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Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC14), Day 3

August 12, 2014 4 comments

Santa Barbara HillsA month after, but we are on the finishing stretch! Don’t know if it makes sense to provide such a detailed account of the day’s events now – but, I feel compelled to complete this self-appointed assignment. Here is what was happening during the Day3, technically the last day of the Wine Bloggers Conference (here are my notes from the Day 1 and Day 2).

We started our morning a bit earlier than the day before, and with the breakout session, not with the brunch (yeah, I was getting very comfortable starting to drink the wine at 10 am, but no…). From the group of offered breakout sessions I chose the one called Business of Blogging. Considering the amount of time, hard work and obsession going into all of the blogs, it is only reasonable to expect that bloggers would be interested in learning about the ways their passion can bear some tangible fruit (yep, I’m talking about money here).

The session was presented by the twin sisters, Alexandra and Kymberly Williams, who run popular fitness blog called Fun and Fit. Their blog is also a successful business, thus they definitely have a lot of good advice to offer. Here are few of the basic takeaways from that session:

  • Ethics – your reputation is all you got. Make sure you have the business ethics rules, and follow them.
  • Referrals! (Cooperate, don’t compete) – help the others, and they will help you.
  • Say no when necessary – don’t take upon every project which might be coming your way – sometimes, “no” is the best answer.
  • Ask what you want (people can’t read your mind) – I think this is quite clear
  • Clarify and define – work on your offerings!
  • Negotiate – find the way to get what you want!
  • Work with brand partners, help them to make money, and build relationships – I think you got this one
  • Know your readers and service to their lifestyle – know your followers and give them what they want

Second breakout session was about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and still no wine…. SEO is literally one and only tool bloggers have to be found and to build the listening audience. The session was presented by Timothy Resnik from the company called Moz, which provides set of tools for search optimization and web site analytics. Timothy’s presentation was excellent and very detailed – unfortunately, I can’t take an advantage of most of his suggestions, as it requires a self-hosted blog web site, such as WordPress.org, and I’m using here WordPress.com, where I pretty much have no control over analytics data. Just in case this information might help you, Timothy’s presentation is available on SlideShare – here is the link.

Next – yes, we got to drink wine, as this was the lunch time! It was the lunch with with the Santa Barbara County winemakers, and there were many of them present, pouring and explaining at the same time. I have to admit that the choice of food for the lunch with wine was very strange – technically, the only choice was green salad with grilled chicken, made in three slight variations of flavor – this is not the food to serve if you expect people to drink the wine. Well, anyway, the were many good wines, and here are just a very few highlights:

2013 Baehner Fournier Rosé de Merlot, Santa Ynez Valley – very impressive, clean strawberries profile on the nose and the palate, supple, plump, with substantial body and overall delicious. Drinkability: 8

2011 Consilience Grenache Santa Barbara County – restrained fruit on the nose, round, well balanced, smokey fruit in the back. Drinkability: 8-

2010 Bedford Archive Syrah Santa Barbara County – elegant dark fruit on the nose and palate, dark and dense. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Stolpman Vineyards Estate Syrah Ballard Canyon – dark roasted fruit, touch of spices, good balance. Drinkability: 8-

We started afternoon again with the breakout sessions. This time all the sessions were dedicated to wine and of course, included the tasting (Theme: Wine Discovery Breakout Sessions). Out of the 3 available, I picked Ballard Canyon Syrah session (two others were Sanford Winery Sta. Rita Hills and Wines of Greece) – I love Syrah in all forms, and I never heard of Ballard Canyon, so it was an easy choice for me.

Let me say a few words about Ballard Canyon appellation first. Ballard Canyon AVA is not even one year old – it was approved in October of 2013. Syrah is the primary grape  in this small appellation located right in the middle of the Santa Barbara County:

Map of Ballard Canyon AVABallard Canyon AVA was created to capture the essence of soil and climate through the noble grape, Syrah, which is significant enough for this AVA to be known as “Syrah Territory”. Well, yes, Syrah is not the only grape growing in Ballard Canyon AVA, but Syrah plantings exceed plantings of all other grapes, red and white, combined.

The session was presented as a panel discussion, with Patrick Comiskey, Senior Editor for the Wine & Spirits Magazine starting it off with introduction into the state of Syrah in the US. Patrick is one of the leading authorities on the Rhone varieties (and Syrah is squarely one of them), and he is also writing the book on American Rhône movement. I was surprised to hear from Patrick that Syrah is not doing well in US, that it is very difficult to  sell and it doesn’t get much recognition. Leaving Shiraz aside for a moment, best known Syrah wines in the world are coming from France. If we will compare Syrah with Cabernet, Merlot and Pinot Noir based on the French wines, and then will look at the US, the proportions of popularity/demand are about the same. And thinking about all the cult and impossible to get wines such as Sin Qua None, Alban, Saxum, Cayuse, No Girls and many others, I think Syrah is doing not that bad… Oh well, I would love to debate it with Patrick over a glass of 1999 La Landonne, but let’s get back to our Ballard Canyon session.

Ballard Canyon Syrah TastingEight Ballard Canyon winemakers presented at our session (which is a half of total of 16 wineries in the Ballard Canyon AVA), and we had an opportunity to try 7 different wines (the Saarloos + Sons was completely sold out). Here are my notes from the tasting:

2012 Kimsey Syrah
Southwest corner of the appellation. Soft fruit on the nose, dark roasted notes. Spicy, mineral, strong acidity. Young vineyard. Drinkability: 7

2012 Beckmen Purisma Mountain Syrah
BiodynamicLly farmed since 2006, certified since 2009. Tobacco on the nose, nice dark fruit, inviting. Nice, soft fruit, perfect acidity, dark chocolate. Drinkability: 8-/8

2012 Stolpman Original Syrah
Nice, open nose, fresh red fruit,blueberries, a bit sharp on the palate, cherries, espresso. Drinkability: 7+

2012 Rusack Syrah Reserve
Nice, concentrated nose, hint of fresh berries – blueberries, raspberries, touch of roasted flavors. Beautiful fruit on the palate, fresh berries, but supported by fresh tannins. Needs time as tannins are overpowering. Drinkability: 7+

2010 Harrison Clarke Cuvée Charlotte Syrah (15.2% ABV)
Hint of barnyard! dark fruit, baking spices. Cherries on the palate, tannins explicit. Drinkability: 8-

2010 Larner Estate Syrah
Bright Fresh berries, touch medicinal smell on the nose (iodine?), inviting. Beautiful palate, a touch of pepper, enveloping tannins, fresh and open berries, lavender. Drinkability: 8

2010 Jonata Sangre de Jonata Syrah
Bright nose of your fruit, touch of blueberries. More bright fruit on the palate, but then green branches and strong tannins, lacking pleasure. Drinkability: 7

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Our day continued with the Panel of Professional Print Wine Writers. Steve Heimoff, James Conaway and Mike Dunne, professional journalists, wine writers and authors of a number of wine books, talked about various aspects of the wine writing. This happened to be one of the most controversial panels of the WBC14, which generated multiple blog posts and whirlwind of opinionated exchanges among the participants. I would have to agree with the Messrs. Heimoff, Conaway and Dunne that in a big schema of things, the quality of writing in the wine blogs can be greatly improved (this very blog you are reading is definitely the subject of such criticism). For the rest of it, just google “Panel of Professional Print Wine Writers wbc14”, and you will get tons of reading material blasting this session, presenters and content – though I have to say that I disagree with a lot of popular criticism. When presented with information, often it is our personal choice whether we will see it as positive or negative, so let’s leave it at that (yes, I do think it was a useful session overall).

Moving on, our next session was the Live Wine Blogging – The Reds, the speed tasting of the red wines, which I already covered in the full detail here.  Well, it was actually the last organized session for the day. We still had more wine to drink events in the agenda, but from point of view of the organized sessions we were done.

Our next event was Wines of the World Reception, where we had an opportunity to taste wines from Greece, Italy, Portugal and other countries. At this point in time, I lost an ability to take any kind of reasonable tasting notes, so I had to go simply by “aha, this is good” or “ouch, moving on”. I have to mention that wines of Greece helped me to make a good progress with my Wine Century Club journey towards the coveted Pentavini (500 grapes tasted level) – I added 5 new grapes:

Liatico – 2011 Domaine Douloufakis “Dafnios” Liatiko Crete (red)
Krassato – 2007 Tsantali Rapsani reserve Rapsani AOP Greece (red)
Stavroto – 2007 Tsantali Rapsani reserve Rapsani AOP Greece (red)
Avgoustiatis – 2013 Mercouri Estate Lampadias Rose, Greece (red)
Savatiano – 2013 Papagiannakos Savatiano Greece (white)

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Last two events of the day – Wine Blog Awards Presentation and Dinner. To me, Wine Blog Awards feels like a coveted achievement. However, for the last three years, watching the process of nomination, then selection of the finalists and then, for the first time, presentation of the awards, gives me only a thought of diminishing returns. The duration of the time for nomination is literally reducing from a year to a year, and nomination period is open out of blue (I don’t know if this is the attempt to reduce the number of nominations?). This year, we didn’t even know who the judges were. Selection of the wine blogs for the finalists is very strange, as many of the same blogs are nominated for the different categories, and moreover, the blogs are nominated year after year after year. And finally, out of the 9 awards, only two winners were present at the WBC to pick up their awards… It is funny that if you go to the Wine Blog Awards web site now, instead of finding information about the 2014 winners, you can finally find out who the judges were… The whole wine blog awards process needs a revamp and a fresh start, it is way too disorganized as it is.

You know what – this blog post is becoming one of the longest I ever written, so I need to round it up. The food at the dinner was okay, the wines were very good – there was a good selection of the Santa Barbara County wines present at every table, and the selection was different from the table to a table. After dinner, there was more wine – not only parties continued in the number of rooms and suites, but also a number of people brought the wines with them to share, and it was really the last night to drink them. I tried for the first time Horton Norton from Virginia – I had Norton wines before, but this was the first time I tried any of the Horton wines, which is considered one of the best wineries in Virginia (the wine was excellent). Then there were Texas wines, courtesy of SAHMMelier. She brought  2012 Brennan Vineyards Viognier (perfumy and delicious) and 2011 Bending Branch Winery Tannat (powerful and sophisticated). We also tasted 2001 Cottonwood Canyon Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley (fragrant and beautiful for the 13 years old wine), and 2011 Kalyra MC2 Santa Ynez Valley (restrained and balanced). For some reason, I’m under impression that there was also a wine from Oklahoma (!), but – no picture and no notes, so yeah, it is my loss.

And we are done, done, done here! Sometimes procrastination has its rewards – only yesterday I got the email from organizers of WBC14, Zephyr Adventures, which also included the link to the blog post with all presentations from the WBC14 – here it is if you would like to look at them. And (almost) last but not least  – Wine Bloggers Conference 2015 will take place in the beautiful town of Corning in the Finger Lakes region in New York, August 13-16, 2015 – if you are into the wine blogging, you definitely have to be there, you have to experience WBC to yourself. The registration is open now, and (this is what they say) availability is limited, so you might want to think about putting the stake into the ground now…

Last thing (I promise) before we are done – I would like to thank Zephyr Adventures and Santa Barbara Vintners for the great event they put together for all the wine bloggers. I know firsthand how hard it is to organize a great conference, and especially considering the size and diversity of the wine bloggers group, I can only say wholeheartedly “Thank you very much!!” for all the hard work put into bringing together such a great event.

Yes, we are done. If you are still with me, thank you very much for reading. Cheers!

Wine Bloggers Conference 2014: Mystery Bus Trip, or The Ode to Solvang

July 31, 2014 15 comments

Windmills of Solvang“I’m waiting for a call”, said one of the attendees at Wine Bloggers Conference, “or a text”.

“About what?”, I asked.

“About the right bus for the today’s winery excursion”.

One of the main staples of the Wine Bloggers Conference program is so-called Excursion. The agenda item, titled at WBC14 simply as “Excursions into Santa Barbara County Wine Country”, was an object of discussion, agitation, frustration, and many other “-tions”. The whisper in the air was insisting “you have to get on the right bus”, or else. Supposedly a few attendees, mostly veterans, such as 1WineDude, knew what bus was the right one. So the task was to follow the people who were “in the know”, and get on the right bus with them. And there was also fear. A fear to get on the wrong bus. Yes, you can laugh all you want, but you know how most of us are afraid to miss out on something special and be left (ahh, horrors!) out of the supposedly exceptional experience – in this case, we could get on the wrong bus and end up at the winery, which wouldn’t be “the right one”.

When I came out shortly before the excursion time at 5 o’clock, I only caught a glimpse of 1WineDude, disappearing in the “right bus”. I should’ve taken a picture of the crowd, waiting to get on the “right bus” – probably all of the 400+ conference attendees were standing outside, creating a large, impatient crowd. The next person who seemed to know what he is doing was TheDrunkenCyclist. As he was getting on the “right bus”, the only way for me to join him would be if I would have a practical experience of dealing with Japanese subway at the peak hour, which I don’t have. Thus the next “right bus” was missed again. At this point, my only desire was to get on any bus, but at least with someone, I knew (SAHMMelier). When we got on the bus as part of a group of 20 people, I was relieved – at least we are going somewhere.

As the bus started moving, two very excited ladies (our guides) told us the name of our destination – Solvang. Solvang? What the heck is Solvang? A winery? Ahh, it is the town related to the movies Sideways. As a matter of fact, it is the 10th anniversary of the “Sideways”. which came out in 2004, and Solvang was mentioned in that movie (nice, but I had no idea). We even were asked to answer 10 questions about the movie Sideways, and the person with the fastest and best response would get a special prize. I dribbled something just to be a team player, but my enthusiasm was not moving.

It turns out that Solvang is a small town in the Santa Barbara County which was established about 100 years ago by the group of Danish immigrants (“Solvang” in Danish means “sunny fields”). The town itself looks very different from the most of the typical American towns of the same size of population (about 5,245 people live there based on 2010 data) – it looks like someone simply transposed a tiny piece of Europe in a middle of the Santa Ynez Valley. Colorful roofs, windmill and overall setting more suitable for Medieval Times than for a small modern American town are all the part of Solvang downtown.

Going back to the bus ride, the statement from our very enthusiastic guides that we will be visiting tasting rooms was not registering with me. I’m not very familiar with the concept of the tasting rooms outside of wineries, so I’m not expecting anything mind blowing. The bus stops. We are split into two groups and off we go – visiting tasting rooms first, with the dinner following right after.

As we started walking, our first stop is the wine bar called Sevtap. We get around the bar counter, the first wine is poured, it is a very nice Sauvignon Blanc. And the gentleman who is pouring the wine is actually a … winemaker! He pours more of his wines, including some which are not even bottled yet, and all the wines are excellent. What I thought to be just a wine bar, in reality, was a winery – and so was the story at all other “bars” we stopped at. Solvang has 18 so-called tasting rooms – each one of them is the winery, with its own winemaker, its own history, and – its own wine. Considering what we had an opportunity to taste, a lot of those wines were outstanding – but, as you can imagine, mostly not available anywhere else outside of that tasting room/winery. Sigh.

Now I’m going to share some notes which I managed to scribble during our visits to the 5 different wineries/tasting rooms, plus more wines which were poured during dinner. Here we go.

Sevtap Winery. Art Sevtap, who came over from Turkey 22 years ago, changed a number of professions, fell in love with wine and now makes wines and entertains people at his Sevtap Winery tasting room. The tasting room itself is very unusually decorated, with the chalkboard-type walls, all covered in the notes and names of the guests (take a look at the pictures below). We tried a number of wines, including two wines which had not been even bottled yet, and all the wines were excellent. I also love the unique and different names of the wines as well as the unique label design. Here is what we tried:

2012 Sevtap Istanbul Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley (12.4% ABV) – unusual nose, beautiful concentrated fruit, refreshing. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Sevtap Zig-a-zig-ah Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Ynez Valley (tasted from the “barrel”) – notes of eucalyptus, pure, beautiful, dark fruit, cherries, overall an excellent wine. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Sevtap Pillow Talk Petit Verdot Santa Ynez Valley (14.25% ABV, again from the “barrel”) – concentrated, earthy, almost black color, notes of barnyard. Very balanced overall. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Sevtap Wish You Were Here Sangiovese Santa Ynez Valley (13% ABV) – Tobacco and earthiness on the nose, clean tobacco and coffee flavor profile on the palate, an excellent balance. Drinkability: 8-

A short walk along the streets of a beautiful replica of Europe, and we enter the Wandering Dog Wine Bar. We were greeted with the glass of 2011 Wandering Dog Bentley’s Bubbles Blanc de Blancs – perfectly classic, with a fine mousse, touch of toasted apples and minerality on the nose, perfectly balanced – an excellent Champagne-rivaling California sparkler (Drinkability: 8). We also had the Wandering Dog Petite Sirah which was simply spectacular – luscious, layered, perfectly balanced and just a joy in the glass – but I didn’t even have a chance to take a picture as we had to run to our next destination…

Lions Peak Vineyards. One of the oldest wineries on Central Coast, founded in 1992. Jennifer Arant, the winemaker, was born and raised in Texas, learned classical French ways of making the wine, traveled the world and now is crafting excellent wines under the Lions Peak label (the pictures below might not be great, but still should give you an idea of the artfully designed labels). I only wish I would be paying more attention tot he Jennifer’s story and take notes, but I didn’t 😦 Here is what we tasted:

2011 Lions Peak Vineyards Zinfandel Paso Robles – restrained smokey nose, dusty palate, dry, perfect balance. Drinkability: 7+

2010 Lions Peak Vineyards Lionesse Central Coast (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc) – beautiful Bordeaux nose, the palate is slightly sharp, restrained, needs more fruit. Drinkability: 7

2010 Lions Peak Vineyards Roaring Lion Cabernet Sauvignon (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) – classic Cab, cassis, green bell pepper, soft, round, supple, good open fruit. Drinkability: 8-

Our next stop is Presidio Winery tasting room. Presidio Winery is Certified Biodynamic winery ( Demeter) since 1994. We had two wines at the Presidio Winery. 2011 Presidio Vineyard Syrah Rose Santa Barbara County (12% ABV) was nice, light, with some strawberry notes and good acidity. Drinkability: 7

2011 Presidio Vineyard Pinot Gris Estate Grown Santa Barbara County – earthy nose, apples, butter, popcorn. Butter on the palate, then just acidity. Drinkability: 7-

I also learned about the usage of Pinot Gris versus Pinot Grigio name. Grapes for Pinot Gris wines are usually picked up earlier, and then generally fermented and aged in the oak barrels (neutral oak). Grapes for the Pinot Grigio wines are picked up later and fermented and aged in the stainless steel.

Our last stop before dinner was Dascomb Cellars. Dascomb family had been growing grapes in Santa Ynez Valley since 1974, which makes it one of the oldest vineyards in the region. The wines had been commercially produced for the first time in 1999, and the Dascomb label was started in 2008. The tasting room at the Dascomb Cellars is decorated with the paintings by renown wine artist, Leanne Laine – the two well visible paintings are called “Rubylicious” and “The Wine Collector”. And now, here are some tasting notes:

2011 Dascomb Cellars Melange Central Coast Santa Barbara County (35% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 55% Mourvedre) – earthy nose, good balance, clean, spicy, peppery. Drinkability: 7+

2011 Dascomb Cellars White Hawk Vineyard Sangiovese Santa Barbara County – interesting nose, a bit too sweet on the palate but clean and balanced overall. Drinkability: 7+

2010 Dascomb Cellars Riserva Santa Barbara County (Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese blend) – open nose, some barnyard and fresh fruit. On the palate – tobacco, cassis, green bell pepper, perfectly elegant. Drinkability: 8

And … we are still not done here. After visiting all these tasting rooms, our last stop was the Cecco Ristorante for dinner – with more wines. At the restaurant, we had most of the winemakers we just met waiting for us with more wines to pour – we also met more winemakers with more wines. All the dishes, which were served buffet style, were outstanding. Sliders were just melting in your mouth; two different kinds of pizza were delicious; beets salad, always my favorite, had big chunks of delicious red and yellow beets with arugula and mozzarella.

Among the wines we tasted, I have to mention the wines from Lucas and Lewellen. Everything we tasted – the Rose, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon – were delicious. But – I hope you can forgive me, considering the late hour –  I got no detailed notes whatsoever on these wines.

And I can finally conclude this long post about our excursion to Solvang. I’m really glad I missed all the “special” buses and got an opportunity to discover Solvang. We had a great time, met great people and tasted wonderful wines. If your travel will take you anywhere near Solvang, I hope you understand that not visiting it would be the loss you can not afford. Proost!

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