Bloggers – Meet Charlottesville and her wine!

What do you get when you take 350 bloggers from around the country, the who’s who of the local wine industry, and plenty of out-of-state colleagues? Throw in sweltering temperatures and you have the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference, which saw the creme de la creme of the blogosphere descend upon the Omni Hotel for a three-day seminar on wine blogging.  Local wines were well represented at this conference, as well as wines from Spain, California, South Africa and Italy amongst others.

The fact that Charlottesville was awarded this conference speaks volumes for the Tourism and Marketing offices who had many months ago proposed that the conference be held in the beautiful state that is Virginia. I also think that this speaks volumes for Charlottesville as a tourist destination, as well as recognising that we have built up a fairly solid reputation of producing wines that can hold their own against anything that the other 49 states have to offer.

The official launch of the weekends festivities took place on Thursday evening with a tasting of wines from around the world, however not being an official attendant, Keswick Vineyards, along with BlenheimPollak and Mountfair decided to have an unofficial Virginia wine tasting at Siips restaurant on the downtown mall. A big thank you to George, who allowed us to occupy some of his popular floor space in order for each of us to pour one wine to any customers who wanted to get a sneak peak of some Virginia wines.  Along with our Verdejo, Blenheim’s fantastic Viognier, Pollaks ever good Merlot and Mountfair’s awesome Cab Franc, the evening turned out to be a vibey affair with folks coming in throughout the evening to sample the wines. Ever present Virginia Wine Bloggers, Swirl Snip Snark, Virginia Wine Time and Drink What You Like came by to say hello as well as bloggers from California, Texas and Florida, who were quite surprised by the quality of our local wines, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

I was given strict instructions by my beautiful wife of what was required of me over the next few days, and it was with these in hand along with the absolute fear of her wrath, that I descended upon the Omni Hotel on Friday afternoon for the first of my commitment, pouring our 2010 Verdejo at the Live Wine Blogging for white wines. I have never conducted a tasting like this before, going to 12 tables and introducing, pouring and explaining the wines in the short alloted time of 5 minutes, before bidding adieu and doing it all again. We chose the Verdejo to highlight the diversity of the industry. It is well known that we produce killer Viognier but I was thrilled to see Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris poured, varietals that sometimes do not get as much recognition as their more illustrious counterpart. Comments were tweeted in real time, and then shown on multiple big screens in the room, no place to hide. Luckily from what I saw, most Virginia wines were received rather favorably. 5 Minutes seems like a long time but with that bell constantly reminding me that I was due to move, one hour flew by in no time at all.

Act 2, pouring one white and one red at the home of the father of Virginia wine, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Pouring wine in 100 degree heat is no fun at all and it was no surprise that the whites were the wine of choice, honestly ice cold water would have tasted like the best bottle of wine you have ever tasted. This was the first time that we have poured our 2010 Viognier to the general public, but if that was not pressure enough, Jancis Robinson made her way to the table and introduced herself.

Educated at Oxford [you might have heard of it], with an honorary doctorate from the Open University, this woman knows her stuff, oh and by the way she was the first person outside of the trade to become a Master of Wine. Play up the accent I thought, because dripping with sweat is certainly the way to make an impression. Generally I am happy to pour my wines for anyone, but Jancis Robinson, known to me only by reputation, struck the fear of God into me. Need not have worried, “nice to try a Viognier that is varietally correct, full bodied and rich, can taste that is Viognier” she stated of the Viognier in her British accent, and “this Merlot is complex and interesting, very well done”. She may well have given me the  keys to Buckingham Palace, stoked.

Saturday morning came way to quickly, and after dropping Kathy off at the Omni, it was off to Cafe Europa to pick up lunch for the bloggers who were due to arrive at Keswick Vineyards at 12:15pm. With a heads up from Kathy who was traveling with them, bus #7 duly arrived and the bloggers were quickly ushered into the cool cellar for 3 hours of pouring our wines and having their undivided attention.

I was soon given the floor after a warm welcome from owners Al and Cindy Schornberg. Time to throw out the heavy hitters. Viognier Reserve followed barrel samples of 2010 whites which lead into barrel tastings of our 2010 Bordeaux varietals, with Al’s favorite, the 2007 Heritage and my favorite, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. This was not about Keswick Vineyards, rather about the Virginia Wine industry, and promoting our versatility, and the passion that goes into making these wines, something that cannot be conveyed in 5 minutes. truthfully this was the highlight of the weekend for me. Hopefully the bloggers, most of whom were from out of State, left with an appreciation of Virginia wines and the industry that we all love.

Done right? Not quite, still needed to pour our Governors Cup Winning 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon at the live wine bloggers conference for red wines.  Thank goodness cops were not shooting radar, this Kia made it there in 10 minutes and with a quick swipe of deodorant my lovely wife and I were ready to pour the wine. The vibe in the room felt a lot more relaxed, which I am sure had nothing to do with the high octane wines that were consumed prior. 5 minutes felt longer, probably because I was a bit more efficient with my speech, and trusted that the wine would speak for itself. Tweets were positive so maybe the wine did something I could not, promote itself. I followed Jefferson Vineyards wonderful 2005 Petite Verdot, a hard act to follow as I am a huge fan of Andy Reagan’s wine. I must say that I was happy to not see many Cabernet Francs, we all know that arguably this is the varietal that Virginia does best, but Virginia does so much more, Petite Verdot, Pinotage and Pinot Noir, and by the way our wines do age well, the Jefferson Petite Verdot was a wonderful 2005.

With my duties duly taken care of, at least I hope I did a fair job, it was with eager anticipation that I joined some of my colleagues and other bloggers at the tables to enjoy a 5 course meal, paired with Viognier wines not tasted at Monticello. With wines freely flowing, new friendships were formed while enjoying corn chowder paired with a wonderful Petite Manseng, salad paired with exotic Viognier’s and a main dish of Portobello Mushroom [I’m vegetarian] paired with an exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon. With the 2 perennial showstopping dessert wines of Rockbridge and Gray Ghost, accompanying an array of local cheeses, dinner was finished all too quickly. Honestly, some of the wines did not (in my opinion) pair the best with the foods, but I thought it was fantastic that the Virginia Wine Marketing Office exposed the bloggers to a wide variety of Virginia Wines.

So the big question. Was the conference a success?

In terms of exposure, without a doubt, incredible job by Allan, Reno and Elle of Zephyr Adventures, and Amy, Annette and Mary-Catherine from the Virginia Wine Marketing Office . It is still to soon to really quantify what bloggers and iPads will do for the industry, success cannot be measured by dollars, rather by the fact that Virginia is being written about at all, and that if one persons opinion has been changed to the positive, then I would give a resounding hell yeah to the Wine Bloggers Conference 2011, held at the Omni Hotel, in beautiful Charlottesville.

All the best, and extremely proud

Stephen

Keswick Vineyards

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10 comments on “Bloggers – Meet Charlottesville and her wine!

  1. […] Stephen from Keswick Vineyards: impressions of WBC11 from his side of the bottle […]

  2. Tammy Colson says:

    Stephen,

    It was a joy to have a table with you and Kat on Saturday night, as well as our friends from Georgia, Anna and Jason.
    I appreciated the conversation, even when we were on opposite sides of the topic – you and your lovely wife truly are an asset to Virginia wine making and the wine industry.

    Love the way your wrapped up the conference from your perspective. I’m not altogether sure what impact bloggers will have on the industry as a whole, but I know that wine consumers increasingly look to “peer reference” for purchases, so getting us talking about the wines is a great step in that direction. I’ll also say that the way y’all embrace the community is a standard that other wineries should certainly strive for.

    I look forward to drinking Keswick’s wonderful wines for years to come.

    Tammy

  3. Beth Daane says:

    Fine article and I DO agree that the wine bloggers of today will influence the direction of the wine industry. Keswick did a very fine job and the wines are fantastic! Thank you!

  4. Frank says:

    Well done, Stephen – great perspectives from the other side of the bottle. Appreciate your wines and your level of engagement in the wine blogosphere (even if Kat makes you at times :). It was great to see so many great comments about Keswick wines (although certainly no surprise).

    I agree, “It is still to soon to really quantify what bloggers and iPads will do for the industry…” I’m doubtful of our (bloggers without iPads) ability to move the wine sales needle. Perhaps one day. Cheers!

    • Stephen says:

      Frank,
      I think your influence on our wine industry cannot be understated, the pen is after all mightier than the sword, or i-pad mightier than the pen and pad, you get my point.
      We had a blast and appreciate all your comments and feedback, hope you found the conference to be good. See you in Oregon?

  5. Stephen – you, Kat, Al and Cindi did an amazing job all weekend! I think the bloggers were truly enamored by you during your presentation at the winery. The wines were stand out (esp. the 2007 Heritage… unfortunately I did not get a chance to savor the 2009 Cab Sauv. Reserve as I had to step out) – and I think the bloggers loved touring the property. Not too many winery owners can claim that their estate was once owned by Art Garfunkel!

    PS – really enjoyed spending extra time w/ Kat over the weekend! :O)

    • Stephen says:

      No Maam, bravo you and the others for an incredible job, very well done indeed. we bottle the Cab Sauv res on Wednesday and promise to send you a bottle, call it a thank you gift.
      we were happy to have you and our doors are always open for you and anyone.
      Let’s catch up soon
      All the best

  6. Jay says:

    Followed the conference from afar (not very far really) via Twitter by doing a search for “#wbc11 keswick” and saw nothing but very positive comments. So proud of how y’all represented Virginia and Virginia wine.

    Hmm, so some other varietals that might work well in VA? How about falanghina or aglianico? Similar hot humid climates but very different soil. Sorry for the unsolicited suggestions – I just like to think about how they’d do here…

    • Stephen says:

      Jay
      No idea about Aglianico, just trying to get a grip on Verdejo, Norton and Chambourcin; will let others take that plunge.
      Time will tell what we do well and what we should focus on.
      The conference showed Virginia in a very positive light, the wines were varied and good and the winemakers and marketers did an amazing job.
      See you soon at the winery
      Take care

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