How I Got Lost On The Road Less Traveled But Then Got Instant Karma At The Wine Bloggers’ Conference

So last Friday afternoon, I was reviewing the initial draft of what was to be my second piece on the Wine Bloggers’ Conference.  I had painstaking chronicled the “Mystery Bus” tour I was on during the conference, going minute-by-minute through Bus 5’s adventures.  Sure, about 30 of us boarded a bus (of unknown destination) and headed out to a few wineries for tours and tasting.  Some of the wines we tasted were very good, some of them just O.K., but none were bad.  At both stops on our tour (White Hall Vineyards and King Family Vineyards), we tasted some nice wines in beautiful settings.  I had written a decent narrative about the day’s travels, but that wasn’t really the story.

The story (just like Soylent Green) was people: our host (and owner of King Family Vineyards) David King; the gracious and welcoming staff at Whitehall Vineyards tasting room; winemaker Fritz Repich of Mountfair Vineyards; and other conference attendees (Indie Vinos and Wine-Oh of the Year, to name a few) on the tour, with whom I had the opportunity to chat, laugh, and yes, even taste some wine.

Have you ever tried a wine at a tasting, whether at a local shop or at a dinner, bought a bottle, taken it home and opened it, only to find that the wine wasn’t nearly as pleasing as you remembered or hoped?  Probably.  In those cases, were you more “open” to the wine when you initially tasted it?  I have found this to be true on several occasions and can come to one of two conclusions: 1) The experience of tasting was so pleasing that I got a better initial impression of the wine than I should have; or 2) I bought a bottle (or bottles) out of some sort of obligation to the pourer/store/vineyard for their effort (which we’ve all done at one time or another, I’m sure).  Reflecting on my own such experiences, in most cases, it has been the former.

Wine appreciation is subjective (although there are objective elements of wine upon which even semi-experienced tasters/drinkers can judge), and subjectivity is exactly that—subjective.  Add several subjective opinions in the same tasting circle, and you got yourself a community centered around wine.

And community in the wine world is important.  I have, on occasion, grilled up a steak and opened a nice bottle of wine alone while The Rib was out of town.  I appreciate the meal, the wine, the pairing.  But even with the nicest of bottles and a perfectly cooked ribeye (I’m fairly handy with a pair of tongs and a hot rock), I always find myself wanting to share the experience with someone else.  I have also tasted a wine, decided to purchase a bottle (or two or three) and bought an extra bottle for a friend I knew would appreciate that particular wine.  Or had a sample at a local tasting and thought to myself, “next time Aphrodite decides to host a dinner (where she usually serves a beautiful main dish with another [typically] main dish as the principal side—I love dinners at her place!) this wine would be perfect.”

Jancis Robinson told us at the conference that “wine is the thing” and I agree, but only to a point.  She also spoke about the importance of building relationships.  In the world of wine writing (we were—as wine bloggers—deemed wine “writers” by Eric Asimov), the relationships we build are at least as important as the wine.  Sure, wine is the thing, but it is the thing around which we build relationships and broaden our community.

That’s not to say that continually sharpening both our palate and academic knowledge of wine isn’t necessary or important.  In order to be better received and respected by not only the wine community, but also the community at large, we must strive to be better.  But better in this case may just be fostering a community around wine.  This can be accomplished, I think, by not only engaging each other (as wine writers) more, but also by engaging the community at large.

So the wine tour on Saturday was filled with people.  We sampled wines and sipped (sparingly) at lunch, and discussed the wines a bit.  But remarkably, our conversations were less wine-centric than one might have imagined.  We discussed how each of us came to our own appreciation of wine, what wines we tend to favor and the like, but more than that, we just chatted and got to know each other.  Our conversations weren’t wine-centric, but they were centered around the wine.  Less about the wine, more about the people around the wine.  Wine was our glue, so to speak.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention a few of the wines tasted on the “Mystery Bus” tour.  We began at White Hall Vineyards, which not only poured some of their own selections, but also hosted winemaker Fritz Repich of Mountfair Vineyards, who was pouring a few of his own wines.  Yes, White Hall not only hosted the 30 or so conference attendees for tasting, but also the winemaker from another winery (there’s an example of community in the wine world).  Wine is about the people.  I can’t imagine another business hosting a (supposed) competitor at its own place of business to sample a (supposedly) competing product.  Amazing.  The Texan in me was pleased at the show of hospitality.  The wine lover in me was pleased with the wine.

We then headed to King Family Vineyards for more tasting and lunch.  We sampled several selections before and during lunch, then headed to the barrel room for a vertical tasting of King Family’s Meritage (to include the 2010 straight from the barrel).  We also got to sample the “7,” a 100% Merlot, port-style aged in bourbon barrels for 24 months.  I counted at least 10 bottles leaving with us after the tour.

For me personally, the standout from each winery were as follows:

White Hall Vineyards:  2010 Viognier- The 13% Petit Manseng and 0.9% residual sugar really made this wine pop.  Nice acid structure and pleasant without being overly sweet.  Perfect for sipping on a super-hot summer day or getting conversations started.

Mountfair Vineyards:  2010 Wooloomooloo- Pouring directly from a decanter, winemaker Fritz Repich claimed that he was still working this blend before release in late August.  I think he can stop with the 65% Petit Verdot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot he’s got in there.  It’s interesting and complex, but easy to drink.  I can’t wait to get my hands on a bottle or two.

King Family Vineyards:  2009 “7”- 100% Merlot, port-style wine, fortified with Brandy, aged 24 months in bourbon barrels.  An absolute delight.  I brought home three bottles and even had another sip or two Saturday evening (thanks to the generosity of Karin and Kim from Indie Vinos).  The “7” was my favorite “find” of the entire weekend.  I only hope it is as wonderful when I open a bottle with old friends as it was with the new friends I made in Charlottesville.

Cheers from the Corkpit,

Stub