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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.

Random notes

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.

Reno Walsh

“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.

  1. OK, I’ll say it. Steve, you wuz robbed! There should be a shiny, new Poodle on your mantelpiece for Best Writing on a Wine blog. But awards and injustice go together like bad grammer and lousy speling.

  2. Looking forward to our venture back into twitter!

  3. Hay Hosemaster that is the nisest thig you ever sed about me

  4. Steve, you and I may have come from different schools but it is not difficult for me to see and say that you are, unequivocally, the best wine journalist writing today.

  5. Ray, thank you very much. Means a lot.

  6. Nice recap Steve- Thank you for delivering a heart-felt keynote.

  7. I’ll be curious to learn how you find balance between writing and twitter, and I do mean this sincerely. Considering that your panel discussion suggested that people disproportionally focus on their numbers as opposed to improving their writing, I do hope you share your experience in finding balance between both worlds.

  8. You did good at WBC10, Steve. You did well, also. :^)

    And thanks for evoking the fond memory of Harry.

  9. I like your ‘intrepid anthropologist’ viewpoint, given that it’s coming from a wine writer who blogs, rather than a blogger who focuses on wine.

    Some parallels might be drawn between Mead’s observations of pre-contact Samoan culture and traditional wine writing encountering bloggers, in re a more rigidly structured society vs. a seemingly more relaxed and open society displaying behaviours that would be worthy of approbation. Perhaps that’s too stretched a metaphor: I’m not sure you would want to be cast as an Anglican cultural anthropologist—I know I don’t want to come of age in the Blogosphere, and there wasn’t that much casual sex in sight.

    I’m the one you spoke to at the table about the nature of speed blogging (the guy in the skirt). I chose to post my reviews to one of my community blogs rather than on Twitter because I’ve come to the opposite feeling that you’ve expressed in your last paragraph: after a year of really trying I can’t get the feel for the ultra short-form, and I don’t think it conveys much of value.

    For me it’s become like a game of writing crappy 140 character haiku, and reading other tweets is like being at a party with a head cold and a hangover–lots of noise and action, but the conversational snatches don’t add up to much and eventually become a background of information-free noise.

    It was good to see you there, and your keynote address did a great job—thanks again.

  10. Any news on if your keynote was archived anywhere? I would love to hear it! Very nice that you got some ‘beer’ downtime. Sometimes you need that in between all the craziness.

  11. From what I’ve read, your words were wisdom. Good job, Steve.
    Now, what can we expect to see emerging in wine blogs over the days/weeks/months to come as a result of the weekend?

  12. The speed tweets, or any mini wine review, ought to have a score included. Though they remain controversial, nothing provides a sense of how a taster enjoyed a wine than this quantifiable assessment. All the usual suspect descriptors just don’t do it .

  13. Dennis Schaefer says:

    “A wish: Please, Lord, no more panels on “The Future of Wine Writing.” (Why do I suspect this prayer will not be answered?)”

    Steve, you stir this pot every month with your variations on the “wine journalists vs. wine bloggers” theme.

  14. Steve- I enjoyed the keynote address and getting a chance to meet you. Your take is a pretty level-headed and balanced view of a crazy and erratic subject (wine blogging). Thanks for being involved.

  15. Matt, thanks for your comment. I had a great time.

  16. Dennis: Oops! Busted! True, but I’m talking about formal panels. One or two a year is enough, I should think.

  17. Hard to tell if Tom is being facetious or not.

  18. Kristi, my understanding is the conference organizers are going to get something up. When/if they do, I’ll provide the link here.

  19. Tim, thanks for giving me that pearl of insight. I think any short form of wine reviewing is always going to have its limitations. Speaking as the employee of a wine magazine, that’s one of the challenges I referred to in explaining how an employed wine writer is going to have to come to terms with the parameters he’s forced to work with.

  20. Gabriella, first, congratulations on your award for best writing! You ask a great question. All I can say is, I don’t plan on spending a great deal of time on Twitter — at least, not nearly as much as some people I know. A little bit, just to keep up with what people are saying and let my followers (who don’t number very many) know I respect them. I anticipate that 95% of my time at a computer still will be devoted to writing, for both Wine Enthusiast and my blog. And when I’m away from my computer, I still always carry a pad and pen with me, because I enjoy writing the old fashioned way while having coffee in a cafe, on a subway, etc.

  21. Steve, thank you for your participation in the conference, and for sharing your thoughts in the keynote. We appreciate you playing in our sandbox, and I look forward to hopefully seeing a growing dialogue between print media and blogs.

    And, for the record, I never warmed up to the speed tasting concept.

  22. I found your keynote speech to be both inspiring and genuine – just the key I needed. It unlocked the door again for me to a world of creativity, drive, passion and ambition. I wish I had found the courage to come up and tell you so at the conference. It was my first time, so I have nothing to compare it to, but the words you shared were anything but boring and devoid of content. Glad you agreed to speak and I hope I have the opportunity to shake your again one day and tell you what a fine example you are to both the writing and wine communities.

  23. Tamara, thank you very much. If I’m any kind of example, I hope it’s that anybody can do what I do. Just try hard and study and write. Please stay in touch.

  24. Thanks Ben. Playing in the blogging sandbox has been one of the supreme experiences of this stage of my life.

  25. You: You can’t be a good wine writer unless you write good, spell good and have good grammer.

    Me: Right… good. Speak… good. And, well… grammar.

    Nothing like a little yin-yang in there.

    I loved the way the tastings were set up at the European Wine Bloggers Conference… Perhaps it’s a European thing… taking one’s time, living with less heart disease, letting in the flow of chi… Dreaming about EWBC and wishing myself to Austria… Wishing…

    Thanks for your thoughts, Steve.

  26. Steve,

    Bravo on the cheekiness of your last sentence and your replay of the scene at the hotel bar. Very nice.

  27. Steve, with you as a role model for writing across a variety of mediums and always doing so with professionalism, style and distinctive voice, perhaps sessions such as the future of wine writing will not be needed. But, I hope you will be enticed to always be a presenter because what you bring to the mix is inspiring.

  28. Chuck Hayward says:

    “One of them was heavily into tattoos (double sleeve), so we bonded.” –Steve Heimoff

    So I am to take what from this statement? You have them or you want them?

  29. Lori, thanks very much.

  30. Steve, Jo Diaz is correcting your grammar but I took the way you wrote it as tongue-in-cheek, much like your April Fools blog (boy, was I angry at you). What I gleaned from your post and comments today is that you are one helluva respected guy, and yes, you should have a poodle for your writing. Each blog you post is so insightful no matter what the subject. Thanks for being an inspiration.

    Tamara, nice job on your analogy with Steve’s keynote opening your creativity.

  31. Susan, thanks. I have to admit that the spelling and grammar mistakes were intentional!

  32. Steve-

    I looked out for you throughout the weekend to add my thank you for your heartfelt speech, but we never crossed paths. The speech was captivating and interesting, and for me was very validating about what it is that we bloggers do.



  33. Scott, thank you very much. I truly appreciate your words.

  34. Steve, it was a pleasure to meet you. We were on the same school bus together…

    I’ve added a photo which includes you:

    Also, posted 35 minutes of video from the Semillon panel – loved the Semillon tasting:

    Thank you for the inspiration.



  35. Hi William, thanks for sending me this.

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