Head filled, heart too after WBC10
I’m back from the American Wine Bloggers Conference, up in Walla Walla, where they had invited me to give the Friday “keynote” speech.
A strange, archaic word, “keynote.” I worked really hard writing that 30-minute talk, because there were lots of issues I wanted to address. I also took seriously the fact that the organizers had invited me. I’ve heard many speeches that were total B.S., boring, irrelevant, and so devoid of content, they seemed to have been written on the way into the conference hall. I didn’t want to commit any of those sins.
I thought it went pretty well. I’d been warned beforehand that the audience — 300 strong, most of whom had been drinking — might be a little hard to control, but they were polite, even intense as they listened. Over the next two days, at least 60 came up to me to say “thank you” and tell me they’d been touched. Well, good. I wanted people to feel touched, because I reached out to them. Those thank-you’s meant more to me than I can put into words. I’m an emotional guy, and my swim in the Blogosphere Sea has not been without choppy waters. To continue the maritime metaphor, I’ve sometimes felt like my little boat was surrounded by maneaters.
On Live Wine Blogging: I first saw this phenomenon two years ago, when the Conference was in Santa Rosa. LWB is where all the attendees sit around tables in the ballroom, 6-7 to a table, laptops in front of them, and Twitter away like crazy as winemakers wander from table to table like minstrels, each allowed 5 minutes to pour and deliver a spiel about their wine, trying to make themselves heard above the 120-decibel din, while the bloggers record their mini-reviews (in 140 words or less, of course) before sending them into the ether. When the 5 minutes is over, an organizer rings a bell, and the winemakers wander off to their next table.
Looked at from the outside, it’s a bizarre spectacle. It reminded me of the Bingo games they used to have at the temple when I was a kid. I felt like Margaret Mead, parachuting down to observe the Samoans perform their exotic rituals. I told Reno Walsh, from Zephyr Adventures, one of the conference organizers and a good-looking blond, that it seemed a little weird evaluating wine under such crazy circumstances.
“It is kind of weird,” Reno acknowledged, “but, you know, speed blogging at least exposes them to the wine, and if they want to know more about it, they know where to go.” A little later, a blogger further enlightened me on speed blogging. “It makes me focus my thoughts, under pressure, and quickly come up with a few words to describe the wine.” And I thought to myself, “Hmm. That’s not so different from what I do.” After that, I relaxed and started getting into it. Just goes to show how easy it is to judge something from the outside without bothering to understand it. So Margaret Mead went Samoan — or was it a case of Stockholm syndrome?
What everybody was talking about: That Starbucks store in Seattle that will start serving wine and beer this Fall. If the concept works, Starbucks across the country may do it. Lots of buzz among the buzz-hungry bloggers.
Drinking beer with the townies: Late on Friday night, after the downtown wine bar crawl (Walla Walla is said to have the cutest Main Street in America), all I could think of was beer. So I parted ways from the rest of the bloggers (who were headed off, far as I could tell, to an after-hours party at Hardy Wallace’s cottage) and went to the hotel bar for a brewski. The place was packed with rowdy young locals drinking beer and shots. I took a seat and waited for the barkeep to notice me when one of them said to me, “Hey.” I looked over. “You one of those bloggers?” he asked.
Uh oh, I thought, I’m about to get the crap pounded out of me by Eastern Washington State rednecks. After all, Walla Walla isn’t far from the survivalist camps of Idaho. But no. The kids wanted to hear all about the conference. In fact, they seemed to know a little about wine. One of them was heavily into tattoos (double sleeve), so we bonded. When the barkeep wandered over and asked what I wanted, I said, “Beer — but why don’t you guys pick something local for me.” This elicited a conference and Tattoo Man finally called for something in a mug that was pretty good. We drank and talked for the longest time, without a word about blogs or social media. It was all good.
Wine discovery of the weekend: Washington State Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blends.
A wish: Please, Lord, no more panels on “The Future of Wine Writing.” (Why do I suspect this prayer will not be answered?)
A vow: To give Twitter another try, after my ill-fated attempt last Spring. This, even though I warned the bloggers that the more they’re online tweeting, Facebooking, etc., the less they’re actually writing, and learning to write. You can’t be a good wine writer unless you write good, spell good and have good grammer.