5 Things I Learned At The Wine Bloggers Conference

From Damiani Wine Cellars

A week ago I got home from the Wine Bloggers Conference. And it was awesome.  A little overwhelming at first, but my personality type is exactly the type that would be completely overwhelmed walking into a new place where it appeared most people knew at least one other person and I’m like, “Hey…” and reminding myself of my propensity to say stupid shit.  And swear.

But I learned plenty, through interesting experiences, and welcome you to learn these before your first conference.  Here’s the top 5 things I learned at #WBC15

  1. Have A Way To Explain Who You Are If Your Situation Is Different: I leaned over to the woman next to me when a participant asked a question about why the winemakers love to hate hybrid grapes.  The woman next to me said, “That’s Wine Folly.”  Because Wine Folly, despite its slick design and appearance of being staffed by 35+ professionals, is essentially Madeline Puckette and two other folks.  But Madeline is the face.  But it never hit me that people there would be their brand.  Other than that I knew The Drunken Cyclist would be The Drunken Cyclist.  If you are not your blog, have a way to explain it so as not to lose valuable time and have every introductory conversation go all ’round Robin Hood’s barn like mine did…

Nice Person: I’m @cooltwitterhandle, who are you?
Me: I’m Nancy.  I write for Winedom, it’s a small wine blog focusing on making wine culture accessible based in Athens Greece.
Nice Person: You came all the way from GREECE?
Me: No, I just blog for them.  I’m based in Vermont.
Nice Person: But you’re Greek?
Me: No… I’m a freelance writer who–
Nice Person: Oh, but you GO to Greece a lot?
Me: Well, actually I’ve never been.  I write for a Greek wine blog, though.  Our primary focus is on making news about the wine world accessible and engaging.
Nice Person: So you speak Greek?
Me: No.

Me (awkwardly): Essentially I’m a wine blogger who writes for someone else’s blog.  A few other blogs, but I’m here representing Winedom.

Once I was able to explain it there was twitter handle and business card swapping and general merriment, but I should have had a better way to introduce the blog.  And part of me wonders if not including Greece was the way to do it.  Because while Jeff is The Drunken Cyclist and Jana is Merlot Mommy, I’m just Nancy.  Who writes for Winedom.  And I didn’t realize that I was in the minority.  Luckily, the wine bloggers conference is full of cool people.

  1. (this should be 2 but word press hates me…)
  2. With the Exception of Like Three People, Everyone At The Conference Is Nice.  Stop Fearing Human Interaction.  I get all weird around people and it takes me a few days to find my rhythm.  I also don’t have an overwhelming need for person to person contact so it’s really easy for me to walk around drink and read and engage with winemakers without making any effort.  Case and point?  The opening night reception.  I took pictures, tasted wine, tasted rosé based sorbet, tasted some more wine… and I didn’t talk to ANYONE other than the very nice Pursuing Pinot with whom I walked over with.  She found some friends when we arrived and I just got transfixed by wine and picture opportunities. And the fact that I don’t have the chip in my brain that says, “Nancy, talk to people!”.  Luckily I was finally reminded (I assume it was a text from my best friend saying something like, “are you making friends?”) that I needed to talk to people.  And that meant meeting VinoNoire, to whom I essentially just stuck out my hand to and was like, “I’m Nancy… who are you… no, I don’t live in Greece… no no no… you’re cool.” and meeting Glynis would lead to several funny moments throughout the conference.  Just get over your fear and talk to people.  They are nice.  And the ones that aren’t will give you a great story to tell… here’s mine… well, one of mine…  my favorite.
      1. I really need to find a way to make better lists in WordPress that allow my tangential brain to do its thing.
      2. So I’m at the first Speed Tasting which is an experience that everyone should have at some point in the next three days.  I have probably mentioned on this blog that I’m not really knowledgeable about TASTING wine.  Like I know about wine.  I know A LOT about wine.  But I don’t describe things well.  So at the table there are like seven really cool nice people and two others.  I didn’t know they weren’t nice.  And, to be fair, they probably are nice.  But as I’ve learned: when you’re the new kid it brings out a need in people to revel in the fact that they are no longer the new kid.  Notice to future participants: I’ve paid my dues and will be crazy nice to neurotic newbies.  We taste a wine and I say, “I’m sure there is an official way to describe this, but it reminds me of a can of black olives in water.  Not the good ones in glass bottles, but like the ones you cut up for tacos or a salad bar.”  Thinking back, maybe, “salinic,” “briny,” or “black olive” would work (I need to learn how to use the grid) but this was literally the nose and it was so strong.  Three people nod and go, “Oh, wow, TOTALLY.”  The winemaker winced but was like, “Actually, yeah…” and these two dudes kind of scoff (scoff!) and roll their eyes.  Which didn’t bother me because I was rolling my eyes at myself, too.  But after swirling and sniffing again to see if aerating the wine would open the bouquet (see, I know what I’m doing!) and taking a sip I said, “I still get a can of black olives but I think it works,” and they glared and one said, “Would you stop saying that!”  ?!  I said it TWICE.  And it’s not like I said it tasted like something offensive… unless winemakers have an issue with canned black olives (I do (like I prefer Kalamata but in a wine I don’t care… because… well why would I?), but I could be the only one.  I’m mean, I’m offended by bananas which everyone finds strange).  And, let’s face it: a winemaker might want to know that if it’s not what he was going for.  And, a smell like that is really obvious – like everyone gets the picture.  I was embarrassed and a little hurt but eventually got over it.  And then yesterday I found this and suddenly all was right in the world.
  3. Go To Stuff, But Also Skip Stuff.  Cater Your Experience To You, With A Few Exceptions.  I decided that since my bestie was coming for two weeks this summer it would make sense for she and I to head to The Finger Lakes together and for Kris to join up a day later.  The three of us are essentially inseparable when together and this way I could do conference stuff without either of them being left alone.  Of course Mel and I made friends with people quickly (due to our witty personalities, staggering intelligence, and overall good looks) which meant the invites came rolling in and Kris can always be talked into joining us on an adventure.  Because registration opened Thursday evening and there was a reception Mel and I headed out Thursday morning so that we could hit a vineyard or two on the way (just one vineyard, as it turned out).  Part of the conference?  No.  But related and allowed me to start getting used to talking about myself as a wine blogger.  Which I am.  On some other sites.  And I still stumble when saying that.  The other day I actually referred to myself IN THE PRESENT when talking about working at MEA.  Yeah, need practice.  After Day 1’s speed tasting, which I had fun doing, I decided to skip Day 2’s and instead do some reading and research about the area – time way better spent than killing my palette.  It’s fine to bow out of something that will disrupt your reason for being there and it’s always okay to sub out thing one for thing two.  But here are the exceptions: if the person sending you says, “Go to this!” then you sure as heck better get your ass in the seat.  The other time is if someone extends an invite, whether direct or implied, and you don’t have a damned good reason for going.  For example, “Are you going to the Jordan after party?”  “Yes, I’m looking forward to it!” Even if you’re not planning on going to the Jordan after party*.  Same as if someone mentions something you haven’t heard of, “Are you going to the Canadian tasting?” Said person is not asking you if you are going so that they can laugh when you don’t know about it – they are cluing you into something the insiders know.  So you find out where it is and you go.  Chances are it will be a blast.  It was!
  4. Be On The Lookout For Stories Where You Didn’t Expect Them.  While on the way to the excursion I noticed some signs around the community that I’d seen on our drive into town.  And they looked POLITICAL.  And, if you know me, I’m a political junkie.  While not wine-related, I didn’t really have any wine related questions.  And I was on a bus drinking sparkling wine, so I could pretty much ask anything I wanted.  So I asked the winemakers leading my excursion, once there was a lull in conversation, what the signs meant.  And let’s just say a.) they seemed excited to talk about something other than grapes and production numbers, b.) it was connected to wine, and c.) it gave me a deeper understanding of the culture of The Finger Lakes wine making.  As a matter of fact, I’ll be starting my research this week and have FOUR people I can email, call, or tweet for more help.
  5. Smile.  There are going to be moments when you feel lost, overwhelmed, exhausted, bored (sorry!), annoyed, hungry, giddy, distracted… no matter what, smile!  I have the supreme resting bitch face but I am trying to be more conscious and I noticed that if I were sitting and consciously smiling (not like a lunatic or anything) people would sit down.  When I was my unintentionally scowly self?  Yeah, they looked for other tables.  I think a group of 3 even split up after getting a glimpse of me.  I swear it’s not intentional.  Chances are you’re taking things in, scribbling notes, making sketches and thinking about tweets and blogs and data – those things are going to crinkle up anyone’s face.  Just try to breathe and smile.  Or, find something that automatically makes you smile… for example: when I was a teacher my kids pointed out that no matter what I’m reading, I smile.  So when I got to sessions a few minutes early and didn’t have something I had to scrawl in my notebook, I read whatever the hell was on the table or in my bag.  It works!

Conference #1 was an absolute success.  Sure, there were things I would do differently but I learned, and that’s what counts.  You can check out more from my adventures by following @winedomcom or checking out #wbc15 and #winedomatwbc15 – what are your suggestions for people new to solitary work going to their first conference?

*Always go to the Jordan after party.  There’s sabering.

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