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WBC18: Like A Kid In The Candy Store – Again, or 4 Days in Walla Walla

October 13, 2018 9 comments

walla walla welcome signBack in 2014, I was visiting the state of Washington on business, and my obsession with local wines led me to the small town of Woodinville, about an hour northeast of Seattle. As I parked next to the industrial building and started going door to door, visiting one artisanal winery after another, I really felt like a kid in the candy store – the wines were delicious, and conversations with winemakers and not were even better than the wines – what else the wine lover needs? I was so impressed with that visit that my enthusiasm showed in the blog post, which won one of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenges (we called them MWWC) with the theme “local”.

The timing for the Wine Bloggers Conference 2018 (WBC18) was a little strange – for the most of the time, the conferences took place in August, and October is definitely not the ideal month to take time off (I know that many of the regulars couldn’t attend due to the timing). However, my high opinion of the Washington wines and the memories of visiting the Woodinville became the deciding factor, so I was able to find the time for this trip to Walla Walla in Washington.

Boy, was I not disappointed. After a beautiful ride from the Portland airport along the Columbia River (I wish I would record a little video – the amazing scenery must be shared), I arrived at the Walla Walla. Walla Walla is a home to about 30,000 residents, but it is hard to tell from the tiny downtown. However, when it comes to wine, don’t let the small size to full you – Walla Walla downtown hosts 30 something tasting rooms, plus a number of full working wineries located within the city limits (there are 120 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley overall) – it is definitely a destination for any wine lover out there.

As it always happened so far (this was my fourth WBC), the 4 days of the Wine Bloggers Conference became a non-stop adventure of sipping, spitting and learning, and most importantly, spending time with the fellow bloggers. I can’t tell you how many wines were tasted during these four days – whatever happens at WBC, stays at WBC. But – I will be happy to share with you main takeaways from these 4 days. Here we go:

  1. Washington State produces some magnificent wines (duh) – at least on par with Napa, and often far exceeding the Napa offerings in terms of QPR – and they are predominantly red. All six Bordeaux varieties are doing quite well in Washington, both in the form of the Bordeaux blend and on its own. Merlot might be a king of Washington, but Cabernet Sauvignon can often fight for that royal crown, and quite successfully. The Syrah is definitely a queen, well deserving your attention, following by the other Mediterranean breeds, such as Grenache and even Tempranillo.
  2. Washington whites are much rarer find – but they can be equally delightful as the reds. Rhone varieties do particularly well (Marsanne, Roussanne), but Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and even Albarino can deliver a happy surprise. An important reminder – please, please drink Rhone whites at the cool room temperature – they really taste better like that. Make them too cold, and they become indistinguishable and boring.
  3. Unlike California, where you can find 100+ years old [continuously farmed] vineyards, such as Bechtold in Lodi (farmed since 1886), and 150 years old continuously producing wineries, Washington wine industry didn’t survive the prohibition. What was striving in the 1860s, was completely destroyed in 1920s, and had to be rebuilt in 1960s. This information actually doesn’t have any deep meaning outside of being an interesting (and unfortunate) fact.
  4. I don’t believe you need to pay attention to the vintages for Washington wines, unless something ultra-bad happens, like out of blue frost in May. The temperatures are consistent, and so are the general climate conditions – too hot of a summer can be compensated by harvesting earlier. Well, the summers are typically hot, so the “canopy management” is a hot subject in winemaking circles. If the vineyard is managed properly, and winemaker does the job right, there is a good chance for consistency. In other words, don’t ask “how was that vintage”, just get the wine you want to drink. But – the way a lot of wines in Washington are made, especially coming from the small wineries – with utmost respect to the product at all stages – guarantees that the wines will age well. Give them some time, and prepare to be amazed.

I can probably think of more conclusions, but instead, I really want to tell you how my four days unfolded – just in case you wonder what one does at the Wine Bloggers Conference. Look at it more like the set of highlights as opposed to the detailed report. And then my plan is to convert many of this mentions below into the separate posts, to make my report more detailed – oh well, will see how that will work.

Day 1: After the beautiful ride along the Columbia River from Portland, I checked into the hotel, and then my next immediate stop was a tasting at the Seven Hills Winery, located right next to the conference hotel. After tasting at Seven Hills, next stop was the tasting at the Gård Vintners – with lots of delicious surprises. That tasting was followed with a very short walk back to the hotel to attend the Masters of Merlot session (now part of the official WBC program), presented by two of the Merlot Greats – Duckhorn and L’Ecole No 41 (very appropriate for the October, the #MerlotMe month).

Next was the mingling with the fellow bloggers around so-called Expo, where WBC sponsors poured their wines and offered their products. My last activity for the day was a superb, mind-blowing tasting at the Eternal Wines (more later) in lieu of group dinner. I also skipped all after-hours activities – that was enough for the first day.

WBC18 Walla Walla winemakers panel

WBC18wine influencers panel

Day 2: The actual conference program started. One of the main morning highlights was the panel discussion by the 4 of the Walla Walla winemakers, talking about terroir, canopy management, and stories, their personal, real life stories. I also liked the panel of wine influencers, talking about the wine industry, wine writing, and Dos and Don’ts of wine blogging. During lunch, we had an opportunity to taste wines from the Cascade Valley Wine Country, where one particular wine, WineGirl Wines Red blend left a mark with me – a standout, flawless, round, and beautiful.

After lunch, I went with a group of friends to taste delicious Oregon non-Pinot wines from Troon Vineyards Applegate Valley, as presented by WBC veteran, Craig Camp (I believe Craig didn’t miss a single WBC event). We got back to listen to the keynote by Lewis Perdue, the founder of Wine Industry Insight publication, who was focusing on a seemingly simple concept – Trust – and the tenets of good writing.

Next session was one of my traditional favorites – Live Wine Blogging for red wines, and once that was over, we all left for the dinners at mystery wineries (nobody knew where they are going), with our mystery winery being Canoe Ridge. Do you think this was enough for a day? Wrong. It is never enough – the last part of the program was so-called “after party”, where we tasted lots more wines (attendees are invited to bring wines to share with the others for this late night session). My highlights from this late-night tasting were Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from Smith-Madrone and iOTA Cellars Oregon Pinot Noir vertical (2013, 2014, 2015). Whew, time to sleep.

Maryhill vineyards

Mary Hill winery - soil sample and peach trees

Day 3: The day started from learning about the location of the Wine Bloggers Conference 2019 – Hunter Valley in Australia, October 10-12, 2019. This sounds ultra-attractive – and equally impossible (in my own world). After a few of the breakout session, we went out for lunch at the Walla Walla tasting rooms which we had an opportunity to select the day before – my choice was Otis Kenyon Winery. Next was the session called Bubbles and Bites, a sparkling wine and food pairing lesson presented by Gloria Ferrer. Right after that, we had an in-depth lesson about European Cheeses. Up next was the “Lightning talks” session – 5 minutes presentations by the fellow bloggers with the slides rotating every 15 seconds. Wine Live Blogging session for whites and Rosé closed the main conference activities – which left us with the wine dinner with the vintners from Walla Walla. At the dinner, I fell in love with the wines from Revelry Vintners, which were simply stunning, and also enjoyed a few wines from Bergevin Lane. And then … yes, of course, another late night session (someone had to drink all that wine, right?)

fall in Mary Hill vineyards

view from Cathedral Ridge winery

Day 4: The conference was officially closed, but – there were post-conference excursions. I visited Maryhill Winery in Walla Walla, and Cathedral Ridge Winery in Oregon, both offering spectacular views and delicious wines.

The End.

Here it is – my abbreviated report of the WBC18 activities. Speaking strictly for myself, I greatly enjoyed the conference – the place, the wines, people and conversations – everything work together very well to create a memorable experience. If you never attended the conference – do you want to attend one now, after reading my report? If you are a “regular”, what are your thoughts about WBC18 and will we see each other in Australia? Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage: Chowdafest, Champagne in Space, WBC18, Losing the Donuts and more

September 26, 2018 1 comment

Meritage Time!

I have a lot of interesting tidbits for you, so let’s get going.

Clam ChowderFirst and foremost, the Chowdafest. Now in its 11th year, one of my all-time favorite fun culinary events keep on going strong. Same as the last year, 40 culinary teams (restaurants, catering, etc) will compete in 5 categories (Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian). Even the lobster chowder is expected to be present this year. As usual, the guests will be sampling and judging. To put things in perspective, 40 of 1 oz samples make it for 40 oz of chowder – that is 2.5 lb of chowder combined! I don’t know how you see it, but this is a lot of chowder! Oh well, if you are anywhere within a few hours drive, the event is well worth it, so see you there!

Next one might be an old news for many (for sure my kids are already all over it) – the famed Dunkin’ Donuts is going to lose the donuts! Not to worry, only in its name. As it seems to be popular nowadays, the iconic chain which had been around since 1948, is going to change its name to just Dunkin’ – as my kids said, this is how everybody calls it anyway, so no big deal. I hope this renaming will be more successful compared to the recent failure of the IHOP->IHOB->IHOP attempt – and it most likely will. You can find more details about renaming at the Dunkin’s (can we already call them like that?) website.

The next subject I want to touch on is something I would typically include into my April 1st posts – but today is not April 1st, so this is actually not a joke and not a prank. It seems that in only a couple of years, anyone who has a spare $10M or so will be able to book their hotel room in … yes, space. It is obvious that such a unique achievement have to be properly celebrated – and what else says “celebration” if not a glass of Champagne? Challenge is that it is hard to pour a glass of revered bubbly in space – but have no fear, Champagne house of Mumm set out to solve the problems by teaming up with the designer Octave de Gaulle. The problem will be solved by creating a special two-chamber bottle which will create a foam out of Champagne, which will then return to its traditional bubbly state directly in the consumer’s mouth. For more details, please see the original article here (thanks to my friend Emil for bringing this to my attention).

Now, let’s talk about numbers – can you not like talking about numbers? When we hear numbers, we think we are in the know – if we can measure something, we are now in control, right? Okay, these are obviously wine-related numbers (you didn’t expect me to talk about Prius production here, didn’t you?) – and they relate to the wine consumption in different states in the USA. Well, not even wine – the alcohol consumption overall. VinePair just published a ranking of all 50 states in terms of the alcohol consumption per capita. Want to guess which state leads the pack? I will give you a moment to ponder at it. Ready? If you said New Hampshire, you won! Wait, I don’t have any prizes here. Well, pat yourself on the back, will you? New Hampshire is leading in terms of alcohol consumption in the USA, with 4.76 gallons per capita per year. Washington, DC is second, with 3.85, followed by Delaware at 3.72. At the bottom of the table is state of Utah (I’m sure we could predict that), with 1.34 gallons per capita. When it comes to numbers, I always remember the old adage of “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics” – I have no idea where all these numbers came from – for example, if most of my wines come directly from the wineries through the mailing lists, is that accounted for? Anyway, the numbers are always fun, so for the full report, please follow this link.

Last one for today, and it is not even really the news. The Wine Bloggers Conference of 2018 (WBC18 for short) will start in a mere week, on October 4th, in Walla Walla, Washington. I will be attending WBC18 (I know a lot of bloggers can’t make it, unfortunately), so if you are reading this and will be attending the conference, please find me and say “hi”. The state of Washington makes amazing wines, and Walla Walla is on the forefront of producing those amazing wines, so I’m definitely looking forward to experiencing the wines and meeting all the wine people next week.

And we are done here, my friends. The glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. Until the next time – cheers!