogy) loses some of that.

I do agree with you Fred, that Regional/Terroi r seminars shouldn't be an either/or time slot. I find myself wanting to attend 2 or 3 breakouts that happen at the same time, and none of some of those in other time slots. More interaction with winemakers is a definite plus -- and I prefer dialogue vs lecture format.

When I have attended or planned professional conferences, they tend to have the SAME breakout scheduled in back-to-back sessions, in the same room, so 1) you don't have to chase people out to flip the room for something else and
2) so a person looking to focus on one particular area doesn't have to choose between a regional or AVA seminar to the exclusion of another.

While it's fun and challenging to see how quickly you can taste and comment on a wine, I also give a huge thumbs up to idea to trade speed tasting for an extended tasting with 10-minutes per wine/winemaker with no bag, box or paks, and take the focus of tweeting/live blogging out of it.

In addition, the "blog about the conference" requirement for the published rate of attending a conference is a ridiculous notion, and I cannot say it any other way. If I then have to disclose "I am required to do this," per FTC nonsense, it just makes me look like a shill, damaging my credibility with my readers. Provide me with quality content, and perhaps do not schedule every single minute of my time, and I will blog about it. But "quid pro quo" to attend is throwing all those countless ethics seminars right out the window. I don't trade reviews for samples, and I don't trade publicity to be able to attend a conference at the same rate I have attended every year.

Finally, when I worked in executive and higher education and planned events for professionals, we were constantly requesting feedback that we considered carefully, and looked to see how we could improve and work toward incorporate suggestions in the next go-around.

Because the attendees and participants were our consumers, we took them seriously and theirs were the opinions in which we were most interested. We provided survey sheets after EVERY event, which we carefully considered, appreciated and took under advisement.

We did not get defensive, treat those providing constructive criticism as if they were "loud" or "noisy" ingrates or chastise them for addressing issues of concern. We looked at as a opportunity to improve. When regular attendees spend money and time to travel to a conference and give you feedback it's a gift. If we did not care about the event, we would simply stop coming and you would never hear from us again. It's all well and good to get new bloggers each year. But you cannot sustain a community on that. A conference must work hard to retain those folks who want to learn, while at the same time creating an environment where you attract new participants.

Conferences like what you are describing need a dedicated team to plan, conduct, evaluate, re-vamp and plan again every year so that the conference continues to thrive and grow.
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Fred Swan
#18 Fred Swan 2014-07-30 07:25
Amy and Thea, thank you both for your detailed responses. I really appreciate the time and thought you put into them.
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Allan Wright
#19 Allan Wright 2014-07-30 14:49
Love the idea of a survey of people who attended previously but have not attended in the past two years. Of course, geography, a declining interest in blogging, and simply having new goals are all probable reasons but for those who think the WBC isn't serving their needs, this could be valuable. We'll do that.
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WineWonkette
#20 WineWonkette 2014-07-30 22:26
One more idea for surveys after each panel, tasting, excursion or event.(When we did conferences, we also had survey sheets after every single event collected. It helps gets immediate impressions from the participants. )

To increase participation: you could have one drawn from each session (the could be numbered for anonymity or have names) to win a bottle of wine, and then draw from ALL of them for a grand prize - like a mixed half case from the producers. That might get people to provide more feedback.
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winebratsf
#21 winebratsf 2014-07-30 22:44
Quoting WineWonkette:
One more idea for surveys after each panel, tasting, excursion or event.(When we did conferences, we also had survey sheets after every single event collected. It helps gets immediate impressions from the participants. )


that is so true. All of my conferences do that too; the surveys are built ahead of time, and the URLs are released at the end of the session. Yes, I fill out more surveys if I am interested in the content but also if there is a prize ;-)
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Jen Massey
#22 Jen Massey 2014-07-30 22:54
Fred, I just caught up with the chain of comments, and I like the overall tone today, the thoughts expressed. And note: I, like others have mentioned, would willingly pay more for a quality conference, and also pay for special events like the Star Lane Ranch/SF Wine School event (it really was the highlight event of the entire conference).
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Bethany Harpur
#23 Bethany Harpur 2014-07-31 03:15
Quote:
WBC13, being physcially remote, drastically reduced the number of attendees. People that really CARED attended. Great attention was given to CONTENT. I would have been happy to fork over for that experience to be replicated.
WBC13 (Penticton) was my first WBC, and I was floored by the professionalism , in-depth sessions and *really*fun*exc ursions* that were offered. I also appreciated the broad range of bloggers/writer s/etc from the seasoned professional to the total noob. Everyone had something to learn and to contribute to.

I do agree that there should be options for a more focussed stream/detailed sessions, but not at the cost of alienating new(er) and "amateur" bloggers who might not be considered part of the career crowd. Just MHO.
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winebratsf
#24 winebratsf 2014-07-31 18:24
So the question is then Bethany, would you be willing to pay more / have additional days as add ons, to achieve this balance?

Clearly it's possible as we've seen it in Penticton. But getting those results requires some changes. We just need to figure out what those are, without making it remote or exclusionary.

We KNOW that this can be a very successful conference for everyone; we've seen it. Now, we have to act on it.
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pullthatcork
#25 pullthatcork 2014-07-31 21:41
I was unable to attend the 2014 WBC however I did attend the previous two and plan on WBC 15. I have a full time career while my wife, who does most of the writing, is retired and makes a full time unpaid job out of blogging. She also has her CWS and I have no doubt I could easily pass the test with a little studying. We are deeply interested in the more technical aspects of wine growing, wine making and wine tasting. We travel to wine regions in the US and other countries at our own expense to learn what makes their wines unique. We just returned from South Africa where we visited many wineries and spent a significant amount of time with the farm manager and the winemaker at a biodynamic winery.

While saying you are not disparaging “citizen bloggers” I believe you inadvertently do. You seem to imply they are more interested in drinking than learning about wine and wine regions, etc.

Why not up everyones game and assume we all have a thirst for more knowledge. Raise the technical quality of all of the seminars and let everyone learn more. Don’t assume we aren’t interested just because we don’t have a career in the wine industry or didn’t have one to launch us as a “career blogger”.
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Fred Swan
#26 Fred Swan 2014-08-04 06:09
Pull, I'm really not disparaging non-"career bloggers," nor am I making assumptions. I've been to five of the conferences now, have spoken with many bloggers, the organizers, members of their advisory board, etc.

I freely admit that it's difficult to cleave a clean line between two camps of bloggers. Reality is not black and white. I also admit that my term "career blogger" may not be the best. If you read my previous article, or my comments above, you'll know I see that group as having a common mindset which does seek to learn deeply about wine, regions, etc. It sounds like that describes you. Welcome!

It's an actual fact though, not an assumption, that the majority of attendees are not in that camp. It's clear from survey responses, attendance at the more technical seminars and comments I hear from people saying they aren't at all interested in certifications, deep dives into regions, hearing stories from winemakers, etc. I've even read blog posts to that effect.
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pullthatcork
#27 pullthatcork 2014-08-04 22:34
Thanks for the clarification Fred. We both would like to see more in depth information. I'll have to agree with your comments and would be willing to pay the extra for the more in depth sessions.

I'll have to admit not discussing the sessions with other bloggers at the WBC's that I have attended. Something I'll have to make sure I do for WBC15 to see what others perceptions of the sessions are. I'll have to pay more attention to the survey results too.
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1WineDude
#28 1WineDude 2014-08-14 16:26
Cogently stated, bro!
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