Dispatches from the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference

Grateful Dead

“Spent a little time on the mountain,
 Spent a little time on the hill,
 Things went down we don’t understand, 
but I think in time we will”
… “New Speedway Boogie” … Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia


Conferences are conferences are conferences, and it seems that the one-on-one conversations are often where the real ideas Hardy & Ashley at WBC09are exchanged. Discussing ideas and feedback on just what it is that we’re doing, what others are doing or have done will tend to make us all more proficient tomorrow. A lot of citizen wine writers are in factthe twitterai at WBC09 technology geeks.  Really smart technology geeks, like Doug Cook of Able Grape, who is now the director of search at Twitter, or founder organizer Joel Vincent, or Paul Mabray of VinTank, or Evan Cover of Cruvee, or Josh Hermsmeyer, or etc, etc. The Wine Bloggers Conference IQ meter has been off the charts. This active exchange of ideas with so many wicked smart people is really charging my batteries. The take-away is that I wish that more wineries would embrace this democratization of wine information. Oh, not just the social media side of this, but the energy and intelligence inherent in this citizen wine writer movement. I’m also shaking my head in disbelief that more wineries weren’t standing in line to talk to the candidates from the A Really Goode Job promotion. I had the chance at the conference to talk with Frank Gutierrez of Frank Loves Wine and one of the VinTank 4 + . With a nod to Malcom Gladwell’s Frank Gutierrez of Frank Loves Wine‘Blink’, I’ve always been good at recognizing talent in meetings or during interviews, and then in securing this talent. I alway wanted to surround myself with people that are smarter than I am. Have you noticed that your education doesn’t end the day that you get your diploma, that life is a process of observing, learning, and incorporating best practices until you’re boots-up. Frank is someone that I followed through the arcane process of ARGJ. Mostly because he reached out to engage me. Last night I had the chance to talk to Frank about his aspirations and his vision. I came away floored. I’m not prone to intemperate decisions, but if I were a winery in this economy, I would have extended an offer to Frank on-the -spot. So, out there in the winery world, I just want to know is this somebody that you want working for you competitors, or do you want your wine business to be the next success story?


CIA at Greystone, St Helena, CANapa Valley gets it. They’ve gotten it for quite awhile. The Napa Valley Vintners Association knows how to throw a party, and, at the same time, how to effectively communicate their message. Kudos to Terry Hall, Joel Coleman-Nakai, Kat Corcoran, et al. And special thanks to Paula Kornell. I first met her years ago during mBarry Schuler & Marc Lhormer discussing WBC09y tenure at Disney when visiting the Hans Kornell Winery to meet her Dad, Hans Kornell, one of my all time favorite Napa Valley vintners. Having met Paula as a small child, I’ve followed her career from the early days, through her ascension to the top of the Napa Valley wine industry. I know her dad is somewhere, smiling from ear to ear, a glass of sparkling wine in his hand thinking ‘I did a good job.’ Well, Hans, yes, you did a very good job indeed. What a start to the day. Talk about firepower, from the kick-off talk by Ms Kornell to the engaging and effective Charles Henning, ExecutiveEd Thralls, Rick Bakas, Paul MabrayDirector of the CIA (the original CIA) at Greystone, to how to be a better wine blogger/writer from the source that knows, Jim Gordon, Editor of Wines & Wines. But, please allow me a moment to go WOW!!! Barry Schuler, internet pioneer, owner of Meteor Vineyards and VC icon, and one of the great intellects of our time gave a speech that would likely fill the Moscone Center Herta Peju hosting bloggers at Peju Winery WBC09convention hall auditorium at Macworld . And this was just the start of the day. Back to the shuttles, and off to the real business of wine writing, meeting with the winemakers. It was my luck to have a chance to go to Peju Province Winery and to sit with the co-founder, the lovely Mrs Herta Peju herself. Then off to Spring Mountain Vineyard for what would turn out to be the Napa Valley Cabernet tasting of my lifetime.


Spring Mt. HouseI’ve been around wine a long time. I’ve attended so many tastings, and thought that I had seen it all. Don’t get me wrong, I am as passionate as ever about wine and the wine business, but how much more new is there? Well, I soon found out, sitting at rounds in the living room of Tuburcio Parrott’s old Victorian, and tasting wines from the mid-90’s and the current or future releases from a list of storied Napa Valley vintners: Jac Cole of SprinThe tasting Panel at Sring Mt, for the Napa Valley cabernet Sauvignon bloggers tasting at WBC09g Mountain, Ted Edwards of Freemark Abbey, Jeffery Stambor of Beaulieu Vineyards, and Paula Kornell of Oakville Ranch Vineyards. Not only did I come away impressed by the overall quality, but by the openness, the frankness and the transparency of the conversation. Yes, times and communications have changed, and they’ve changed for the better. Also, isn’t it about time that we now refer to Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and associated varietals as Napa Valley varietals and drop the anachronistic use of the term Bordeaux varietals? Just saying….


The grand napa Valley tasting at Quintessa for WBC09Recovering from a day of wine tasting in Napa, after a grand tasting at Quintessa that went by in a flash,IMG_0762 and a great dinner with old friends at Franciscan Vineyards hosted by Jay Turnipseed, Aaron Potts, Efrain Barragan, and Cathy Corison, it was back to the Flamingo trenches, and a morning of shared education. Thanks to Tim Lemke, who gave a tutorial on how to monetize blogs, and to Doug Cook, Director of Search at Twitter, who conducted a discussion on just how search actually works. And then of course back to the busses and off to the Russian River Chris Donatiello conducting a bloggers wine tasting at the WBC09and Dry Creek Valleys for more on-site interaction with our sources. I was lucky enough to be invited to C.Donatiello on Westside Road. Chris, Web, Robert and Vanessa get it. Because they get it they’ll be one of the thrivers as the economy rebounds. Oh, and the C.Donatiello Chardonnays and Pinots are fab. Next time you’re in the Healdsburg area, head over and treat yourself to one of our area’s top winery hospitality experiences. And, don’t miss the summer Sunday concerts. Can’t think of a better way to send a day in wine country.


Tim Lemke at WBC09There is some significant wattage of talented, professional and intellectual firepower residing in the citizen wine blogger community. Most of the resources in this community are just an email, a text message or a phone call away. As a group we’re always looking for ideas, so don’t be afraid to pitch us. Oh, I have the scoop that I promised in my last post: Evan Cover CEO at Cruvee is pairing with Josh Hermsmeyer in development of the winery interface for helpawineryout.com, facilitating the targeting and interaction between wineries and citizenDoug Cook, Twitter Director of Search at WBC09 wine reviewers. More to come as this story fleshes-out. Also, note that there is new media, creative talent out there looking for work. And, not just because they’re looking for work, but because they’re passionate about your (our) business, the wine business. Be counterintuitive and hire the best talent in these tough times to maximize your rise out of the morass, as the economy bounces forward and upward. Adopt and incorporate the appropriate technologies for your wine businesses. Recognize that the game has changed, and we’re all in this with shared responsibility for (re)inventing the future. The bus of wine biz marcom is leaving the station and picking-up speed. Get on-board as soon as you can, or risk being left out of the conversation. Identify and mirror those companies that get it, such as: Hahn, St. Supery, Murphy-Goode, C.Donatiello, Judd’s Hill, Gunlach Bundschu, the NVVA, or Wilson Daniels. Observe, study and then incorporate their best practices into your winery’s marketing/communications operations. Sink or swim, we’re in this together. We do this thing because we must. We are a community driven by passion and talent, and fueled by a burning intellectual curiosity. We are not so different from you. Oh, we may be the early adopters, but the door on the bus is still open. So, come on-board. It’s going to be a fun ride.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

13 thoughts on “Dispatches from the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference

  1. John – you, as always are too kind. I agree with you 100% about Frank and all the VinTank 4+. It is an amazing time in the wine industry and your blog continues to be an inspiration and catalyst to thought for wine business. I feel like this weekend was a watershed moment not only for wine bloggers, but for wine e-business. We as an industry are accelerating at an unprecedented pace and alternative channels for sales and communications are emerging all around us. As another song once said, “The future is so bright I’ve gotta wear shades.”

  2. John:

    Another event that I wish I could be attending and saying this to you rather than writing…if you read the article on the WITS written by Jane Firstenfeld & Jim Gordon I came away with the same feeling about the wineries which I had confirmed by one of the people who attended. By the way let me give those writers kudos for their coverage of this event.

    Their full story can be read at:

    I estimated that probably no more than 5% of the total pool of California wineries were at that event (and now I am guessing it was significantly less). It sounds from your description that this one probably has the same level of attendance…

    The wineries are just not getting it.

  3. Great piece. Frank is a rock star!

    Though winery attendance was a seemingly high percentage of attendees this year, it seemed like (in general) their interaction was very low. Lot’s of observation, little interaction. At my Sat. dinner, most of the wineries (sponsoring wineries) sat off at a table by themselves… T

    Many bloggers felt like goldfish swimming around in a bowl.

    They key isn’t to observe, but to engage, build relationships, ask questions— To not just show up, but to participate.

    This is “social” media. Not make people feel all creepy media.

  4. Hi John,

    Great synopsis and speedy, too! I heartily agree with you about Malcom Gladwell. I read Tipping Point for the first time this year and it was like he predicted/invented social media!! Total lightbulb.
    Anyhow, great to chat with you in person again and so soon. To the future of wine and technology!

  5. Hi John,

    Wow- I have been so busy, that even though I’ve been alerted that you’ve been posting, I just haven’t gotten around to reading them. Now I realize I’ve been missing out.

    Thanks for the nice summary of the Blogger’s event. I was over in Africa doing a bit of volunteer work, so I couldn’t be there. But my winemaker, Paul Colantuoni was there, along with my right hand Karen Gary. Maybe next time you’ll have a chance to stop by and chat with them and try our wines. 🙂 (Current and next two releases are made by star winemaker Celia Masyczek).

    Anyways, I have been trying/wanting to involve myself with this new web 2.0 stuff. It’s just hard to do when you’re wearing 15 different hats. But I have to say your post has inspired me to start checking into a couple of sites more frequently.

    Before heading to Africa, I was in New York for a week for MBA classes, and took the opportunity to go and visit with Gary Vaynerchuk of WineLibrary.com.
    Let me tell you, he is a great guy. I’ve seen him speak twice, and he was a speaker on steroids: entertaining, informative, and engaging. In person, he was down to earth, helpful, and a truly nice guy. I’ve been wanting to find someone to help me with IT and web based “marketing” for a while, and Gary absolutely convinced me that I really need to do that. His suggestion was that I find someone that wants to do an “internship” at our winery.

    If you know of anyone that is interested in doing something like that, please do let me know. As a small, family owned winery, the most I can probably do in this economy is come up with lodging for this person. In return, he/she will have hands on experience working with a boutique winery.

    Thanks again for your great post, and keep up the great work!


    PS: Lynn Chamberlain (the Wine Fairy) interviewed us while we were in Africa re: our work there, and Rocca Family Vineyards. Check it out at: http://www.winefairy.com/iWineRadio787a.mp3

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