The second Drink Local Wine Conference took place in Loudon County, Virginia this past weekend at the beautiful Landsdowne Resort. In attendance were bloggers, traditional print media writers, VA wine industry folks, consumers and other members of the wine trade. I had the interesting perspective of being four of the aforementioned attendee types. I as most people in the room am a consumer, I help run my in laws VA winery, I manage a wine shop and I write a wine blog. The bulk of the conference was focused around three sessions on Sunday followed by a VA wine twitter taste off, aka speed tasting smack down!
The first session, titled Thomas Jefferson was right: The grapes that work best for Virginia was led by Moderator: Richard Leahy, Vineyard & Winery Management magazine. Panelists: Matthew Meyert, Williamsburg Winery; Jennifer McCloud, Chrysalis Vineyards; and Matthieu Finot, King Family Vineyards. I had the perception that the session would revolve around hybrid varieties that have shown to thrive in Virginia versus the typical Vinifera varieties. (some of which also thrive in Virginia) A few of us mentioned after the session that we found it odd that the Chambourcin grape was mentioned, not that it is one I typically enjoy but it is one that shows up in a lot of Virginia wineries. Jenny McCloud’s passion for Norton was evident as she holds the largest planting of Norton in the world. Jenny McCloud is also doing great things with typical Spanish varieties such as Albarino, of which hers won the best white wine at the Twitter Taste Off. Brief mentions were made of the grapes that are typically thought of Virginia’s “best”, Cabernet Franc, Viognier and a recent front runner Petite Verdot. There was a general consensus that blending is a key component of making great wine in Virginia (specifically reds) and that Virginia needs to keep exploring grapes that thrive in climates similar to that of Virginia, like Albarino.
The second session, titled Social media: How regional wineries can get the word out was led by Moderator: Michael Wangbicker DWS, CWE. Panelists: Lenn Thompson, New York Cork Report; Jennifer Breaux Blosser, Breaux Vineyards; and Jeff Siegel, the Wine Curmudgeon. This session was the highlight of the conference, I think because it had the most interaction with the audience. The key take away was social media is all about engagement versus promotion. Jen Breaux was revered by Lenn and others in the room for “doing it right”, keeping her tweeting about a conversation instead of PR promotion. Whether it is Twitter, Facebook, blogging, or Foursquare, social media is just another tool in the toolbox for the wine industry.
The third and final session titled If local food, why not local wine? was led by Moderator: Dave McIntyre,Washington Post. Panelists: Mary Watson-DeLauder, Lansdowne Resort; Andrew Stover, Chef Wino and Todd Kliman, Washingtonian magazine. This is one I was most looking forward to, but have to say was most disappointed by. Nothing against the speakers, but I felt that the discussion never really got to the heart of the session title. It danced around it and went off on a couple of tangents, maybe because there is no clear answer to the question “why not local wine?”. The subject of pricepoint came up briefly and I think that is a large part of wine you don’t see more VA wines of wine lists of VA restaurants. The other reason is that a large selection of VA wineries thrive on the tourism part of their business and basically sell out of their wine from the tasting room. Why would you make less money if you didn’t have to, just to get your wine on a wine list. The reason they should, is for more exposure! That loss in revenue can be chalked up to marketing in my opinion. As a retailer, my VA wine customer is very different from every other customer. People come in for a specific wine that they had a festival, or at the winery and if I don’t have it, they usually don’t want another one, VA or otherwise. It’s quite impressive, that their experience with that particular wine was so powerful. A lot of times it’s not the fault of the retailer for not stocking it, but more times than not, the winery doesn’t distribute. I still find it interesting that consumers go out of their way to buy local produce, meat or seafood but don’t extend that passion to their wine. An interesting point was made after the session by Lenn Thompson I think, that local food portrays a level of quality and local wine hasn’t achieved that status yet.
The best part of the conference was seeing old wine friends and meeting new ones, all of which have a palpable passion for local wine. The discussions between sessions, at lunch and at dinner were fantastic and were definitely one of the highlights for me.
Stay tuned for my wrap up of the Twitter Taste Off and the dinner Magnolia’s restaurant.