Dissing Mothers and What I learned at the Wine Bloggers Conference

RandallThe recently concluded conference of wine bloggers in Portland, Oregon was, as always, enlightening, a great source of ideas for this writer, full of surprises, great fun, dashed with a few disappointments and provided and up-close opportunity to examine the state of wine blogging.

With that in mind, I’ve culled the Top Ten Things I learned at the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference:

1. Marketing Aside. Wine Bloggers remain somewhat uninterested in marketing their work beyond posts on Facebook and Tweets announcing their latest missive. I’ve noticed this lack of marketing sense by wine bloggers before, but once again it became clear that marketing was a theme that many wine bloggers ignore in favor of focusing on content creation. I remain convinced that the first really good and prolific writer/reviewer in the wine blogging world to devote equal time to marketing as to content creation will be highly rewarded.

2. Rex Pickett Doesn’t Like His Mother. This unfortunate disclosure, among other things, became clear as the author of “Sideways” addressed an audience of wine bloggers on the second day of the conference. Mr. Pickett, who has few things to say about the Internet, writers, publishing and Virginia Madsen, engaged in a Q&A in front of a room of content creators. I may have missed some outstanding nuggets sent forth from Mr. Pickett as I had to leave the Q & A in the middle.

3. Greatness Resides at the Edge of the Pearl: Jacob Grier. There, at the very top edge of the Pearl District in Portland, sits MetroVino Restaurant. What would seem at first glance as a wine bar is in fact the home of one of America’s great young cocktalians: Jacob Grier. I sought out this young bartender who will in the days to come make a great name for himself. His cocktail creations are inspired, pictures of perfect balance, full of whimsy and each delicious. I would return to Portland merely to sit at his bar.

4. Randall Grahm Is My Hero. The Wine Bloggers Conference’s Friday Keynote speaker confirmed that he remains the most interesting man in American wine. A deep thinker with reverential relationship with words and ideas, Randall is today on a quest not merely to sell his wine, but to commune in a deep way with terroir. No longer the Clown Prince of Wine, Randall’s prime role today is to inspire palates and minds, simultaneously.

5. The Greeks Are Coming. The walk around tasting of Greek wines was revelatory. The wines delicious. The change that has overcome that country’s wine industry near total. Don’t worry that the Greek wine labels may rival German for their incomprehensible quality. Just drink them.

6. Pok Pok: Eat the Food—Leave the Wine at Home. The legendary Thai restaurant, Pok Pok, proved to be everything it promised. A revelation of inventive yet simple food that helps redefine our idea of Thai cuisine. However, it was clear, as I sat among 11 other blogging friends, eating dish after dish, that trying to match wine with this food proves a disservice to both. Leave the wine at home when you visit, get a simple beer and eat.

7. Great Panel Discussions Require Great Precision and Direction. I’ve known this but it was driven home as I sat in a panel discussion at the Wine Bloggers Conference. If you want to deliver insight to an audience based on a panel of speakers, make the speakers prepare. Make sure they deliver precise messages in limited number. Moderator: Don’t let anyone ramble. Cut them off at the knees when they do. And leave enough time for audience members to hail, agree with, correct and challenge the panelists.

8. Curation Is the Gift To Wine Blog Readers. The Wine Blog Awards are just one way for wine enthusiasts to identify what’s worth reading in that vast sea of content. Additionally, the curators of wine blogs, those that take the time to highlight what they believe is most interesting, best written and most important, are critical to separating the wheat from the chaff.

9. The Value of Face Time Exceeds the Value of Facebook. One thing is indisputable. Wine Bloggers have built an honest to goodness community in which they concern themselves with one another, root for each others success and truly enjoy each others company. The face time with other bloggers that the Wine Bloggers Conference provides is unquestionably its greatest benefit.

10. Irony Finds a Way. I’m not sure if the one great irony that emerged from the Wine Bloggers Conference was apparent to its participants. The winner of Best Overall Wine Blog at the Saturday Wine Blog Awards Ceremony was Jamie Goode for Jamie Goode’s Wine Blog, a fantastic resource. However, it was Jamie Goode who, not more than two months ago wrote: “I am not a wine blogger…Blogging is dead”. Congratulations, Jamie. It’s an award well-earned.



25 Responses

  1. SUAMW - August 20, 2012

    Pickett has claimed he “made” several winemakers and wine brands in Santa Barbara – in particular brands that had achieved renown before he penned his books. Folks in SBC did not take kindly to that.

  2. Tom Wark - August 20, 2012

    Why would they?

  3. Alfonso - August 20, 2012

    #1 – is a powder-keg just waiting to go off – good call!

  4. Jo Diaz - August 20, 2012

    Revealing… So few people know or understand marketing. I’m not surprised with that one. Randall Grahm is my hero, too. panels… You never know how the person is going to be until the panel begins, said she after 10 Petite Sirah Symposiums and Two Pinot Gris Symposiums under my belt. Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks.

  5. SUAMW - August 20, 2012

    Because they feel he acted rather arrogant and they did not appreciate him condescending to them after they’d been toiling for years with a degree of success and recognition before he came around.

  6. Nick - August 20, 2012

    Great post Tom, thanks. I suppose when it’s all said and done and there’s more said than done, I’m happiest to hear about #9.

  7. Tom - August 21, 2012

    Nice post, Tom. Also thanks for leading the Q&A with the award winners — taking the time to prepare questions for a session where the audience stayed up too late and drank too much to come up with many on its own.
    With #1 above, I know that not being a writer by training or profession means that just writing the posts is often difficult enough. Not that marketing time isn’t important, but I sometimes overwhelmed just by posting.

  8. doug wilder - August 21, 2012

    I could see where the wineries could be coming from. Foxen and Sanford were well known years before the film was released. Although both have benefitted from the exposure, to suggest that somebody else ‘made’ them is crazy. I encounter people all of the time operating on mis-information that they swallow as gospel (ex: While waiting for takeout in Pacific Grove, the big screen was running a Rachael Ray segment where she was talking about her new pizza oven that ‘gets to 1000 degrees, hotter than the sun’.) Some people will now answer the question of how hot is the sun as ‘less than 1000 degrees’.

  9. Lara - August 21, 2012

    I liked your idea of having a wine tweeter’s conference. It was quite a rewarding experience just sitting on my couch in West Palm Beach, following the tweets, and almost feeling like I was there. I’m pretty sure you all had way more fun though 🙂
    Thanks for the summary!

  10. winehiker - August 21, 2012

    I was compelled to witness #wbc12 from afar, but you captured the Zeitgeist and brought it all much nearer. A terrific read, Tom – thanks.

  11. Julia Crowley - August 21, 2012

    I feel I may have influenced your thoughts on your blurb: Marketing Aside.
    Aside from being one who nearly faints at the thought of appearing on-stage in front of a crowd, I’ve been thinking about the seasoned bloggers that I was truly thrilled to share a stage with. They’re good; in fact, they’re awesome. I’m truly honored to be surrounded by such great and talented people.
    While I wholeheartedly agree with your ‘Marketing Aside’ comments, I also feel that a product can only be successfully marketed once plenty of valuable and worthy content have been created. (If only I could have put these words to use on the stage during the Q&A!)
    I have big plans for WineJulia.com, where content creation AND marketing will equal the absolute role of what I do. Please don’t give up on me, I have a long way to go and many, many plans are in place – WineJulia.com will be around for a long time. ~ Julia

  12. Todd - VT Wine Media - August 21, 2012

    Fantastic list. Makes me wish all the more that I had been there. I still sense a huge untapped resource in the connectivity and unified network of wine bloggers.
    Cheers all. Keep tasting, keep writing.

  13. Tom Wark - August 21, 2012

    You are hard to give up on and you did just great during the Sunday discussion. We are all watching you. You didn’t win Best New Wine Blog without reason.

  14. OhioWineGuy - August 22, 2012

    Thanks, Tom. I read enough wine blogs to know that on your point of marketing, it is very true. I work with wineries in the Ohio River Valley App and bring the business of marketing to them as they generally do not spend any time on it. I see many wine bloggers as “shotgun” style writers whose compositions may or may not have anything to do with wine. As I sit here composing this reply, I can see wine bloggers doing the same thing in solitude with their thoughts on whatever hits them at the moment.
    Marketing by definition demands some element of segmentation to be focused and successful in a market. For wine itself, even some wineries don’t know what segment(s) they play in and suffer for it. For me a great wine blog starts and stays with…wine! Thanks again Tom.

  15. Tom Wark - August 22, 2012

    Thanks for your comment. With regard to starting and staying with wine on your blog, I think it comes back to satisfying the audience you want to cultivate.

  16. Austin Beeman - August 22, 2012

    I love your takeaways from the conference, including your willingness to put Rex Pickett in his place (a feeling I share after hearing that keynote.) I also enjoyed our chance to talk at the conference.
    I was able to capture the entirety of Randall Grahm’s Keynote in pretty good quality video. With his permission, I’ve post it on Youtube. If you want to share it or embed it, here is the link.


  17. Tom Wark - August 22, 2012

    Thanks for placing that link. I’d seen it earlier today somewhere and it was fun to watch again.
    I expected or hoped for a bit more from Mr. Pickett. It’s true.

  18. gretchen - August 23, 2012

    There are certain people who are hysterical to listen to but I wouldn’t want to hang out and be friends with. Ricky Gervais is one… Rex Pickett the other.

  19. John Rudolph - September 3, 2012

    I had to finish Rex Pickett’s latest book, which I won’t plug, to comment on #2. I agree that it is unfortunately true about his poor Mom. I found the book, like his interview at WBC, depressing and unenlightening. # 4 I completely agree, Randall Graham deserves more of our attention. Whether you agree with him or not, he is asking the kind of questions that stretch us in the direction of our greatest potential.

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  22. Aris - January 23, 2013

    Excited to read about #5! Greek wines are certainly getting more and more established. We feel proud enough to have placed Greek wines into Waldorf Astoria (first in the hotel’s history) and Delmonico’s Kitchen (also first in the restaurant’s history)!

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