Sunday, July 04, 2010

Sour Grapes? Say it isn't so? Wine Bloggers Conference at Walla Walla

Yesterday I was at the Walla Walla Farmer's Market and it thrilled me to no end when a local county official stopped me to "... congratulate the wine bloggers on a successful conference and how wonderful it was to have them in Walla Walla." I have to say - - that comment made my day.

It's been a week now and the streets of Walla Walla are somewhat back to normal after WBC10. The very least of the City Father's worries now are those damn fireworks. KA-BOOM! And speaking of fireworks: There seems to be some noise and smoke, instead of light and confetti, regarding the results of the WBC10 in Walla Walla. Is the ultimate goal of these scorching flames to make WBC10 look like a fizzled ol' firecracker who couldn't even pop with the best lap dance?

Now, before you criticize me for being a cheer leading poodle, I think it is very important to address some of what others feel were not so shining moments of the WBC10, however - - only if addressing them is going to be used as a learning tool for improvement. If you must beat upon your chest to be heard for the sake of just being an ol' poopy pants then be gone with you!

Allow me to address some of the flames:

They're bloggers ain't they, so where are all of the blogs? I looked for them on Monday and haven't seen very many?

Patience grasshopper. Many of the wine bloggers traveled miles to the WBC10 and have been on the road for over a full week and of course, many are trying to pick up where they left off with the family and work schedules. An event like this is overwhelming and packed full of information. I even found myself wondering what angle was the best way to present some of the information I had gathered. Like any writer, you use the information that you think your audience is interested in. And certainly, many bloggers will be writing about the event for a few months to come.

You may even find information about the results of the WBC10 through Google Subscriptions, syndicated wine news sites that automatically leave the info via Twitter, and don't forget to check out Flickr, Vimeo, and YouTube for photos and videos.

All those wine bloggers really wanted to do was party.

Well, yes and no. Through the years many of the wine bloggers have built friendships and networks because of events like this, besides keeping in touch almost daily through sources like Twitter and Facebook. Online tools have, not only given us advantages of discussing wine blogging issues, but to celebrate life with each other from new promotions and expected babies. It's no wonder when we do have face-to-face gatherings we just pick up where we left off on Twitter. If gathering in a hotel lobby sitting in a circle of chairs and couches with friends drinking wine is a party to you, well - you need to get out more. Oh yes - in case you forgot, it is a W-I-N-E Bloggers Conference, not the Welch's Grape Juice Conference.

Sure, there were parties of strippers with flaming pasties and magnums of wine being poured down gullets with decadent abandoned, but don't look at me. I didn't go to that party and don't blame the wine bloggers either who took advantage of the event. They didn't host the party - they were "lured" - lured by fame, billboards, rock star winemakers and SATAN! (It's the license number on his Bentley) - - and frankly? Oh how I wish I had gone or at least been a mouse in a corner. While my brain is young, my body is feeling its age and besides, I needed to be responsible because I drove home every night from the conference. Honestly, it tickles me that many of the wine bloggers could bust out behind their computers and have some fun. Anyways, I have been to crazier parties than that at funeral director conventions - seriously. Seriously.

We had some of the wine bloggers at our winery for a panel discussion. The discussion was a dud and fizzled. The bloggers stared at our panel as if we had the heads of Dick Cheney, John Merrick, and Lizzie Borden on our shoulders leading a discussion on the mating of the dung beetle and how their rituals of combining their units together can be broken down to an algebraic sum. Finally we sparked a little bit of fire under their dead fleshy butts when we broke out the wine. At least they bought some.

I sympathize. I really do. I was a participant in a panel discussion during the WBC10, along with Colby Voorhees from Wine Peeps and Joe Power from Another Wine Blog. The topic given to us for discussion was Wine Blogging 101. Colby, Joe and I had to put together our discussion through emails and then met for about 10 minutes before our discussion to confirm our plan.

I have to admit, there was a side of me that felt we were going to fall on "deaf ears." I thought for sure if we had five people in the room that would be huge! You want us to talk about Wine Blogging 101 with a building full of established wine bloggers? I was already rolling through my mind many worse case scenarios and how could we keep the discussion lively and not fail? If we failed, it wouldn't be the fault of our audience. The three of us would have to take responsibility - - and we didn't even have the opportunity to fall back on some wine sales.

Colby was very instrumental in forming a game plan and Joe and I each had our input. We were really pleased when we saw an audience of at least 20 people! Colby reached out to our group to gather information from them and what they wanted to hear from us. Joe and Colby both gave solid input about the tech side of blogging while I was the "fluff" - the cheerleader. I input a little comic relief once in awhile.

After the conference it actually surprised me when members of our audience actually thanked me and said they left our discussion inspired. If each person left with one bit of information, then we did our job. And besides, if all you do is sell a bottle of wine or two, then consider it two bottles of wine sold that weren't sold before. Isn't that one of the biggest points of owning a winery? The point is, you made a contact. Chances are pretty great the next time they hear the names, "Walla Walla" or "Washington State," they are going to remember your winery and your wine. The conference brought an awareness of Washington wines that will create a residual for years to come.

This was a pay to play event.

You bet it was. But what isn't a play to pay event? I have to pay dollars to get into the Walla Walla Fair grounds even if I only want to take a walk on the "wild side" by staring at the carnies and then pay again to eat a bunch of deep fried batter. In "another life," I was an event coordinator for profit and non-profit organizations. I worked with large hotels and coliseums, so I understand the game. Admission alone is your break even if you are lucky and you hope with everything else, there is some leftover "gravy." Even something as simple as the movie theatre, the admission ticket pays for the rental of the movie and the concession is hopefully some profit after wages and overhead.

The wine blogger's are really fortunate to have organizers, Open Wine Consortium and Zephyr Wine Adventures who are very pro-active in obtaining sponsors and participants to help defray the costs of admission to the wine bloggers. And of course, the organizers have their own costs - it takes a lot of time, money, extra travel (yes, they came to Walla Walla a few months before the conference to get a feel for the "lay of the land.") to put together an event, particularly like this one. At a $95 entry fee, this year the wine bloggers really got their money's worth, over and beyond - and a lot of that is because of sponsors and fees to participate. Thank you.

I own a vineyard! I own a winery! This was a pay to play event and only half of the people expected to my tour showed up. I am assuming the other half were still in bed with hangovers. I have a family! I have a life too, ya know. I am insulted!

Don't be insulted. If there were bloggers who didn't show up, it wasn't about you. They also paid to play and if they chose to waste their money by not being in attendance, don't let you being insulted stand in the way of giving your best to the wine bloggers who were in attendance. Those in attendance have families and lives, too and they were there in your winery and/or at your vineyard for you - because of you. So instead of you giving 100% to 30 people, hopefully you gave 200% to 15 people and once again, chances are pretty great the next time they hear the names, "Walla Walla" or "Washington State," they are going to remember your winery or your vineyard and/or your wine. If your group of wine bloggers left with a great experience because of you, then who really cares about the "no-shows?" It's ultimately their loss. Not yours.

Tweeting on Twitter is sad and lonely. Amongst all of the tweets during the Live Wine Tasting Event, I looked for some substance, but I just couldn't find any.

No, sitting at home on a couch with broken springs growing potato chip crumbs and cat hair around your fat ass (or bony ass) is lonely - even sadder if your t-shirt shows remnants of food you ate last week.

Twitter isn't sad and lonely and especially in the case of wine bloggers. Twitter brings people together with a common interest, like wine blogging, from all over the world. Eventually many will meet face-to-face. This is something that would never happen for many of us without the power of social media. Think of it as when we were kids and had pen pals assigned to us in school with the hopes of learning something new and maybe even meeting that individual some day. It was these new tools of social media that was one of the driving forces behind the wine blogger's conferences! Our neighboring community, the Tri-Cities has face-to-face Social Media Meetups that without the assistance of Twitter would have never had an opportunity to meet before. It is a tool for them to expand their community and networking.

Through the medium of Twitter, at least 200-some people "talked" about your wine and the majority of them have over a thousand of followers who read their tweets.

Substance? You want substance? It takes some thought to create "substance" when Twitter only gives you 140 characters (including spaces) to work with. But if you choose your characters well, you can type out names of wines and tinyurls that will give your followers something to make their inquiring minds want to check out. And while we are on the topic of "Substance" - - go peruse the wine aisles at the local grocery store and look at all of the labels. Do you see a lot of "substance" there? (Important note: excluding the Substance wine brand, of course. Those are very "substantial wines.") FWIW, I see a lot of frivolity, very little substance and whole lot of cheekiness on many of the labels, but people are still buying them.

Okay, so one can say I am trying to put a positive spin on some of the complaints. Of course! Steve Heimoff, in his keynote speech, told us to be transparent! But here's how I see it. Dig your tidy-whiteys out of a bunch and look at the big picture! So who cares about 15 wine bloggers that may not have acted the way you projected them to act. IT'S ABOUT THE BIG PICTURE HERE, PEOPLE!

Over 300 wine-loving-peeps were in Walla Walla and if you owned a winery or a vineyard it was all about YOU! Chances are very great many of the attendants would not have had a reason to come to Washington State and Walla Walla, when they did, if it weren't for this conference. There were at least 300 wine bloggers with thousands of readers who are going to talk about the wines from the state of Washington. Whether or not the wine bloggers tasted your wine or visited your vineyards, if they do happen to see your wine somewhere and it is marked Walla Walla or Washington State, they are going to remember the experience Walla Walla gave them. There's also a good chance your bottle of wine is going to end up on their dinner table or shared with friends.

In "another life" I worked for a small company that created a very nontraditional looking athletic shoe. The shoe had a sole that looked like it had been pressed out with a waffle iron and on the side of the shoe was an odd looking "swoosh" emblem. We sold shoes out of the trunks of our cars because there wasn't much of a sales facility, let alone offices. I was the small town young woman with only a junior wear buyer's and fashion merchandising background placed amongst a group of cigar smoking, rough talking, road traveling older men. What I learned from these men was sales, marketing and promotions, and most of all, make it positive. The bottom line: If you can get one person to pay attention, then two people will buy your shoes and eventually you could design your own "town"

21 comments:

Cindy W. said...

Interesting to read some of the responses you've run into. I've actually posted twice on the conference, and have a few more planned. . . plus I have a couple of posts on the WLTV forums. I think that sometimes people forget it takes time to think, then to write.

BTW, for me the highlights of the conference were all about the wineries and the vineyards. I don't really know a lot of bloggers, so for me this wasn't really a social meeting-up event.

Jamie said...

There's always a critic, no matter what you do. However it is those that do that make this world go/

Good on you Catie for 'putting on the dog' for the folks coming from out of town to see WW. Good on you!

Cindy W. said...

I guess it would be a good idea to actually link to my blog, in case any one is interested. :)

http://www.meltingteapot.com

Michele said...

Well said Catie! I attended as an industry blogger and found that the conference was very well organized and offered ample variety (including the wines from other regions) to compare and contrast. Imagine if they only showcase VA wines next year. How limiting will that be? Those of us who work in the Washington wine industry know that our region can be considered among the world's fine wine destinations. This conference has established both Walla Walla and Washington state upmost in the bloggers' minds. We have no idea of what the ultimate return will be - but it is all great for our industry. Thanks again for being a driving force in bringing it to town.

john said...

You made some excellent points, Catie. It's always easy to be a critic. Not as easy to focus on the positive as you have done here. The bottom line: This was the best WBC yet, and a great testament to Walla Walla and Washington wine. It will be paying dividends for years.

Grace said...

Well done, Catie. I came a long way to be there from Iowa and for months before the event, it's all I could talk and tweet about. And for months to come, it will be all I will talk and tweet about. I didn't know what to expect and the whole experience exceeded my expectations in every way! I literally tasted my way through a ton of wine but didn't really drink anything. I stayed pretty sober the whole time because I wanted to enjoy being there. I made a lot of new friends and didn't have a single bad thing to say about anything. (As in any situation, there always has to be someone who is going to find the negative amongst all the positive. That's their problem.) I was there on a mission and that was to get to know the Washington Wineries and that's exactly what I did. I did my research ahead of time and am madly in love with the wines and the people and the scenery of Washington and can't wait to come back! I tried very few wines that weren't from Washington. And like others, I got swept away by the Mollydooker (who wouldn't?) but this was, after all, a wine bloggers conference and Mollydooker is a wine. I only plan to blog about the Washington wines because I feel my readers need to know about them. I have a whole new appreciation for your home state and am really excited about it. How fortunate you are to live in such a beautiful place! Now that I'm home again, I've had a chance to reflect. I have a full-time job that pays my bills and we are very busy and understaffed at the moment so the reality means I'm not going to have the time I wanted to spend on my blogging. I will post as often as possible. I have a lot of great things to say about Washington and plan to say it very soon! My thanks goes out to you and all the WA sponsors for hosting such a wonderful event! I wish I could do it all over again!

Allan Wright said...

I'd like to leave three comments as the organizer of the conference. First, most of the blogger attendees did attend all the events, even the optional 8:00 AM talks by geologist Kevin Pogue and keynote speaker Lettie Teague. And generally, those who did not attend are those less interesting in learning and blogging about events and wines anyway. Second, especially for the Saturday morning wine visits to local wineries and vineyards, it is at least as much and probably more about establishing a good image for Walla Walla and Washington State than for an individual winery. There have been many, many positive blog posts about Walla Walla's excellent reception of the bloggers and Washington State's outstanding wines. Individual wineries have to realize they are contributing to support the local area as much as their own brand. Third, most of the responses we have received from individual wineries who paid to attend - either as a Premier Sponsor, for Live Wine Blogging, or as a participant - have been very positive. So while Catie is addressing the gripes of a few, most of those who did "pay to play" seemed extremely happy. I personally walked around to every Premier Sponsor and asked how they felt about the "Meet the Sponsors" session and the most common response I got was that they loved talking to such engaged, inquiring wine drinkers.

Allan Wright
Zephyr Adventures
WBC Co-Organizer

Catie said...

Thank you everyone for the comments and the insight into what ended as possibly one of most successful WBC.

Also, thank you Allan for not only a great WBC, but for taking the time to address these concerns.

Cheers Everyone!
C~

Shona said...

Jeeze, I'm feeling terrible that I didn't find wi-fi and full over on the way back to Seattle and start posting. I'm a slacker. Wine is not made overnight and blogging is not instantaneous. I didn't get any writing done at the conference, they kept me a little busy with speed wine tasting and a field trip to some some lovely spots to learn more about Walla Walla and it's wines. I've been posting daily since June 30th. I decided to break down my posts to individual events that went on at the conference. Also, when you have 300 people to manage you can't please everyone and also nothing ever goes prefectly. That said I had a great time.

William said...

so, where did the negative feedback come from exactly? I have seen anything written except for positive. Word of Mouth? The Blogosphere seems to love drama, is this self induced? :p

doug said...

Dear Catie - Calling a spade a friggin shovel...as usual. Love it. I admit, at first Doug & I were leary of the WBC. Then Doug was on a panel at Reininger during the Conference. His experience was so over-the-top wonderful that his whole attitude has done a 360. Thank you for the opportunity for the experience. jan & doug~

Sip with Me! said...

It's so interesting to hear the negative feedback from some of the wineries. It's clear they don't understand the bigger picture and the national exposure Walla Walla and the state of Washington has received. These individuals probably also don't understand social media, blogging and twitter and Catie, that will take some 'splainin' to bring them up to speed. They are probably still expecting an article to show up in Sunset Magazine, which maybe it will.

Catie said...

William,
No these concerns were not "self induced." I didn't make it up. However, yes I did elaborate on the mating ritual of the dung beetle ... Paul Gregutt went on Facebook and asked wineries to give him "uncensored feedback" on the viewpoint of the WBC10 from a winery. See for yourself in case of skepticism - you know how the blogosphere loves drama: http://www.paulgregutt.com/2010/07/bloggie-comes-acourtin.html

Beau Carufel said...

This was my first (but not last) WBC and I had an amazing time. I'm still trying to sort out all the information we got, be it tasting notes, press, tech sheets, photos, tweets and anything else. Once it's all sorted I hope to post a few blogs about my wonderful experience. Every winery I went to was accomodating and friendly, the ones that poured at the Conference were the same way. All in all, I learned a lot and was able to form a much more complete view of Washington wines and Walla Walla.

Beau
Beau's Barrel Room

Ben said...

I'll echo the comments regarding it taking a while to put together all of the posts. I threw together some off-the-cuff posts while I was still in Washington, and now I'm slowly working my way through each step of the different events that I participated in. Many of us were involved in some activities before the conference, and have a lot to post about. It takes time to write about all of the different activities that we experienced while we were up there. I'm sorry to hear that some didn't have positive experiences, but I think that the overall impact on the area will end up being a positive one.

William Pollard said...

Catie,

I had a great time at WBC in Walla Walla - even if Friday night almost did me in.

The Conference really got me motivated to keep wine blogging and to put more effort into my wine posts. Many of my recent posts are about the WBC.

I've actually written more posts this year, 5th of July than any other year previous. I'm still sorting through information and business cards from the WBC.

This conference really worked for me, loved the venues, sessions and shear volume of quality wines. Hope to make it to the next one.

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Joe Roberts, CSW said...

Great response, Catie!

We're not perfect, and neither are wine producers. However, the good certainly far outweighed the bad in Walla Walla.

Cheers!

Trey said...

Catie, when it comes to a spirited debate, it leaves it a bit one sided when "anonymous" is the source or these gripes. I honestly want you to "out" who was complaining about the bloggers conference and let them chime in. I for one can't see how anyone from this valley, or even this state, can complain about the event was run or the content of the event itself. It has already done so much for the Walla Walla wine industry, and the Washington wine industry for that matter. It is not a matter of getting your winery mentioned, it is the fact that over 300 bloggers, reaching tens of (if not hundreds of) thousands of people, are talking in very positive terms about Walla Walla. So I say, put them on the stake and let them explain themselves!

Catie said...

Trey,

Thanks for checking in. First of all, I am not really "outing" anybody. There has been much said about the conference - good and bad. I actually think there should be very little complaints, because this conference is about wine bloggers and frankly, it didn't even have to be in Walla Walla, let alone Washington. They could have easily continued it in California. Certainly easier for the WBC event coordinators.

The complaints came from two wine bloggers who were not even in attendance or maybe not even asked to participate.

http://thegrumpywinemaker.blogspot.com/2010/07/wine-boogers-conference-aka-wine.html

http://hosemasterofwine.blogspot.com/2010/07/what-i-learned-about-blogging-in-walla.html

I am all for satire, but Ron went over and beyond. I almost hate to give him a link here because it would probably make his day.

Paul Gregutt spoke on behalf of wineries from info he procured from Facebook and in fact, left them anonymous. So what Paul states that is good, bad or ugly is actually second-hand and anonymous. However, since it is Paul who speaks for "anonymous" we will accept his word.

http://www.paulgregutt.com/2010/07/bloggie-comes-acourtin.html

What I have heard to my face and through emails? It has all been great stuff!

C~

Catie said...

Hey Joe!Thanks for stopping by. You are absolutely correct. The good outweighed the bad and perhaps that may be part of the stickler behind some of the complaints.
Cheers,
C~