A couple weeks ago, the annual Wine Blogger Conference wrapped its fifth year, presumably in a puddle of plonk and pixels. According to their official release, there was a “dip in attendance” from previous years, which organizers attributed to the conference’s location – Penticton, Okanagan Valley of the Southern Interior of British Columbia, Canada. Which is to say, nowhere. At least not anywhere known for its bustling wine scene. Hockey – sure, but to a native Northern Californian wino like me, unless I can use the puck as a coaster for my Riedel glassware, it’s useless.
Aspiring wine bloggers have a year to revive their moribund WordPress account and get to some online whining before the conference reconstitutes in Santa Barbara in 2014. You will remember that SB is our sister wine country to the south, which is still basking in the afterglow of that pinot-pushing sleeper hit “Sideways” – hence the “As seen in ‘Sideways’” signage along Foxen Canyon Road in Santa Ynez.
If you missed the great wine blogger rush of ‘07 and have a yen to sip and tell about it (like everyone else within a 100-mile radius of The Sonoma Index-Tribune), here is some historical context to help guide the release of your inner Alder Yarrow (yeah, he’s a wine blogger).
Wine bloggers are the fleet-footed evolutionary cousins of the wine critics of yore, the first of which flourished in the United States after two crucial events. The first seismic shift occurred during the fabled “Judgment of Paris,” when a California wine took top honors at the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976. The second game-changer came with the widespread acceptance of the self-adhesive postage stamp in 1989.
With their tongues no longer encumbered by the taste of gum adhesive, the ink-stained wretches who once wrote copious letters-to-the-editor, turned to drink. Some discovered wine. Though this transition from de facto philatelist to oenophile sounds dirtier than it should, it did presage the arrival of dozens of opinionated, American hacks who went from wino to “wine critic” with a small investment in desktop publishing. It was during this era that the likes of uber-critic Robert Parker emerged, whose vaunted point system has irreversibly contorted the industry to the tastebuds of a single wagging tongue.
This, however, was just the warm-up for the Cambrian explosion of wine bloggers who followed in the wake of better, stronger, faster self-publishing technologies encouraged by advent of the Internet. The heyday of this movement was 2007 (the first wine blogger’s conference was held in Sonoma County the fall of the following year).
To its credit, the bottom tier fee for what are now called “Citizen Wine Bloggers” remains $95. It seems a Citizen Wine Blogger, like a “citizen journalist,” is a blogger without an affiliation to an industry or media player – so I’ll ask my colleagues forgive me now if you see me at the conference and I pretend not to know you, lest you lose me the discount. After my third hour of wine tasting, you’ll probably pretend not to know me as well, so we’re even.
“Approximately 400 wine bloggers and others involved with the new media of wine are expected to attend the 2014 conference,” attests the conference’s press release. This may not sound like an extraordinary number but when one considers the fact that many professional wine bloggers seldom leave the house or bother changing out of their wine-stained jammies on any given day, it’s a veritable crush of humanity. We can presume sunscreen will be handed out at the door to mitigate exposure to natural light. I can recall an occasion at one conference when one pale dude grew flush while sampling a wine as if he were having an allergic reaction. It turns out, it was just the red wine showing through his translucent skin.
Of course, the unspoken Holy Grail of wine blogging is the prospect of receiving free wine in said grail. It’s an understandable ambition given the price of decent wine relative to other addictive substances, though going through the editorial chicanery of creating a blog and developing a following substantial enough to warrant complimentary wine samples is rather like building the Trojan horse to evade paying the gate fee at DisneyTroy.
But once it’s working, it’s worth it. Since I moved back to Sonoma County, I’ve received enough wine in the mail to host my own wine bloggers conference. In fact, I’m hosting it as I write. Attendance is down from last year since I’m a terrific bore after a couple glasses, but I hear the panels are alright.