Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Final Finger Lakes Recap

Day 2 at the Wine Bloggers Conference was also a whirlwind. Check out my post HERE for a rundown of Day 1. I am happy that I did allow myself some time to walk around and explore the town of Corning (see more HERE). I can’t reiterate what a charming and welcoming town it was. In my opinion, Corning was the PERFECT backdrop and host to #WBC15. Here are my most important takeaways from Day 2.

The first session I attended was “Digital Marketing for Wine Bloggers”, which was presented by Gary Nealon (co-founder of Wine Trail Adventures). This session had the most information packed into it. So much so that the presentation could easily have been 4 hours long and gone in depth into each point. One of the first nuggets he shared is that advertising is the least effective way to monetize a site. I have heard variances of this in my online research regarding blogs. Those who have blogs who are able to turn a good income with ads will disagree, but I feel that those people are fewer and far between. I have a full-time job and squeeze my WSET studying and my blogging on the side. I don’t feel that I have the time and energy to expend on trying to monetize my site (at the moment). My focus is to study and learn about wine, develop my writing skills, and craft my wine voice. In regards to social media, Gary shared that bloggers should focus on Periscope and Instagram. Facebook and Twitter still hold their place, but Instagram is the big boy in the room, and Periscope is growing by leaps and bounds.

One of my favorite sessions was the Panel of the 2015 Wine Blog Winners. It was such a diverse group of people. You would think that if we’re talking about wine blogs, that the blogs would be similar OR that the people who wrote them would be similar. That was NOT the case. Probably the only thing they have in common is that they write a wine blog. Here is a quick nugget about each of the award-winning panelists.

**Chris Kassel of The Intoxicology Report shared something basic: have fun and let it flow. His viewership is mostly people who don’t know a lot about wine. In fact, the tagline on his website is “The Contra-Connoisseurs Guide to Wine, Beer, Spirits, & Other Things the World Got Right.”

**Jason, affectionately known as “Stub” pens Cork Envy. Cork Envy is a video blog whose viewers are mostly non-educated wine people.

**Meg Houston Maker is a writer at Maker’s Table. She started the blog to chronicle her food and wine journeys. According to Meg, her job is to bring the joy of this beautiful farmer product (wine). Wine, Meg said, is the jewel of the meal.  Well put.

**Will Fernandez is responsible for Vintage 2014. This is a crowdfunded project that follows a Santa Barbara vine from budbreak to bottling. The blog is a time capsule of that vintage, and he has now turned it into a documentary. What I found interesting, is that the documentary is broken down into 3 parts, and there are wines that are meant to be served between each part at the screenings.  In essence, this is an interactive wine film screening. Brilliant.

**Becca Yeamans is the Academic Wino. Becca writes about wine science (which might sound a little daunting to some), yet her site garners 7K-9K unique page views/month. Kudos to her….those are some great numbers.

The last WBC15 session I attended was the Live Rose/Red Wine Blogging. You might recall my post earlier about the Live White Wing Blogging. These are a ton of fun. We are all sat at round tables in groups, and the winemakers each spend 5 minutes at a table pouring and talking about the wine. Within that 5 minutes, we also have to taste the wine and post our tweets. Then the winemakers move to the next table, and the process continues. All in all, you taste 10 wines in 60 minutes. Below are my posts for that session. Enjoy!

Brianne Cohen ‏@SOMMspirations Aug 15

JR Dill Winery 2013 Cab Sauv green bell pepper on the nose. Lotsa tannins and black fruit. Re-visit in 5-8 yrs. #WBC15

@ssvny Saperavi grape. OG Georgia grape. Purple color and dirt/forest floor on the nose. Black fruit and inky. Viscous in my mouth. #WBC15

@foxrunvineyards dark berry on the nose (currant/blackberry). Lovin Lemberger here in #flx. #blackgrape #helloacid #WBC15

@VentosaVyds 2011 Cab Franc. "A reliable grape in this area. Be friends with the vines"#acid #tannins

@DamianiWine '12 cab franc a taste is worth 1000 words.pepper,cedar,blkberry on the http://nose. Love this.Elegant & integrated.#WBC15

@LamoreauxWine only unoaked cab franc.Fresh, light,the earth shows through.

@joshlikeswine described it as charming.I agree #WBC15

@Hazlitt1852 red blend.warm baking spices on the nose. Chocolate and jamminess on the palate. #WBC15 #tannins

@IdolRidge sparkling rose make from Noiret, a new hybrid. Bright strawberry. Forced carbonation. Interesting stuff here up in #flx! #WBC15

@SwedishHillWine '12 cab franc/Lemberger herbaceous nose. Unassuming yet straightforward. #wbc15

@AmericanaWine BacoNoir-French Amer hybrid unoaked. Smells like #flxwine and red fruit. An inviting red. #gateway #WBC15

The second I tasted that last wine, I grabbed my suitcase (which I had stashed in the corner of the ballroom) and wheeled right into a taxi to the airport. It was an incredible 2 days and taught me SO much. The Wine Bloggers Conference helped me get clarity on why I am doing a wine blog and allowed me to meet people who I admire and respect. Overall I left with a sense of gratitude that I am in a position where I am healthy, have a good career, and am doing something I LOVE...just because. Pursuing my wine studies and writing this blog is a privilege, and I am glad to have the opportunity.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

One Down, Five To Go!

Before I get to the final recap of my Wine Bloggers Conference trip to the Finger Lakes (post to follow on Tuesday!), I have some great news to share. I passed my first somm exam of the WSET Level 4 Diploma program! Over the course of 2 years, I have 6 exams to pass, corresponding to 6 different units. We began with Unit 2, which is viticulture and vinification, and this is the exam that I just passed. Currently we are working on both Unit 1 (The Business of Wine and Spirits) and Unit 5 (Sparkling Wines) concurrently. The exams for both units are on November 4. It will be a busy day of tests, and I will share more as my studies continue! Thank you readers for all the support and encouragement.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Wine Bloggers Conference: Day 1

Veraison at Chateau Frank

Happy Labor Day weekend to my SOMMspirations readers! I’m enjoying a long weekend filled with wedding festivities (congrats Jon and Mel!) and the beach!  Before I delve into my recap of Day 1 in the Finger Lakes, I’d like to give everyone an update on my WEST studies, as a lot has transpired in the last couple of weeks.

As you all know, I am currently enrolled in the WSET Diploma Level 4 program. It is a two year course that consists of A LOT of studying (600 hours over 2 years, to be exact) and a series of exams over 6 units of study. On August 23rd I took the first exam, a 100 question multiple choice format, with the subject being: viticulture (the growing of grapes), vinification (the making of wine), maturation, and bottling. I can report that it was a TOUGH test, which threw me a bit. This exam has an average pass rate of about 90%, so there is a good chance that I did pass. But I am not 100% certain that I did...fairly certain, yes...100% certain, no. I should have my results in about a week or so, and will share with everyone once they come in! Looking forward, I have a full day of exams coming up on November 3rd: a blind tasting of 3 sparkling wines, a long-essay case study (the topic has not been released yet), and a few short answer questions on sparkling wines. More info to follow!

Back to the Finger Lakes! To start Day 1, the Wine Bloggers Conference opened with Karen MacNeil as our keynote speaker. MacNeil, the author of The Wine Bible, is the most authoritative American woman in the world of wine. MacNeil is a very poised and confident speaker. She has a sense of calm and beauty about her that translates in everything she says. MacNeil imparted her words of wisdom to us bloggers, who soaked it up like little sponges. She urged us to think through our story and develop our own style. Voice, she said, is not as important as style. I am not in 100% agreement on this, as I think when you get started, your voice is something that needs to be developed and honed in on. As a blogger, I am still trying to define my voice in this wine blogging world. Simultaneously, I am working on maintaining a style as well, but for me, I find voice to be tantamount to style. She also told us to agonize over our writing. MacNeil is a perfectionist and this is not a secret. You can tell in the way she carries herself and in how she speaks (in person, as well as in her writing). Your writing will live out there in the world with MANY other pieces of work. With that many options for people to choose from, yours must be of quality. Also, you must tell your story, she said, don’t just write it. Anyone can write or recount a story, but not all can TELL a story. You must know wine deeply. Wine, she said, should never be stripped of its culture. For example, there is no way to understand Malbec, if you don’t understand tango. That sums up how I feel about wine. There is SOMETHING about wine that is more than just fermented grape juice in a bottle. Wine is a story and is constantly evolving.

The next session was an “Introduction to the Finger Lakes Wine Country” panel. The panelists included: Alan Lasko, a fruit crop physiologist from Cornell University, Christopher Bates, a somm, chef, and winemaker at Element Winery, and Fred Merwarth, the owner, winemaker, and vineyard manager at Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard. This panel was particularly interesting to me because I knew almost nothing about the Finger Lakes to begin with. Some interesting facts I learned were that the Lakes exist because of ancient glaciation in the region, the lakes are very deep (Seneca Lakes at 650’ is the deepest), and that winemaking here is VERY difficult due to the climate, which can be extreme and unpredictable. The message that all the panelists conveyed was that those who come to the Finger Lakes to make wine, do so because they want to take on a challenge. Winemakers come to NY to become better winemakers, because it is not easy here. You have to work to make good wine here. Chris Bates, the only MS in the world who has presided over a kitchen, shared a strong message with us. He wants to get Finger Lakes wine out of the Finger Lakes. Most of the local wine is consumed here. The problem is that people outside of the NY do not know much about Finger Lakes wine because they are rarely exposed to it. His approach is to allocate a large chunk of NY wine to the state, but to also allocate a portion to other states so that people can get more experience with it.

The next part of the day was one of my favorites. We had an opportunity to taste 10 local Finger Lakes wines (all whites) in 60 minutes and live blog/tweet about them. You can imagine that we had some pressure on us. For one, we had such little time to taste, collect our thoughts, and to post. Also, we had to do this with the winemakers standing in front of us! We were all seated at round tables with our wine glasses and ipads ready. One winemaker started at each table and we had a total of 5 minutes to: hear about the wine, pour the wine, and tweet about the wine. Once the 5 minutes ended, the winemakers rotated tables.  It was a wine whirlwind, yet I loved every minute! Here is one of my tweets from that session:

Brianne Cohen ‏@SOMMspirations Aug 14
Starting with @DrFrankWine. Riesling Cremant. Dry bready nose. Green apple and white flowers. A nice Wednesday night bubbly. #wbc15

In case you thought that was the end of the day, you’re wrong! We still had a Finger Lakes excursion on the agenda. A bank of buses met us at the hotel and we had to jump on board one of them to find out where we were headed. Every bus had a different itinerary, which we did not know ahead of time. I was lucky, because in my opinion, I hopped on the best bus! We headed to a couple Keuka Lake wineries including Chateau Frank and the Pleasant Valley Wine Co. We first stopped at the sparkling winemaking facilities of the Frank family, Chateau Frank. Dr. Konstantin Frank was a Ukranian immigrant with a PhD in viticulture who came to the US in the early 50s. Dr. Frank is credited as one of the first people to successfully grow vitis vinifera grapes in the NE United States. We received a private tour by Fred Frank (Konstantin’s grandson) who now runs the family business. It was an incredible experience as we were in the private areas where the Chateau sparklings are made, in a beautiful building that is over 100 years old. We also had the opportunity to meet Fred’s daughter, Meghan, who is poised to take over the business as the 4th generation winemaker in the family. While there we enjoyed some sparklings from Chateau Frank, Ravine’s Wine Cellars, and Heron Hill Winery; all while overlooking the beautiful Keuka Lake at sunset. The setting was idyllic. I even walked over the vines and saw a lovely example of veraison in full effect (see picture above).
Riddling at Chateau Frank

View of Keuka Lake from Chateau Frank

The afternoon was complete once we made our way to Pleasant Valley Wine Company (aka Great Western Winery). Fun fact: Pleasant Valley Wine Co. is the oldest bonded winery in the United States, and their stone buildings onsite are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We had a very memorable dinner at the estate in a beautiful, old cellar room. Our dinner was served and paired with wines from Dr. Frank and Ravine’s. It was a lovely evening as we were all seated with local winemakers and winery representatives and were able to get very intimate with the wine and hear even more about the Finger Lakes region. Overall, it was a very special trip and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to explore the Finger Lakes region, if only for a few hours. The love of the region by the winemakers is palpable. Finger Lakes is making honest, regional wines, and I am more than happy to support them!
Great Western Winery Champagne upon arrival!

Stay tunes for my next post, which will document Day 2 of my Finger Lakes trip to the Wine Bloggers Conference. Have a wonderful Labor Day!