One of the best parts of the recent European Wine Bloggers Conference in Brescia, Italy is the post trips. Wine regions like Franciacorta (the primary sponsor for the event), il Soave (the region I visited on Sunday), and many others invited bloggers to tour wineries, see historical sites, and taste local food and wine. These trips tend to be very informative, offering a window into the typicity of an area’s wine, the culture that surrounds the vines, and a lot of fun memories. My Sunday trip to Soave was also notable for making me really really jealous.
Jealous of Communication Efforts
Amazing sense of style
First of all, Soave had a great sense of flair for receiving people. They understood how to use the beauty of the land and how to play it up a little. A lot of the time, I feel like winemakers in my region forget how beautiful the place is. I’m reminded of a promotional trip billed as a walk in the Pic Saint Loup where we just walked a few yards in some vines in one of the valleys. And only when several of the journalists expressed disappointment did our resourceful winemaker/guides realize they could take us up on one of the higher plateaus from which we saw the entire area. Thankfully that trip was salvaged, but it came close to being a dud (if it weren’t for the resourcefulness of the locals). On the other hand, Soave did everything right. With a name like soave, it makes sense that they’d be smooth operators.
But I mean we’d visit a gorgeous vineyard overlooking the valleys below. And then we’d be confronted with a really unique style of winemaking like the Recioto di Soave. The tasting was held in the room where they hang all the grapes on string to dry them out before making their pasito. It is such a stunning site. Or later in the day, we were received in a beautiful old building in Monteforte d’Alpone with a piano in the courtyard before ascending to a tasting and lunch in the cloister of Carvaggio’s Palazzo Vescovile. Because that’s just how they roll in Italy.
In short, Soave demonstrated an amazing sense of style and even dramatics without falling into caricature. They didn’t try to cling to any “spaghetti and meatballs” kind of stereotypes to impress us. (Ask me about how often I have to eat cassoulet with journalists who visit my region).
But it’s not just fine aesthetics that made me jealous. Actually, that’s the least of the things I’m jealous of.
Increasing Visibility of Communication Efforts
What I loved most in Soave was their common sense approach to increasing visibility. They had gone to great expense to impress us and share their amazing culture and wines with us. So they went a little bit further and hired a video crew to film the entire trip and IMMEDIATELY put it online. Things were going up almost instantly. That video at the top of the page where I’m talking about soave was filmed at 10 AM and it was online before I could fill my face with risotto at lunch. 😀
When you put money into impressing journalists/bloggers, you should also think about immortalizing that effort and experience on the Internet. That way, the small experience that went to a group of 20 journalists can now be rehashed over and over by hundreds or thousands on the Internet.
Using Local Brand Ambassadors
Futhermore… I feel like I’m buring this in the middle of an article when it’s really the most important point in here. Soave works with local brand ambassadors to amplify their communication efforts. That’s a fancy way to say they invite their biggest supporters to piggyback on promotional efforts for journalists. Such a simple idea. I wish my region did it more effectively. Right before we arrived to the first winery, our guide let us know that a small group would be joining us. I wasn’t sure what that meant. But I talked to members of that second group and it turned out they’re just locals who frequently communicate on the soave brand. Or people from other parts of Italy who are good spokespeople for soave. So any time Soave is undergoing the expense of having a group like the EWBC in, they send an email to their best brand ambassadors and allow them to join in on the fun. The CIVL has asked me to do this once or twice and Sud de France has as well. I’m grateful, but I think I’m in the minority. I really wish that I’d run into the people who contribute most to this region’s online communications. People like Rosemary George, Graham Tiggs, Chez Loulou, Nina Izzo, Michel Smith, Louise Hurren, and so on live really nearby. They should basically be kept abreast of everything. Actually some of the people on that list will be at many events, but that’s only because they’ve crossed some imaginary threshold to officially be labeled press or PR people. The marginal cost of inviting ten more people to a large tasting area is rather negligible. Of course, if you start including seated meals and hotel rooms, the costs are totally different and you can’t always offer those to everybody. But anyway, I’m jealous because I feel like the promotional bodies in my area don’t respect their local brand ambassadors as much as Soave does. That’s the heart of it. I don’t want somebody to misread this and think that I’m lamenting my personal travails. Again, several organizations have done really remarkable things for me and opened doors into fascinating events. But more could be done to make other brand ambassadors feel like they’re really appreciated.
And a final note: In Soave, even larger organizations like Borgo Rocca Sveva are on board with the importance of social media. I am seeing glimmers of hope and interest from Sieur d’Arques, Anne de Joyeuse, and so on. But the vast majority of the medium sized coops right up to the UCCOARs seem to be totally uninterested in communicating direct to consumer online. There are obvious exceptions like Embres & Castelmaure, master communicators who are keenly watching the Internet space. But these are exceptions. Borgo Rocca Sveva is enormous, but they still realize that it’s possible to have unique voices online even in an organization of that size. I wish we had co-ops with websites like Borgo Rocca Sveva’s blog. EDIT: okay, so while fact checking (I do that occasionally) I discovered that Sieur d’Arques does have a blog? http://sieurdarques.unblog.fr/ Updated on and off since 2009 with lots of different subjects that go beyond the typical “we won an award” type of post. How did I not know that? Anyway. Foot in mouth. My bad.
The region is also working strongly on communicating with consumers online. Find il Soave on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and so on.
I should also mention Franciacorta’s colossal effort in receiving the conference. We really had a top notch experience in the Santa Giulia in Brescia. Even the hotels chosen had a lot of character. No bland, corporate moments. An entire trip full of charm and quirks. And an enormous sense of cooperation between winemakers (perhaps reminiscent of the strict military style formations in Champagne houses) I’ll probably write about all this on a separate occasion. But let it be known that I can’t think of Soave’s hospitality without thinking of Franciacorta’s as well. Italy on a whole was very very good to me.
The Wine is Good Too
Let’s not allow the communication efforts to overshadow the wines. Simply put, I wouldn’t be writing about soave at all if their wines weren’t amazing. The reason I chose this trip in the first place is because I thought I could learn a lot about the calcareous soil whites (although I did fall for a few volcanic terroir wines too). And it was an added bonus that Soave faces a similar challenge to the Languedoc’s. Soave is a word that was used to describe vast amounts of generic Italian white wine of forgetable quality. And now the best winemakers in the region are trying to rebrand themselves without abandoning this once degraded name “soave”. If they can do it, so can the Languedoc. PS – I’m making white wine on limestone and clay soon so I wanted to steal some techniques too. ;D
Jealous of everything?
Well now, I put a question mark in there. I loved the wines we tasted, especially around lunch time (no big surprise, Ryan likes wine more with food ;D). I loved the communication efforts. I loved everything. But despite all my jealousy and the tastiness of their wines, I’m still very happy in the Languedoc. I think we have all the opportunities in the world. It’s just a good idea to look at neighbors like Soave to see what’s being done right in other regions.
The 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) happened in Brescia, Italy last month. I had the honor of moderating a session on Saturday and here is the video recording.
The entire conference was themed around storytelling and we had lots of sessions about how to improve our storytelling. My session was devoted to actually telling some stories. I think it went really well and I’m hugely grateful to everybody who stood up to share a story as well as the hundreds of people who attended the session. And a big thanks to Brescia and Franciacorta who allowed us to share our stories in this marvelous venue, the Santa Giulia church, a place all-too-epic for a silly little blogger like me.
Summary of stories told
Name – title – time stamp in video
Ryan Opaz – Introduction – 0:01
Brief intro to the storytelling session
Ryan O’Connell – Judge a book by its cover – 2:00
I told a story about writing my book on the Cabardes wine region. And the help I got from my neighborhood winemakers. Or lack of help. Or in some cases ridiculous amounts of criticism they gave me. And the most hilarious criticisms. Spoiler: “Why is there an asian child on the cover of this book?!”
Brett Jones – Don’t let a prostate prostrate – 7:20
Brett shared a very moving story about how he handled the discovery of his prostate cancer. And his wine tasting on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square to promote awareness and early detection of prostate cancer.
Jason Kallsen – Feel the fear – 14:18
“The counterfeit innovator is wildly self confident. The real one is scared to death.” A good story about how Jason learned that Ryan Opaz was moving to Spain without any real plans. And how to create something beautiful we have to go out and embrace the scary world out there! The book he mentions is Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”
Anders Aberg – I bought a vineyard! – 18:20
The story of how a successful Swedish film producer bought a little property in the south of France. And how he was a bit surprised by developments of his first vintage. And how much his friends will lie to him about the wine being great! 😀 Follow his adventures in Swedish on his blog Livet i Languedoc.
Louise Hurren – Story of a ball of string – 22:25
Louise talks about how her life has intertwined with wine and drops some twine around the room with every step.
Agnes Nemeth – Bordeaux Lock Out – 30:32
This Hungarian wine writer talks about an epic trip to Bordeaux where everything goes wrong and she ends up treading through the muddy clay vines in the pitch darkness of night until somebody found her in the morning.
Wink Lorch – A Shaggy Dog Story – 39:01
Wink tells a hilarious story full of beautiful and irrelevant details about an American winery that does EVERYTHING possible to make their wine the best on the market. It’s fun to recycle and retell stories and embellish them and all that jazz. Wink shows us how it’s done. Read more of Wink’s serious work at Wine Travel Guides.
Magnus Reuterdahl – Archaeology tells a story – 45:04
This Scandinavian talks about the history of wine in Sweden and how some very old symbols come and go over time and how archaeology tells a story just as interesting as any person can. Read more of Magnus’ wine blogging at Testimony of the Spade.
Oscar Quevedo – Don’t challenge me -49:09
This winemaker in the Duoro Valley talks about how they tread grapes in the lagares and how he almost drowned as a child. And now, people battle in the lagar and Oscar’s near death experience has given him the power to win every time. Follow Oscar on the Quevedo blog.
Joao Roseira – En Memoire de Joe Dressner – 52:09
This portugese fellow decided to talk in French (which was hilarious and awesome) in a tribute to Joe Dressner the wine importer and unconventional blogger who recently passed away. I think Dressner would have loved the spirit of rebellion to Joao’s story and choice of language. He blogs in Portugese on gotaepinga
Thomas Lippert – Recovering from cardiac arrest – 54:50
Thomas suffered a major cardiac arrest and discovered the first EWBC online while he was in hopsital. His incredibly speedy recovery was partially fueled by a desire to attend that first conference and share with other people who love wine. A really touching story. More of Thomas’ blogging on winzerblog.de
I’ll be quiet for a little bit as I’m headed to Brescia Italy for the European Wine Bloggers Conference. The whole conference is themed around storytelling this year and I have the great privilege of moderating a session of storytellers.
These short stories will be a great way to learn about some of the very interesting people who attend the conference and normally don’t have a chance to share their story. Should be a lot of fun. And a welcome break from decuvage!
Don't forget to pack the wine!
Now I have to pack my bags. What to pack?
Drawing inspiration from this Sud de France poster, I’m bringing a whole leg of ham and seventeen different kinds of cheeses.
No not really… typically, I pack a pair of jeans, two shirts, and a case of wine, as usual. I won’t be winning any fashion contests, but I won’t run out of wine either. Plus I have to bring extra wine in case we get invited to one of Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga parties.
The European Wine Bloggers’ Conference is full of really cool panels and seminars. SO many that you have to make some tough choices about which to see. I opted toward seeing panels that were not being filmed figuring I’d be able to enjoy the more mainstream ones from the comfort of my computer chair. And I got a wonderful surprise!
The online wine commerce seminar had three people talking about some of the different ways to monetize wine on the web. Evelyn Resnick, author of Wine Brands and wearer of the technicolor dreamcoat, Andre from Adegga, and Rowan from Naked Wines.
The nice surprise is that O’Vineyards was mentioned multiple times by multiple panelists! So this post is going to be a little narcissistic and personal, but you can watch the video and form your own nerdy academic impressions this time. Instead, I’m focusing this post on my emotional rollercoaster and the birth of a humorous comic book rivalry between me and another winemaker!
Yes, you heard right, this exciting post will reveal the secret origins of The Winemaker.
Evelyn talked about how few wineries try to communicate directly with their clients with the Internet. But she did include a slide about some winemakers who are doing it right and O’Vineyards was on the top of the list. What a nice surprise. 🙂 Very good to see Evelyn recognize my family’s work as she’s a point man (point person?) for wine branding.
And then Andre got up and talked about different solutions he’s found to monetize his wine-based social network, Adegga. I was enjoying hearing about some of the cool projects underway in Portugal. Adegga is doing event promotion and finding ways to feature wines on the site in a way that is a lot more engaging than a banner ad. And just as I was coming down from the high of being mentioned by Evelyn, Andre starts talking about AVIN codes.
Now I think AVIN codes are awesome. They’re like an ISBN number for wines. The dorky librarian in me thinks this is great and even indispensable for the cataloging of wine. One day, we will not understand how wines went so long without having numeric codes. And Andre mentions some wineries that have AVIN codes on their labels, and BOOM, O’Vineyards get mentioned there too. Look at that! You cannot talk about wine commerce online without mentioning O’Vineyards. Pretty flattering!
Now I see Rowan get up and I think to myself… oh boy… my importer.. I’m gonna get a hat trick. I’m going to get three references in a row on the same panel. I feel it in my bones. Rowan’s progressing through his slides, explaining his amazing business model. Naked Wines is devoted to real innovation. They constantly try out new ideas, they embrace their clients’ opinions, and they aren’t afraid to stumble now and then on their sprint down the road to greatness. And they have cultivated a clientelle that understands the way the company works. It’s all very cool to be a part of it. And then Rowan gets to it. A slide where he explains how Naked puts wine lovers (photo of pretty wine drinkers pops up) in touch with wine makers (DRUMROLL AS I AWAIT MY GLORIOUS PORTRAIT TO APPEAR)… JOCK HARVEY?! YOU’LL RUE THE DAY YOU CROSSED ME, JOCK HARVEY!!
haha, okay so Jock is a Naked Wines star. And he deserves it. I tasted three of his wines while touring the UK and he makes some really interesting wine with a sort of exuberance and joie de vivre that is typically new world. But I’m getting distracted…this post is about our newly born rivalry! The best kind of rivalry, one where the other person doesn’t even know I exist! Bwahahaha
In the coming weeks, events would unfold to fan the flames of this one-sided rivalry. But I don’t want to spoil it all at once. Part 2 in the saga will come soon enough.
I am finally back in the comfort of my own winery after a long and wonderful trip to Paris and Vienna. The European Wine Bloggers’ Conference was an absolute blast. The word for the week was overwhelming. Lots of wine, lots of learning, lots of laughing, lots of beauty. Everything was just wonderful.
I guess we should break this up into multiple posts because the trip was sooo varied and momentous.
Alright, an ongoing series on the EWBC 2010 in Vienna and the surrounding Austrian wine country. As the series goes on, I’ll update this post to be a sort of index or table of contents for the EWBC posts, photos and links.
Keynotes and Tastings that virtually everybody did:
Other pertinent, less insane articles about the EWBC:
Mr. Payton goes to Washington.. err .. Parliament in Vien. This is a really ingenious piece where Ken Payton visits the Austrian parliament without an appointment (or any idea of who he even wants to talk to) and asks if anybody can help him learn about Austrian wine law. I wish I had ideas like this.
Folks watching my facebook updates and tweets of late have been wondering “What is a BarCamp? And what does it have to do with wine?”
What is BarCamp?
A couple people have assumed that it’s like an intensive training camp for barristas or bar patrons. While I love that assumption, it is slightly off the mark. BarCamps are a type of conference or symposium. They are sort of an anarchic un-Conference, organized by all the attendees at the very last minute. I mean they’re not totally anarchic. There are rules of BarCamp. But the rules are written on a wiki that anybody can change. The whole thing has the spirit of a temporary autonomous zone, and it’s a far cry from traditionally organized, opaque, pre-scheduled industry gabfests that used to dominate the tech space.
An Inaccurate History of BarCamps Based on Conjecture and Speculation
Everything I know about BarCamp I learned by skimming wikipedia and a few articles online. So take this with a grain of salt. But my general understanding is that some time way back when (2005), O’Reilly launched an impromptu user-generated conference called FooCamp (a play on the computer term Foobar). After the success of this event, a bunch of people started running similarly anarchic BarCamps (a play on the second syllable of Foobar).
BarCamps are a backlash against all the super-strict industry events that can dominate technology conferences (and wine conferences for that matter).
Anybody can start a BarCamp by getting a space and posting a wikipedia page on the BarCamp wiki. And then anybody with the Internet can modify the wiki. And miraculously, it works. You get a big group of people who are leading the charge in their industry to convene and exchange ideas. And it’s very participatory. No visitors. You are highly encouraged to talk.
And what is VinoCamp Paris?
VinoCamp is a BarCamp devoted to wine. Normally, BarCamps are about technology. VinoCamp will be about wine and technology. There is a lot of energy being put into bringing wine online. There are several large-scale social networks devoted to wine. There are thousands of blogs devoted to everything from tasting notes to wine news to estate visits. There are thousands of online stores and other web-based wine businesses. So there’s a lot going on in this space and it makes sense that all of us get together and exchange ideas.
This is not the first VinoCamp. There were VinoCamps in 2008 and 2009 in Canada. But this one definitely has a different feel. I’ll report on this less ambiguously during and after the actual camp. Right here and a bit on Love That Languedoc too, probably.
But what is VinoCamp ACTUALLY
Well it’s hard to answer because the entire event can change at the last minute. The only thing set in stone is that we’re all meeting at La Cantine in Paris on Saturday, July 10, 2010. I’ll be there around 10 AM. And after that the sky is the limit. Topics and presentations will be discussed as we go along.
Obviously, there are some topics that cannot be avoided. We will obviously address the European Wine Bloggers Conference coming up in October, for example. With this particular group of people, it would be silly to ignore the Conference.
People keep suggesting that I am exaggerating and that I have a basic idea of what will go on because lots of preliminary ideas have been posted on the VinoCamp Paris wiki. This is untrue. While many ideas have been posted on the wiki and several discussions have taken place online and in the real world, nothing is predetermined.
For example, I am actually in a minority of people that believes we should be able to consume wine during the presentations throughout the day. In the pre-discussions, it generally seems people are against this because it could let the whole event fall into a sort of debaucherous boozefest rather than an important marketplace of ideas. To that I say, “Too bad.” This boy is drinking. And if you want to hear what I have to say, you’re going to have to shut your eyes or see me holding a glass of wine! And the awesome thing about a BarCamp is that it is totally up for discussion.
Although I do have to agree with the general point that we shouldn’t open up the BarCamp Bar until much later in the day. If you are uninterested in the forum and just want to drink, go to a bar. No Camp required.
How to find us
Domaine O’Vineyards, located in the North Arrondissement of Carcassonne, is just minutes from the Carcassonne train station, the Medieval City, and the Carcassonne Airport.
GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387
Wine, Dine, Relax at our Boutique Vineyard
Unique thing to do in Carcassonne
Wine Cellar. Winery Visits. Wine Tasting.
Wine & Food Pairing
North Arrondissement of Carcassonne
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910
Best by GPS.
Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou using the D118. At the end of the last straight part of D118, you will come to a roundabout with the Dyneff gas station.
Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
At the last juction, bear left. the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.
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