I have just returned from Charlottesville, Virginia and the North American Wine Bloggers Conference with a full mind, a tired brain, and some great memories.
The conference is now in its fourth year, and I’ve had the fortune of attending all but the first one; previous cities include Sonoma, CA and Walla Walla, WA. This years conference was attended by over 300 bloggers and other industry representatives. I can say with confidence that the conference was successful, inspiring, informative, and importantly allowed for some great relationship building (otherwise known as networking).
Instead of detailing what I did and tasted, I hope to use what I took away from the conference to influence what I write on my blog going forward. Always learning, always growing, always experiencing, and always reflecting that in my writing.
After returning from the conference last year in Walla Walla I was inspired to express more honesty in my writing (using that opportunity to announce both my pregnancy and our plans to relocate to Connecticut) after hearing presentations by Lettie Teague and Meg Houston Maker who talked about authenticity in writing.
This year, what affected me was less personal in nature, but more of a professional challenge (so to speak).
I left with a motivation to explore the regions and varietals in the eastern portion of the United States. Yes I said it. I’m branching out of my safety net of CA, OR, and WA wines.
Living in Northern California for five years, and then the Northwest for five, I gained a lot of pride for the wines of those regions. That is because I was surrounded by them, I worked in the regions, I drank them (a lot of them), and met a lot of people who make those regions so special. One of the best parts of living in a great wine region is being exposed to small production wines that never even leave the state.
Before I moved to Oregon I had no idea that there was even such a thing as the Columbia Gorge Wine Region. I then moved to Portland and after working in the Willamette Valley, took a job 50 miles west of my home. I worked there, got my hands dirty and delved into the region, people, stories, wines, and witnessed first hand the potential for great wine in that region.
Admittedly I was a bit terrified to move away from what I viewed as the greatest coast for winemaking in the US. You don’t get exposed to many domestic wines from outside the Northwest when you live IN the Northwest so I hadn’t really tasted other eastern regions with some exceptions in New York. Well, now that I am here I’ve decided it’s finally time to get my hands dirty again and explore these regions I have access to. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of this opportunity? So, like it or not, we’re going to be exploring new US regions, especially those within a hop, skip, or jump from New England.
One of the catalysts for this inspiration (and thus this new attitude) was my new appreciation for Virginia wines. I can honestly say I had never tasted a wine from Virginia before this conference and heard loads of mixed reviews (many negative) regarding the region. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I did go in with an open mind and what I discovered may surprise you.
The numbers: There are close to 200 wineries and 6 AVA’s (American Viticultural Area) in the state of Virginia at present.
The wines: I tasted a lot of wines from Virginia. Some were just okay, some were blah, but many were very good, in particular many of the Viogners from the state (which I will write about very soon) as well as some nice Cabernet Franc.
The people: Meeting with many of the winemakers I learned about the history, the present, and growth opportunities of the region. I could sense the passion in their voices and stories and wanted to learn more.
The hospitality: The folks at the host hotel (OMNI Charlottesville) and the folks from the Virginia Wine Association and Virginia Visitors Bureau were incredibly hospitable displaying professionalism, education, and loads of passion for their region. They worked very hard to accommodate such a large group so my hat goes off to them.
Good wines, passionate and talented winemakers, and great hospitality… To me these are a few important ingredients for a great wine region with loads of potential!
So in the coming months I look forward to writing stories and wine reviews from Virginia, Connecticut (the good, bad and ugly!), New York state, and beyond. Of course I will not be leaving out California, Oregon, and Washington, but it will be fun to try the various styles and get to know a little more about other wine producing states. Starting with this coming weekend. If you are in Connecticut, feel free to join me this weekend at the Connecticut Wine Festival. I will be going with a very open mind and intend to learn all I can about the wine region in my new backyard.
Your challenge: If you live somewhere with a wine region nearby (which if you live in the United States is ALL OF YOU; all 50 states are producing *some* kind of wine), get out there and experience something new. You never know what you will discover. More importantly, if you have a preconceived attitude about a region because you tasted wines from there 10+ years ago, give it another shot. Believe me A LOT can change in 10 years, especially in expanding wine regions! Be open minded!
To fellow bloggers: By now I’m sure you’ve heard a variety of critiques of the conference (good, bad, and ugly) so I’m not going to give any opinion on that. My mother always taught me that an experience is what YOU make it and your attitude going into it will ultimately determine what kind of an experience you take away from it (I had a great time at the conference btw!). So, instead I want to send a personal thank you to everyone who attended and especially for those I got to meet, shake hands with, hang out with, share wine with, and sing Prince music during the late hours of the night with. It is because of you that I will continue to go back year after year. Meeting new people, sharing our stories, our expertise, over a glass of wine while hopefully learning and allowing ourselves to be inspired. That’s what its all about.
Oh and in case you were wondering what the twins were doing while mom was at the conference? Well, they got their first Civil War history lesson while touring historic battle fields led by a huge Civil War nerd.
More pictures and stories to come… Until then, Cheers