This November wine bloggers from around North America and beyond will come together for the 10th annual event of the Wine Bloggers Conference. Some may refer to this as the 10th anniversary, but they would be wrong due to a logic problem often referred to as “the fencepost error.” It is the 10th occurrence, but technically it’s only the 9th anniversary. I know, I’m obnoxious for calling that out.
Regardless, it’s an excuse to celebrate the ongoing energy and enthusiasm about wine blogging, learn a few things and connect with other wine bloggers. I highly recommend it if you’re a blogger (whether or not you blog about wine specifically, but more so if you do), or if your thinking about becoming a wine blogger and particularly if you’ve never been one.
I attended the first conference, back in 2008, as well as a few others since then. The picture above is me at the conference in 2008. There are many things I love about this conference, although if I’m honest a few things I don’t love as well.
Reflecting on the Roots
The first Wine Bloggers Conference was amazing for me. It happened at a time when social media as we know it today was just beginning to gain traction in the mainstream. But there was a wine blogger community that was actively blogging and socializing online before Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms took off.
The community was blog-based back then. We would read posts on each others blogs and connect through comment threads on our blogs. It felt like we knew each other, even though most of us had never actually met. And the Wine Bloggers Conference blossomed from that community.
The event itself had a grassroots feeling to it that first year as the organizers and the attendees all were trying to figure out what we wanted the conference to be. That’s not to say it was unorganized. I was floored by how well organized the event was. And the wine blogger community, not just the organizers, had a lot of influence in shaping the conference. To the credit of the organizers, they were flexible enough to adapt on the fly as the attendees shaped the conference into their own thing.
It was exciting to finally meet all the people I’d been connecting with online through the blogging community and equally exciting to make new connections at the conference. For me, connecting with the community is one of the most rewarding parts of the wine blogger conference — but has also has been a disappointment at times (more on that later).
A few of the many new connections I made at that event who stand out in my memory include:
- Hardy Wallace: He was a wine blogger from Atlanta at the time, with a contagiously-positive personality. Since then he’s pursued his love of wine and become world famous for making wine with his own wine company, Dirty and Rowdy.
- Alan Kropf: At the time of the first Wine Bloggers Conference Alan was just launching a new drinks magazine called Mutineer Magazine, and he was promoting it non-stop at the conference. Several attendees were totally annoyed by him pushing his magazine so aggressively, but I thought he was fantastic! Tons of energy and attitude. Not willing to quit. So, I became a contributor to his magazine. The magazine is no longer published, but Alan is still bringing drink knowledge to the masses as Director of Education at Anchor Distilling.
- Doug Cook: Doug won the blind tasting competition at the first conference and is one of the brightest people I’ve met in my life, about wine, technology and many other things. Today he uses his smarts as the CTO of eProvenance, developing technology solutions to monitor and protect wine and other fine goods through shipping and storage (e.g. temperature, humidity control, etc.)
- Allan Wright: Allan and his company, Zephyr Adventures, are the primary organizers that make this event happen and keep everything running like clockwork. In addition to the Wine Bloggers Conference, he’s replicated the concept in other genres such as wine marketing & tourism, fitness blogging and probably others I haven’t heard about yet.
And that’s just a few of them. I could easily list 30+ people.
The Wine Bloggers Conferences is also a wonderful learning opportunity — pertaining to blogging, promoting websites, writing, photography, technology and of course wine. I came away from the first conference totally energized and I felt like I came away from it as a better blogger.
For me, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience and I couldn’t wait for the next year to come around. But all good things can’t be perfect…
The Things that Drive Me Bonkers
Of course this conference isn’t without its critics and there’s always some drama that infiltrates events like this. I too have my pet peeves, annoyances and such. Most of these revolve around those I refer to as the “you suck” people.
A common, uninspiring and annoying theme I’ve encountered at prior conferences is the session where a successful writer or a group of successful writers basically tell us how much everyone else sucks. It started at the first conference with writers from traditional media blasting “new media” bloggers. (yawn) And it’s been a recurring theme ever since, at least at the conferences I have attended.
The presenters desperately want to be “disruptive” and want to spark controversy, but it seems contrived, cliché, uninteresting and uninspiring to me.
Regardless, it usually results in some manufactured controversy when one of the attendees writes a blog post about it, attacking the presenter and/or other bloggers. That post always has a click-bait style headline and sparks a lively discussion on Facebook with people bitching and moaning. Which again makes me roll my eyes. I see no point to all the drama. It’s wine blogging. It’s not that important.
Along similar lines I’ve heard wine industry attendees lament about how anyone can become a blogger. There’s no requirement for wine education and some bloggers don’t know their stuff. Yadda, yadda.
While all of these points are fair criticisms of wine blogging, I love the fact that blogging brings people of all skill levels and knowledge levels. It makes it interesting to me. It gives it character and authenticity. I love that there are people sharing a perspective different from industry insiders, free from technical information that means nothing to 99% of wine consumers.
Although some may begin wine blogging with beginner knowledge of wine and/or lackluster writing skills, the mere act of participating in it will help them grow. I love that. And telling them they suck does nothing to help them or motivate them. Most wine bloggers don’t aspire to become professional wine writers. But I’m sure they’d like to learn something, improve their craft and make some connections with others who have similar interests. I don’t view wine blogging as a contest.
Which leads to my next pet peeve, the spirit of one-upsmanship. I previously mentioned the community as a point of disappointment at times. I truly, truly cherish the connections and friends I’ve made through the wine blogging community. I realize that may not be apparent to some who know me as I’m known as a quiet person, but I assure you even though I’m not blessed with the gift of gab, I thoroughly enjoy building relationships with other bloggers. That said, I feel like the spirit of community has waned.
Over the past several years I’ve made numerous friends through the wine blogging community — many of those through the European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC), which is now defunct. Generally speaking, I’ve found those I’ve met in through the EWBC community to be much more friendly, collaborative and supportive compared to many of my fellow American bloggers.
My experience has been when I met people from the EWBC community they’ve wanted to share a glass of wine and get to know each other. But it’s often been more awkward meeting people within the American wine blogger community. There’s this awkward competitiveness, like they’re trying to prove something. It’s really strange to me. To be clear, I’m not saying everyone I’ve met through the American WBC has this attitude. I have met some fantastic people here, as mentioned above.
While I’m venting, another pet peeve of mine is people who try to distance themselves from the “blogger” title as though it’s an insult to be called a blogger. To me this is derived from that senseless competitiveness and from the “you suck” mentality. Some attendees try to distinguish themselves from lowly bloggers by calling them selves new media writers or content creators or digital communicators. Because bloggers are amateur. Because bloggers suck. I am happy to be called a blogger and wear that title as a badge of honor.
By the way, the irony and hypocrisy of me griping about people griping is not lost on me. And trust me, I’m not trying to spark any manufactured controversy here.
My hopes for the 2017 conference
It has been a few years since I attended a conference. This year I’m hoping to reconnect with some old friends, make some new ones, learn something new and hopefully help out some others trying to progress their blog.
I honestly don’t expect to learn a lot, but I’m sure I’ll pick up a few good tips. I’ll avoid the sessions where we’re told how much we suck and we need to work harder 😉
If you see me, please introduce yourself. Let’s have some wine.