Friday, July 02, 2010

Happenings of a Wine Blogger's Conference: Walla Walla

This is the third year for the North American Wine Bloggers Conference. I attended in 2009, last year in Santa Rosa on behalf of Napa/Sonoma and this year in Walla Walla on behalf of the Washington State.

The WBC09 in Santa Rosa was a wonderful experience packed full of first time meet-ups with wine bloggers I previously knew as only thumbnails on my Twitter board. There were visits to destination wineries and just the overall experience of the lovely Napa Valley, but in Walla Walla - - even for me as a resident wine blogger - - it was information overload and exuberance from the wine bloggers and the sponsors that I just didn't feel in Santa Rosa. There were times I was actually wishing I lived out-of-state to see Walla Walla (and Washington State) for the first time!

Okay, so I live in Walla Walla and how could I learn anything new? I decided to take the role of citizen wine blogger and keep my eyes, ears and mind open. Did I learn anything? I sure did. You know, you can put together the most comprehensive program of panel discussions, Q&A's, and tours, but if the people around you; whether they are bloggers or sponsors; are a bunch of boring slugs, you are going to be left with only half the experience. It's the enthusiasm from everyone that helps generate an inquiry to learn.

So - - what did you learn Catie? Well, I learned about important stuff and I learned about important fluff. (I actually wanted to do a Highlights of the WBC10, but I didn't want to be booed and heckled for doing another "Highlights ...")

I learned Pre-Conference Thursday night at "WBC10 or Bust Event":
Onion and fig pizza is a great pairing with Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Franc. But then again, why should I be surprised? I could pair everything and anything with WWV Cab Franc.

Walla Walla Vintners, at the foothills of the Blue Mountains, is an idyllic setting and any minute I was waiting for them to que the deer and back screens for the technicolor sunset. Of course, I had been there several times, but the setting and the time of day was quite dazzling.

I was reminded about the hospitality of Walla Walla when Michael Davidson, CEO of Tourism Walla Walla and Elio Agostini, Executive Director of Downtown Walla Walla Foundation came to pick up the winners of The WBC10 or Bust bus and chauffeur them to their appointed B&B's.

Room 218 at the Marcus Whitman was the party place of the evening. Where Thea Dwelle goes, trouble follows ... (smoochies Thea!)

I learned on Friday, First Day of WBC10:
No matter in Santa Rosa or Walla Walla, radio heartthrobs Kaz and Randy of Wine Biz Radio in California can make me ramble on and on with or without a microphone in my face.

Taco truck tacos are a good thing for lunch after a morning of drinking wine. This was such a great idea to enjoy tacos and burritos in the parking lot instead of a sit down "banquet-style" meal. Welcome to Walla Walla ...

As one of the keynote speakers, Steve Heimoff, was honest, poignant, funny and most of all, left me feeling that I am a part of historical wine journalism - a pioneer.

Sitting through the Wine Blog Awards can actually be entertaining! What a show - from colorful lights, confetti, music, an ice carving, and MTV comic, Ben Morrison!

Never tell your audience during a panel discussion about the effects of RSS or you will be tagged as the Japanese Porn Queen for years to come.

When you cannot seem to log onto Twitter due to overload during the White Wine Live Blogging session, stop worrying. Just sit back, drink the wine and pretend to take notes.

Later that evening, again I was reminded what a wonderful downtown Walla Walla has. The Friday evening walk-about was electrifying with live bands, tasting rooms pouring their best and the sidewalks filled with wine bloggers discovering Walla Walla.

I learned on Saturday, Second Day of WBC10:
That the experience of sitting on a school bus hasn't changed much for me since I was a kid. I still couldn't see over the seats and my feet still do not reach the floor of the bus.

I got on a great bus for the day of touring (but then again, I think all of the buses were going to be great). Kevin Pogue, professor of geology at Whitman College, was our bus host. This was my first visit to Forgotten Hills, a vineyard that is now owned by Waters Winery. We had some extra time before our next stop, so Kevin took us to Cayuse to see the cobblestone vineyards.

Walla Walla Vintners ended up to be our appointed winery for panel discussions, a visit to the world-class Upland Vineyards and to do some wine tastings. We tasted wines from aMaurice, Leonetti, Tulpen and Walla Walla Vintners. Dr Myles Anderson from Walla Walla Vintners spoke to us about the vineyards and the soils. He is a wealth of information about the Walla Walla Valley and his eloquent way of speaking took me back to the days when I use to sit in his classroom. The difference between this visit and the classroom was that we didn't have Ken Hart of Tulpen rabble rouse from the back yelling, "bull shit!" at Dr. A whenever Dr. A said something profound about vineyards and winemaking. Those two should seriously take their show on the road.

Our destination winery lunch for our bus was at Cougar Crest. I learned that I need to have more of Debbie Hansen's 100% Grenache rosé. It was crisp and refreshing with notes of grapefuit, spice and creme brulee all rolled into one on my tongue. Quite lovely, I have to say Cougar Crest rose is another great example of why wine lovers must take advantage of these beautiful pink wines from Walla Walla.

Listening to my wine blogging collegues, it was interesting to see the Walla Walla terroir through their eyes. Walla Walla Valley could really be several AVA's from the unique soil and climate at the foothills of the Blue Mountains to the dry wheatland of the valley, and not forgetting the cobblestones of the old Walla Walla River beds.

During the Red Wine Live Blogging Session, it is important to have several glasses in front of you so you can "put aside" the Molly Dooker Velvet Glove Syrah, Long Shadow's Sequel Syrah, Cornerstone Napa Cabernet Franc and the Stoller Vineyards JV Estate Pinot Noir. These wines are just too good to dump or spit!

I already knew this, but I have to wonder if the other bloggers knew that the wooden platters their dinner was served on was carved by Chef Bear at the Marc. Not only is he a master of ice carvings, as we saw all throughout the conference, but wood as well! It was a sensual and decadent experience playing with my dessert of fresh cherries, Valrhona chocolate and whipped cream and quite perfectly paired with the 2006 Dauphine, an elegant Rhone-style Syrah from Nicholas Cole Cellars

My brain wanted to dance to the tunes during the After Hours Fiesta with Rias Baixas Albarino, but my body just couldn't muster up the strength to get down and jiggy wit' it.

I Learned on Sunday, the Third and Last Day of WBC10:
It was difficult to get up and later on Sunday morning I was thankful I stuck to the quiet Lobby Party of Bordeaux wines and Taco Time instead of going to the Charles Smith Frat Party with a live band and flaming-pasty-wearing-strippers, as well as free flowing mags of K-Vintners finest. Not to be outdone by the Hardy Wallace "Hardy Party" that was later visited by Walla Walla's finest "un gendarme." But what I wouldn't give to see a video of each party ...

My timing for breakfast was right, as the only person in line for the breakfast buffet, besides myself was Jeffrey Saad our morning keynote speaker and 2009 runner-up on season five of The Next Food Network Star. I was able to visit with him about his visit to Walla Walla. Later I sat in on his speech about food and wine pairings which concluded with our own opportunity to pair foods with an assortment of new and old world style wines.

If you attended the conference and took from it one or two pieces of information about the wine industry of Washington State and shared it with your readers, then WBC10 was a worthwhile experience, not only for the wine bloggers, but also for the Washington State wine industry.

Joel Vincent of the OpenWine Consortium, Allan Wright and Reno Walsh of Zephyr Adventures, Elizabeth Martin-Calder of Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, Ryan Pennington from Washington Wine Commission, Gracie Doyle from Ste Michelle Wine Estates and of course many other Premier, Media and Event Sponsors left us with an outstanding wine blogging conference that will be blogged and talked about for many years. Thank you everyone!

Thanks to Josh Wade of Drink Nectar for this great recap of WBC10!

5 comments:

spokanewinemagazine said...

Catie,

Glad to see that even on old bird like you can still learn a thing or two! You and your city are fantastic hosts and I really wish WBC could be there every year...or at least every other year!

Josh

Catie said...

Thanks Josh - - I think. You mean my old feathers are showing that much?
C~

William Pollard said...

Great post - agree 100%
Amazing venue and thanks to all who made it possible. I'm looking forward to WBC 11!

I was at the Charles Smith party Friday night - amazed I got up in the morning - I have some video...

William

Tonal said...

Walla Walla Wine conference....
Thank you for the post...Engraved Gifts

Hoodwink said...

how do i get an invite to WBC11? :) sound like you all had a great time!