Wine Bloggers Conference: A Tale of Two Keynotes

Driving from DC to Charlottesville, Virginia, for the Wine Bloggers Conference, my biggest hope was to arrive in time for Jancis Robinson’s keynote speech.

Robinson writes about wine for the Financial Times, has authored beaucoup wine books, was the first Master of Wine outside the trade, and she writes a phenomenally successful paid subscription blog, the Purple Pages. She even consults with Buckingham Palace on the queen’s wine cellar. She is, in my mind, the queen of wine.

Robinson admitted to being a compulsive blogger who spends far too much time working on it. In spite of that, she recently relinquished management of her site in order to keep her book train running. She charmed us with tales of publishing past and present, and offered sound advice on blog writing, paraphrased here.

– There is not enough investigative writing, originality is thin.
There’s a topic for investigation.

– Like the Economist, make your writing accessible and inclusive and encouraging to the less knowledgeable.
I will never again abbreviate Sauvignon Blanc as SB.

– Spend more time marketing your blog.
When you’re not being investigative and accessible and original.

– Tell your readers you like them or, like Gary Vaynerchuk, how you love them.
I really love how she said that.

– Be Accurate, Opinionated, Entertaining, Original.
Adjectives sound better when started with a vowel.

– To write for global readers, minimize local jokes and try global jokes.
Did the Chinese understand my references to The Honeymooners?

– Humility is important in wine writing, we should never write as though we know it all.
I’ve always known that.

Robinson concluded by describing her subscribers as overwhelmingly male, so was happy to see the number of women at WBC, including a “positive army of Amys.” That comment echoed spookily the next day when the news of Amy Winehouse’s death had spread. I approached Ms Robinson in the lobby and we commiserated about the passing of such an incredible talent. I even gave her a laugh when I showed her my lame Amy Winehouse makeup job.

Back to Black, on Saturday we heard Eric Asimov of The New York Times, who told us without explanation how his blog, The Pour, died “an untimely death,” and he wasn’t a real blogger anymore. Asimov’s said his experience came from drinking wine, not just tasting it, and ours should too. He used the analogy of his son’s game of visiting every state and wondering if changing planes in an airport counts as a visit. I thought, this guy must spit fast. He said:

– Get the answers yourself, print what you know and not just what you hear.
Osmosis is worth a thousand words.

– Knock off the tasting note-speak.
Get emotional, atmospheric, compare wine to children.

– Do Americans even understand the term, “petrol”?
They should, since they use enough of it.

– Use generalities to describe wine, like flabby and mineral.
Since people do understand fat and stoney.

– Don’t take notes for the next year, write without describing.
Let the alcohol speak for the wine.

– Scores suck, avoid giving them.
I agree on that score.

– Write only about wines you consume.
There go the wine events, speed tastings, and unaffordable wine reviews.

-Never listen to the fucking idiot sitting next to you.
Even if he is from the New York Times?

In a room of 200 or so tweeters, you can read reactions to the speaker as soon as the words leave their mouth. Asimov’s advice provided more than its share of perplexed tweets, like this:

@WineingWoman: Funny that we’re going from @EricAsimov‘s “drink don’t taste” message straight into speed tasting. #wbc11

Funny strange, I RT’d.

Next time, I’ll share my notes from the speed tastings with you, dear readers, whom I love so very much. Ta!

Mari Kane

Mari is a writer, blogger and WordPress consultant, living in Vancouver, BC, the most wine-soaked town north of the 49th Parallel. She also blogs about WordPress web design at Blogsite Studio.com. Follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.

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