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More Thinking About (and Drinking) VA Wine

Posted by on April 29, 2010

Yesterday I talked about the pre-lunch part of the Drink Local Wine conference.  Today I’ll fill you in on the final panel and the twitter taste off.

The third and final panel discussion of the day was, theoretically, about why those who promote eating locally are less concerned with drinking locally.  Dave McIntyre served as moderator, and the panelists were Todd Kilman, from Washingtonian Magazine (no photos allowed to protect his identity), Andrew Stover, sommelier and local wine distributor (for non-VA wines), and Mary Watson-DeLauder, sommelier (now in charge of all Benchmark Properties).  This panel felt unfocused and didn’t really grab my attention, so my notes here are weaker than for the other panels.

Local wine is just not in most restaurants.  The general consensus was, however, that mid-level restaurants are the places to target to get local wine on the wine list since they are more willing to take a risk and try something new while traditional, formal, dining establishments are more about an exclusive experience and traditional wines.  Mary suggested that wineries learn the menus at restaurants and walk in with specific recommendations for wines that would go well with the food that restaurant serves.  It was also suggested that chefs and sommeliers be invited to visit a number of VA wineries to taste their wines and learn about the diversity of options available (even if Andrew didn’t seem to realize that VA wine country extends far beyond Loudoun County).  The discussion then degenerated into a bashing of the 3 tier distribution system, which I’m hard pressed to believe anyone in the room supports.

I do think people should drink local, and I’m clearly able to do it in VA.  I do not, however, often order wine in restaurants because I hate paying a 200% (or more) markup, as is often the case (forget asking for the local wine list – I don’t even ask for a wine list).  I think a lot of local wine lovers are in the same boat.  Many of us are younger and on tighter budgets.  Many of us also know exactly how little we can buy that bottle for at the winery down the street (since we do so regularly) and are loathe to pay a much higher price in a restaurant when we likely have a bottle waiting for us on our shelves at home.

Regardless, I didn’t get a lot out of this panel and felt that it didn’t really have a clear focus or message in the same way the others did.

The final event of the day was the twitter taste off.  Participating wineries were asked to bring two wines: 1 white (or rose) and 1 red.  There were 27 participating wineries: 21 from VA and 6 from MD.  It was fun, although the room was too hot (which really hurt the way the reds were able to show), and there was not nearly enough time to actually taste, think about the wine, tweet, and cast votes.  In the end, we opted to do fast tasting with little reflection and no tweeting until it was all over.

My favorites were the ’09 viognier from Veritas and the ’02 merlot reserve from Breaux (with Veritas getting my vote for overall winner).  Grape Envy Guy’s favorites were the ’09 viognier from Veritas and the ’05 Norton Locksley Reserve from Chrysalis (with the norton getting his vote for overall winner- what else).  Other wines that I was thinking about after the tasting ended were the ’09 rosé from Boxwood (color me surprised), the ’07 meritage from Jefferson, the ’06 estate reserve from Lovingston, and the ’07 (?) meritage from Pollak.  There were other nice wines as well, but good notes weren’t in the cards, so this is what you get.

The actual winners were the Breaux merlot for red, the Chrysalis albariño for white, the Michael Shaps viognier for public favorite (non-media types), and the Breaux Merlot for the media favorite.

I was, however, excited to try the MD wines that made the trip down since we’d never had any.  I don’t think the MD wineries are quite where the VA wineries are, but a few did draw my notice.  Black Ankle Vineyards and Serpent Ridge Vineyard both showed well.  I also found it cool that Serpent Ridge is using zorks as their closure.  I do have to say that I wonder why anyone would want to make a sparkling wine from vidal blanc…  We’re not forsaking VA for MD anytime soon, but it’s good to know that more than one state was represented at this drink local celebration.

At the end of the day, I’m glad we decided to go.  I wish it had cost less, and I wish this audience hadn’t been almost entirely people who already care a great deal about MD and VA wine (preach to the choir much).  I wish there had been more outreach to the typical consumer of wine.  I also wish it hadn’t had such a cliquish feel.  We didn’t make the cool kids cut to get invited to receptions and dinners.  While that would have been nice, I don’t really care.  I do, think, however, that those events should not have been so prominently displayed in the program viewable online (that’s what email is for people), and announcements about how those in the exclusive dinner group would get wine on the bus while driving to dinner should not have been made in the room where everyone was doing the tasting.  Conferences have kinks, and I hope that the DLW folks will get the kinks better worked out for next year.

Hands down, however, the best part of this was meeting other bloggers face to face (and even a few winery folks who’ve now figured out who we are).  It was a wonderful, and too rare, experience to spend a day in the company of so many people who are so passionate about local wine.

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16 Responses to More Thinking About (and Drinking) VA Wine

  1. Lenn Thompson

    It really was great to meet you both…and I’m sorry that I didn’t stick around for the Twitter tasting.

    I’m a little surprised to hear you say that $65 was too much for the conference. I’m not going to call it a deal by any means, but for a one-day conference, which included 3 sessions (I think my feelings match yours on the value of each one), continental breakfast, a surprisingly very good lunch, and then a tasting of 50+ wines…it’s not bad. I’m not sure they could even pack anything more into the day.

    You keep referencing “cool kids” and that just seems silly to me. I assume you would include me in that lot, and I don’t know of anyone within that group that considers themselves anything special in that way. The spots were limited for the dinners (there wasn’t a single seat available at the one I attended). They have to cut them off somewhere, right?

    One thing to keep in mind about that though — no one knows who you are because you’re secretive about it (obviously your choice!). Plus, your blog is fairly new compared to some of us old timers ;)

    I consider you a cool kid :)

  2. Tammy Colson

    I think I’ll echo your comments here, with a kudos for saying it, and a so happy to have met you.

    Now, y’all just have to come on down south about 3.5 hours and visit some wineries. I think I might know a tour guide that could put together a border party. (NC/VA border, that is)

    You have become one of my favorite blogs to read, and to check, when I’m buying VA wine.

  3. Dave McIntyre

    Thank you both for coming, and for your thoughtful writeups and constructive comments. I’m sorry we didn’t meet in person (or did we?) but perhaps at some future local wine event.

  4. grapeenvyguy

    Tammy- thanks for the compliments! Your tours sound like an absolute blast, and the VA/NC border is one of the few areas of the state we haven’t toured. We’ll totally have to talk more about this.

  5. grapeenvyguy

    Lenn, I don’t think either one of us is saying that we regret paying the registration, but apparently it was significantly less last year (according to Jeff Siegel), so… why the jump? Let’s be honest, I doubt the wineries were paid to be there (although I could be wrong), so I don’t think that accounts for any part of the cost. There’s a bit of a mental threshold when it comes to pricing. Even just a hair under fifty bucks might have pulled in people who were passionate about local wine without blog, winery, or media connections. While I had a blast and got to meet some awesome folks, a little more diversity could have been cool.

    As for the cool kids thing, when we started the blog and opted to go the secret squirrel route we knew we’d be giving up a lot of the perks that other local wine bloggers get. It’s not a “wah, we didn’t get something” issue as much as a “is this a stratified conference?” thing.

    Totally enjoyed meeting you, and I actually have a couple things I’ll be bouncing off you over email.

  6. grapeenvyguy

    I have no doubt we’ll see you again, Dave. Sorry, local wine- we’re not going anywhere!

  7. Frank

    SSS,

    First – I too consider you both cool kids.

    Second – Really great (finally) meeting you in person. I really hope our paths cross out on the Virginia wine trail in the near future. It would be great to hang out with you guys and taste.

    As one of the ‘non’ cool kids I echo many of your points, however, I also agree with a couple of the points Lenn made. There was a lot of content for a one day event, and, we were provided breakfast, lunch and the opportunity to taste a lot of good wine. (I’m sipping on that Boxwood ’09 Cab Franc Rose as I type this.). That is a lot of value for $65.

    I will admit that DLW10 turned out MUCH better than I expected. The highlight of DLW10 for me was hanging out with my fellow bloggers in a smaller setting on Friday night and drinking Lenn’s NY wines. After all the fun we had Friday night coupled with the Breaux and Corcoran visits on Saturday, I considered driving home on Saturday night. I’m glad I didn’t. Sunday was a good day – I learned alot and met some great folks.

    As with any conference/gathering/meeting, there is always room for improvement, and DLW10 is no different. I am a believer in ‘inclusiveness’ vice ‘exclusive’ dinners for limited numbers. The DLW10 group was small enough that they could have easily had a happy hour on Saturday night with heavy appetizers at that restaurant and invited everyone (and still had the exact same wines). This would have resulted in an overall more positive environment. Of course, this is just my opinion… which will get me a double tall latte tomorrow morning at Starbucks along with $3.48.

    Unless they ‘blacklist’ me, I plan on attending DLW11 where ever it is. I will say this… I am putting the organizers on my Christmas card list just to make sure I’m invited to the Saturday night dinner. :)

    Another excellent post! Keep ‘em coming.

  8. vawinediva

    Frank, it was great meeting you as well, and we’ll make sure we “run into” each other on the wine trail at some point soon.

    As for the cost – to each their own. I think the cost was high enough to keep it a primarily industry/blogger event which led to some of the “preaching to the choir” feel, but if most people feel as you and Lenn did, perhaps they’ve found their price point.

    As for the inclusive/exclusive issue…. I understand why the conference organizers wanted exclusive sit-down dinners with specific (and controlled) wine and food pairings. I don’t disagree with them on this count. I just think they should have been a bit more discrete with it (hence email and more private announcements).

    I attend 3-6 conferences annually for my other life and also have experience organizing different aspects of conferences. I know how hard it can be to get all the details organized and make everyone happy (and you never can). I do think, however, that there area a few more kinks they can work out to try to create a slightly less exclusive feel while also allowing them to provide some special experiences to those they feel have the best ability to shine a spotlight on the wines of an under-appreciated region. Their willingness to listen to suggestions indicates that they’re interesting in trying to improve the experience (after all, we got to chat with Jeff Siegel, and he invited us to email him with feedback, and Dave McIntyre apparently reads our blog and commented on this post).

    As for DLW11, I’d love to be their, although my other life may well get in the way. If they plan for mid-May, however, it sure would make it easier on me. :-) I’ll also have to take your holiday card suggestion under advisement – those dinners did sound like a great time.

  9. Gil

    Man, it really sounds like “wah, we didn’t get something” to me. And…”wah, it cost too much” “not enough consumers” “too stratified” “It was too cliquish” “events that I wasn’t invited to shouldn’t have bee so prominently displayed”

  10. grapeenvyguy

    If that’s your perception, I doubt anything I say will change your opinion. But thanks for weighing in, Gil. See? That’s how you disagree in a respectful manner. Let me know if you need more info on how to do that, sir.

  11. Lenn Thompson

    The “preaching to the choir” side of this conference cannot be disputed. I wonder though — even at $10, how many ‘consumers’ are going to give up there Sunday to sit in a lecture hall to hear a motley crew of people — with a variety of motivations for being there by the way — talking about local wine. Is anyone who isn’t ALREADY into local wine going to go?

    What WOULD make a lot of sense is to offer a tasting-only ticket. I’m sure they could have sold the heck out of the Twitter tasting portion, no?

    I actually didn’t even know about DLW09 until it was over — so that’s another problem I think. I’m not saying I had the time to fly to Dallas, but when one of the blogosphere’s biggest drink local nerds doesn’t even know about it — the word isn’t getting out LOL

    You actually do make a very good point about the ‘exclusive’ stuff. That didn’t need to be publicized so blatantly, but I don’t think it was really all that “exclusive”…I mean they let me in, didn’t they?

    GEG: Feel free to bounce anything and anything off of me via email…fire away.

  12. Lenn Thompson

    I HOPE that you guys will ALL come to TasteCamp next year by the way…we MAY be doing it in VA, so you’ll have no excuse.

  13. vawinediva

    I’d love to do TasteCamp – for me to be there, however, it likely has to happen after 5-15, and it can’t happen over mother’s day weekend as I’m contractually obligated to do something for work that weekend every year….. not that you should schedule around my life or anything ;-)

  14. Lenn Thompson

    Well, the organizer (that’s me) knows how badly he screwed up this year by having it Mother’s Day weekend…BUT, it was the last weekend we could get the better rate at the hotel. It was a matter of balancing “less chance of snow” and “best rate” for people. The joys of the Finger Lakes!

    Ideally, I’d do it in the summer next year…but hotels etc. are less likely to offer good rates on summer weekends for obvious reasons!

    That said…we’re pondering locations. We’ll make sure you know.

  15. vawinediva

    I understand – one of my annual conferences had to be on Valentine’s weekend so we could afford the hotel…it’s never perfect. If date and location allow, however, I’ll be there.

  16. VaWineGuy

    Lenn,

    Please let us know if you decide to do Taste Camp in VA. I’d love to attend!!!

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