I’ve attended four Wine Bloggers’ Conferences: Virginia (2011), Okanagan (2013), Santa Barbara (2014), and New York (2015). While I always enjoy the conference, I’ve always found it challenging to share with my blog readers, most of whom may never attend a conference. I am also the kind of person who feels an experience and finds it very hard to put my feelings into words. That being said, I do have some favorite activities and takeaways each year. Below, in no particular order, are some of my highlights and thoughts.
The Host Region
My primary reason for attending the conference is to connect with and learn more about the host region. I came to the Finger Lakes because I wanted to taste Finger Lakes wines and interact with the region’s key players in the wine industry. While this year’s conference had many Finger Lakes sessions and tastings, I still think more could be done to focus on the host region each year. In my opinion, there should be more winery excursions or more sessions held at local wineries, because the best way to learn about wine and winemaking is tasting the wines and visiting the winery and/or the vineyards. Also, because being a conference sponsor is quite costly, I fear that some of the best, small producers are being left out due to financial constraints.
The second best part of the conference is the people. I attend each year to network with like minded writers and people in the wine business, make new connections, and rekindle professional relationships and friendships. This year a few of my attendee friends made this conference extra special: Bon Vivant DC (Alison), Drink What YOU Like (Frank), The Drunken Cyclist (Jeff), The Grape Belt (Tom), and International Wine of the Month Club (Kristina). Thank you so much.
Keynote Karen MacNeil
This year’s keynote by Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, was on target. Her inspirational remarks included personal and professional stories as well as serious and funny ones. She told her own story of perseverance and success and offered us advice on how to improve our wine writing and tell our own stories, then took questions from the attendees.
Riesling, King of the Finger Lakes
This was my favorite wine discovery session, as we had the opportunity to taste Finger Lakes Rieslings from Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga Lakes. The samples from Dr. Frank, Keuka Spring, Red Newt, Knapp, Lamoreaux Landing, Sheldrake Point, Fox Run, and Lakewood varied in terroir, style, and age. The session was a nice introduction to Finger Lakes Rieslings, especially for those who had never tasted them before. The only caveat is that there’s never enough time to fully taste and experience wines in a 60-minute session that includes 30+ minutes of introductory material.
Key Takeaway: Finger Lakes terroir varies greatly from lake to lake, vineyard to vineyard, and winemaker to winemaker. There is not just one Finger Lakes style.
Conference Winery Excursion
Every year, there is a surprise destination excursion to a local winery. This year’s excursion took my group to Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars on Keuka Lake. I had visited Dr. Frank before on my first trip to the Finger Lakes in November 2012. This visit included a library wines tasting with wines from Dr. Frank, Glenora, and Lucas, followed by a wine dinner on the patio overlooking Keuka Lake. It was a perfect evening, complete with a rainbow and a gorgeous sunset.
Key Takeaway: We may be doing Finger Lakes wines a disservice by drinking them too early. Many of these wines are built to last for years and evolve wonderfully in the bottle. We tasted Brut Rosé, Blanc de Blancs, Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon from all three wineries, vintages 1983 to 2007, that were outstanding.
Jordan Winery After Party
The Jordan Winery after party is always one of the highlights of the conference. While it’s difficult (at least for me) to stay up until 11:00 p.m. to attend, I always do, because Jordan is one of the masters of wine and food hospitality. This is the premier, official networking event every year. Thank you especially to Lisa Mattson for hosting us.
The Final Dinner
The final dinner was both delicious and fun this year, held at the gorgeous Corning Museum of Glass, with a preceding glass blowing demonstration. Each meal course featured a wine showdown of sorts, a lighthearted, competitive pairing of two different wines from Finger Lakes producers. Representatives from the wineries shared with us why they selected their particular wine for each food offering.
Some of the unofficial (aka #goingrogue) activities are fantastic, because they allow us to step out of the conference box and taste some great wines. This year’s favorites included:
Pre-Conference Virginia Wine Dinner
The food from Corning’s Hand + Foot paired with wines from key Virginia producers was a perfectly executed, pre-conference kickoff to my arrival in Corning. Producers included Early Mountain, Thibaut-Janisson, Linden, Veritas, Barboursville, Fabbioli, King Family, RdV, Michael Shaps, and Glen Manor. Thank you to Frank Morgan and Early Mountain Vineyards for organizing and sponsoring this wonderful dinner.
Key Takeaway: Virginia wines have come a long way since I started seriously tasting them at the 2011 conference. The samples served at this dinner were in a league of their own.
Craig Camp and Cornerstone Cellars
Craig Camp is a longtime supporter of bloggers as well as the conference, so I don’t feel guilty attending his Cornerstone Cellars tasting, where he opens his hotel suite to participants so we can experience some of his California and Oregon wines in a very relaxing, friendly, and hospitable atmosphere. The wines are exquisite and improve every vintage. The dialogue between Craig and those of us who attend is open, honest, and educational.
Next year the conference will be held August 11-14, 2016 in Lodi, California. An outline of the conference agenda is already posted. I hope that organizers and Lodi wineries will perhaps consider freshening up the schedule a bit to include more of what Lodi has to offer.