Is it Time for the Wine Media Conference to Actively Plant New Varieties?

Recently, Bordeaux shocked the wine world by permitting six new grape varieties within the AOC.  Climate change and rising temperatures prompted the region to re-evaluate continuing to rely solely on traditional Bordeaux varieties.  There was increasing concern that with hotter and drier weather, traditional varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot would no longer be able to “deliver the quality, characteristics and volume required for sustainability in coming decades.”  The newly admitted varieties are more adaptable to the changing environment and the hope is that they will help the Bordeaux blend evolve well into the future.

In 2018, the Wine Bloggers Conference became the Wine Media Conference

The Wine Bloggers Conference was founded in 2008, and three years ago changed its name to the Wine Media Conference (WMC) “to reflect the reality of what our attendees were already doing: communicating about wine on blogs, social media, and traditional media.”  After a vinvestigation of this year’s WMC attendee list, a handful of podcasters and YouTubers can be found, but the vast majority of attendees were bloggers.  So, while the name of the conference may have changed, the blend remains pretty much the same.

The death of the wine blog has been discussed for years, but the fact of the matter is: people consume information differently now than they did in 2008.  The blog is being replaced with other forms of media like podcasts, YouTube or TikTok videos, and social media micro-blogs.  And while this is not nearly as drastic as climate change, the WMC needs to address the challenges the blog is facing in this changing environment.

The Wine Media Conference should actively plant new varieties.

What does actively plant mean?

Like a vineyard, the conference should be nurtured if it is going to grow and thrive into the future.  This means letting potential attendees know about the conference in advance of the event.  The conference host Zephyr Wine Conferences posted frequently throughout the spring on Instagram, and I posted about the conference back in May, but for the most part – social media was dead silent about the WMC until it was actually underway. 

And while there was the usual flurry of posts during the event, this is too late for people to sign up for the current conference – and too early for them to sign up for the following year.  For the WMC to be successful into the future, it ideally should have continual promotion from as many voices as possible . . . and not just during the event.

What new varieties should be planted?

Bordeaux chose new varieties that would help the region continue to produce wine given the changing climate.  The WMC should choose new varieties that will help the event continue to champion wineries and wine regions given the changing ways in which people consume information. New varieties to consider include podcasters, vloggers, social media mavens and yes – even the dreaded Instagram “I” word. 

I can feel dozens of eyeballs rolling right now, but here are the facts:

Instagram has one billion active users globally, and half of these users (500 million!) are on the site every day.

Instagram users spend an average of 30 minutes per day on the site.

81% of people use Instagram to help research products and services.

To be clear, I’m not talking about vapid Instagram influencers who have absolutely nothing to say about the bottle of wine they’re holding (which is often out of focus because it’s not the main purpose of the photo).  I’m referring to the influencers whose feed might be predominately sponsored posts and selfies, but they also have a desire – and a significant reach – to support wineries and wine regions. And just because they’re showing this support differently than traditional wine bloggers, doesn’t mean they’re doing it wrong . . . or that they aren’t media.  Media is defined as “the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, magazines, and the internet, that reach or influence people widely.” So yes, influencers are “media.” 

Interestingly, the WMC sessions I attended that were focused on Instagram and personal branding were practically standing room only.  Both sessions also nearly went over their allocated timeframe with numerous questions from attendees – a clear indication that bloggers are interested in learning how to use or improve their social media reach.  This is something that influencers could help with . . . if we’d open the door to them. 

Twenty or so years ago, wine blogging was just getting started.  For many years, wine bloggers have been treated as lesser than, or at least not as professional as, “traditional” wine writers.  Now that bloggers have an established space in wine media – why not open the door to other emerging “non-traditional” voices?  By actively planting these new varieties, together we can all bring more attention and new consumers to the wine industry.

Becoming a Certified Sherry Wine Specialist

“Isn’t that the shit you use for cooking?”

-Hubs on Sherry (did I mention he’s a beer guy?)

As if there weren’t already enough post-nominals in the wine world (WSET, CMS, FWS, etc.), last week I learned about one more: Certified Sherry Wine Specialist – CSWS.

The CSWS course is a 2.5 hour seminar sponsored by The House of Lustau – one of the most revered Sherry producers in the world.  The course has recently been making industry rounds in California from the Napa Valley Wine Academy to Neptune Wine School (where I’ll be taking my upcoming WSET Diploma classes!).

There’s quite a lot of information covered in this brief 150 minutes including the history of Sherry, its grapes and growing environment, and the famous (and fascinating) solera system shown below.


In addition to a broad overview, class participants taste 6 different styles of Sherry – 2 Finos, a Manzanilla, an Amontillado, an Oloroso and a Pedro Ximénez.  This alone was worth the price of admission in my mind (a very reasonable $40).  It’s one thing to read about how Manzanilla Sherry has a briny/salty edge to it or that Pedro Ximénez is SO lusciously sweet, often tasting of dried fruit and coffee.  For me, the knowledge really sinks in when I can smell and taste these things for myself.  I’m no longer just memorizing facts, I’m having my own experiences – which are a helluva lot easier to recall if I need to for an exam!  Speaking of which…..the 2 hour seminar concludes with a 28 question exam (most of it multiple choice) and those achieving a score of 20 or higher will receive a CSWS certification.


Although it’s advertised as an intermediate level course – I wouldn’t let this scare off any wine newbies out there.  Compared to some of the other wine classes I’ve attended, I found the CSWS to be completely welcoming (read: nonthreatening).  Nobody is put on the spot unless you want to be. 🙂  Our seminar was led by Lucas Payà who, along with being incredibly knowledgeable and patient with questions, also had a gorgeous accent that I could listen to all day.

I’d highly recommend this seminar to anyone interested in learning more about Sherry – no matter what your current wine knowledge level.  And for those other wine bloggers out there – the CSWS course is going to be offered at The Wine Bloggers Conference in October (and is a total steal at $15!)

Here’s my outline on Sherry which will provide you with a great overview, but just isn’t the same as tasting an amazing Pedro Ximénez!!