My head is spinning (and not just from all the wine I consumed) since returning to SoCal from my first ever Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington.
I signed up for WBC18 way back in February after I found out it was going to be held in my beloved Washington state. And I can’t recall exactly how I managed to talk Hubs into going with me . . . I think I just said “Walla Walla” and “Wine” and he was in (he’s easy that way). Nevertheless, he’ll be providing his own highlights and thoughts on the conference in an upcoming post – and has already given the world an incomplete overview of the host city.
While there were several enjoyable and informative parts to the conference, there were five that really stood out to me. And, using some of the tools I learned about in Digital Firefly Marketing’s awesome seminar on Google Readability, here are my WBC18 highlights:
Force Majeure Excursion – Visit to Their (Future) Production Facility & Estate Vineyard
Coming in hot!! What a way to start the conference – this half day tour was a wine geek’s dream! So much so that I’ll post a more corkdorkily detailed post HERE for those readers interested in a deeper dive of this outing.
Upon boarding our bus bound for the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater (aka “The Rocks”), owner Paul McBride told us about the history of Force Majeure and the winery’s focus on single vineyard designated sites within the Red Mountain AVA. His enthusiasm multiplied exponentially though as he turned the topic to Force Majeure’s future . . .
Our first stop was to check in on progress of the winery’s future production facility and tasting room in Milton-Freewater – both of which will (hopefully!) be operational by mid-March, 2019. After this, we piled into several SUVs for a jaunt outside of town and up about 2,000 feet to see the site of Force Majeure’s future estate vineyard. Located in an area referred to as the “North Fork” – geologist, Washington wine champion and AVA aficionado Dr. Kevin Pogue described this area as a “sweet spot” because it checked so many of the right boxes for vineyard site selection: elevation, rain levels, soils and aspect (more detail on this in an upcoming post!) Plus, while I don’t believe this is a factor usually considered when deciding vineyard site, it’s absolutely fucking gorgeous.
Introduction to the Walla Walla Valley Wine Region
This was a fantastic start to the seminar portion of the conference. The panel was composed of four dynamos in the local wine industry: Annette Bergevin, Nina Buty, Muriel Kenyon and Ashley Trout. Although, this was not to be considered a “women in wine panel” per the moderator . . . these ladies just happen to kick ass at what they do.
The panel discussed several issues related to the Walla Walla wine region – from history (the Otis Kenyon background story has got to be one of the most scintillating tidbits!) to the future (how to market Walla Walla beyond Washington state). There was an overall theme of community and comradery. However, as with many wine growing regions, the ongoing labor shortage was also discussed. And while there’s no definitive answer to this problem – Ashley Trout’s Vital Wines project that helps to provide healthcare to those in need, is an awesome start.
Speed Tasting (AKA the Exact Opposite of What I Do For My WSET Studies)
While this wouldn’t be my favorite way to taste wine on a regular basis, it was a hell of a lot of fun to try a couple of times. At the end of both days, 25 winemakers poured into the conference room (pun possibly intended). They each had five minutes to pour their wine for a table, give their “elevator speech”, answer questions, and then move on to the next table. Interestingly enough (to me anyways), my favorite red and white were both from the same winery: J. Bookwalter. Which just happens to be located in my hometown . . . so, I guess I might be guilty of a little local bias after all. 😉
Stay tuned for a “He Said/She Said” post where Hubs and I compare our tasting notes from one of these sessions.
Mystery Dinner Excursions
After Friday’s live blogging session, attendees were separated into groups based on the color of their “mystery winery” ticket. Hubs and I piled into a van with the other bright green ticket holders and headed off into Walla Walla. Now, this goes against one of Hubs and my hard and fast rules: Always Have an Exit Strategy. (This rule might be why we’ve never gone on a cruise). Thankfully – we didn’t need to worry about this rule since our bright green ticket led us to one of Walla Walla’s quintessential wineries – Dunham Cellars.
Dunham was one of the first wineries I ever visited in Walla Walla back in the early 2000s and has held a special place in my heart since. We were served a delicious, waistband straining six-course meal paired with a variety of Dunham wines. My favorite was the 2014 Dunham Cabernet Sauvignon XX while Hubs loved the 2016 Late Harvest Riesling. It was an unforgettable evening with new friends, great food, and classic Walla Walla wines.
And Finally, Connecting with Other Wine Bloggers . . . in Person.
While social media is a great way to meet other wine bloggers, nothing can compare to chatting face-to-face. It was wonderful to finally be able to geek out with fellow wine enthusiast Amber (aka SpitBucket), see my former Northwest Wine Academy classmate Nancy with VinoSocial, talk WSET Diploma studies with Terry and Lindsay, and share some Pacific Northwest wine love with Pat the Wine Guy.
And, after a minor stumble (literally), I’m thrilled to have met one of the original members of the wine blogging world: Tom Wark. He’s incredibly approachable if you get him talking about golf (just ask Hubs!) and passionate about consumer rights to access wines without being at the mercy of distributors. As a recovering lawyer turned wine enthusiast, this is a cause I can definitely get behind.