Santa Barbara County was my third Wine Bloggers’ Conference. I attended for the first time in 2011 in Virginia, just shortly after I created Traveling Wine Chick. My second conference was 2013 in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia with a pre-conference excursion to Lake Chelan, Washington. I am not really a rabble rouser, but more of a polite Southern Belle type (with the accent to match), so I won’t be ranting in this post. I am happy to have been able to attend this conference. Below are some of my thoughts.
Thank you so much to the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association, Zephyr Adventures, Vincent Group Consulting, the Marriott Santa Ynez Valley, the conference sponsors and partners, the wine producers, and everyone else who was involved in this conference. From this participant’s point of view, it appeared to go off without a hitch.
Most Interesting Session Surprise
Wine Discovery Hosted by Jackson Family Wines – How the Pros Taste included a panel comprised of professional wine writers and reviewers Steve Heimoff, Joe Roberts, and Patrick Comiskey. At first, I was a bit star struck to be tasting a selection of wines with these guys as the helm. However, none of the panelists guessed correctly the mystery wine we tasted, which was a wonderful reminder that we are all human and that our palates can be swayed not only by taste, but by a seed of perception planted in our minds.
I was fortunate to have gotten on the bus to Sanford Winery, where we enjoyed the story and journey of Sanford, a grand tasting of Sta. Rita Hills and other Santa Barbara County wines in the cellar, and a wonderful chef-prepared dinner outside accompanied by a beautiful vineyard setting and sunset. This excursion rivaled my excursion last year which culminated at Tinhorn Creek Winery with paella. Sanford went above and beyond to give my group a wonderful lasting impression of the Sta. Rita Hills area of Santa Barbara County and their wines.
My Favorite Official After Party
Jordan Winery and J Vineyards’ after party last year in Okanagan was so much fun, but this year it was better (translation: had space for more people) as they were able to secure a larger space at the hotel instead of a hotel room suite. There was something for everyone: sparkling, rosé, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and a stellar vertical of Cabernet Sauvignon, accompanied by hors d’oeuvres. The unexpected highlight was The Drunken Cyclist sabering a bottle of sparkling wine with a wine glass. True story.
Cool Rogue Events
There were a few off-the-schedule, unsanctioned (rogue) sessions in which I participated and was glad I made the choice to break the rules, so to speak. Soléna Estate outdid themselves hosting a hotel suite of Oregon Pinots to taste along with some wines from British Columbia. Shawn Burgert organized a wonderful, relaxed media meet and greet, Authentic Press, at Saarloos + Sons with some of Santa Barbara’s winemaker stars and small producers. These are the kinds of interactions that need to happen more often. Nothing beats establishing real-life connections among wine consumers, writers, and producers.
Suggestions for Next Year
I am already booked to attend the 2015 conference in New York’s Finger Lakes, one of my favorite wine destinations, so here are some suggestions for next year’s planners. I would love to see a track that runs throughout the conference for just the Finger Lakes, for those who want to delve in deeper into the region, its wines, its wineries, and its winemakers. Along that same theme, perhaps develop other tracks that might include tasting practice and evaluation, successful writing/blogging techniques, wine tourism, etc. I would also like to get out of the hotel more and see the Finger Lakes and its wineries. Perhaps we could have two excursions or enjoy a breakout session or two outside of a hotel conference room.