Forgive me. I tried to talk him out of it, but he was insistent on chiming in again on the Wine Bloggers Conference.
Oh boy did I miss out by not attending the Wine Bloggers Conference this year. I saw a few bloggers complain about one of the sessions that was dubbed the, "grand-fatherly white male traditional print writer" session. That sounds like the perfect seminar to me, so I investigated a little more. Turns out that there was a second session dedicated to other older white male experts! Hot diggity! I was totally off in my initial assessment. Earlier this week, I watched a Youtube video of another seminar at the Wine Blogger's Conference titled, "How the Pros Taste." Oh, this gem could have been simply titled, "How to be Professional." I expect well-organized workshops at the Frontiers of Computational Physics Conference (which by the way is in Zurich next June if you're interested), but not at a conference devoted to the lowly art of blogging.
For this "Wine Discovery Session," the organizers/sponsors put together a panel of two professional critics and one pretending to be a "pro." The panel consisted of Steve Heimoff, the Director of Wine Communications and Education at Jackson Family Wines; Patrick Comiskey, senior correspondent for Wine &; Spirits Magazine; and Joe Roberts AKA 1WineDude. I must admit, this trio really showed a room of amateurs how to be professional. I mean, they were so professional that one of the panelists did double duty as the moderator, too!
First, the brilliant entrance by Comiskey set the tone. Showing up fashionably late is a key trait of professionalism and a great way to convey one's virtuoso. Take note bloggers.
Second, despite Comiskey's masterful ability to work the crowd, the Grand Poobah of the session was the moderator himself. Who better than his Heimoffness to lead a panel on tasting wine? Wine criticism, after all, is an autocracy. What better way is there to demonstrate that than having Steve sitting on his Iron Throne with his brimmed crown and a dog on his lap. Only professionals have the confidence to sit in front of a crowd of peasants at a conference with a dog on their laps. And speaking of that little dog, Gus, all the best wine tasters (MWs and the like) utilize pawed companions to assist in tasting duties (or are they MSs?). I'm sure Steve's dog isn't as talented as Mr. Wu, but I'd bet he started humping Steve's leg when he tasted the 2006 Cardinale. Or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, that's how you know a 100-pt wine when you've tasted it.
Another trait of professionals: not preparing ahead of time. Don't waste your time knowing in advance what you're supposed to talk about. Spontaneity leads to dynamic presentations. Keep an eye on the outline of the seminar provided by the organizers, to make sure you are somewhat giving the audience what they expected. That keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.
Being professional also involves answering to your superiors. Steve, bless his heart, was a model employee and chose, on his own accord of course, a wine produced by one of Jackson Family Wine's brands. And boy did he deliver. He deftly walked the line between editorial tasting and advertorial tasting. Those lucky attendees were able to taste a wine so rare with very, very tiny production levels that it was selected to be the official wine of Vital Voices' global tour and poured all over the world at fundraising events. A worthy wine for a worthy cause and I'm glad Steve didn't feel pressured to select any other JFW wines.
Steve also showed that being professional means taking charge. The simple act of grabbing the microphone right out of Joe's hands just screamed, "I am Steve Heimoff and you will respect my authoritah!" Joe submitted and stuck his nose into a glass of godforsaken vermentino.
Speaking of Joe Roberts, the lone blogger showed that he isn't quite the expert he pretends to be. He appeared to have actually prepared. Why? It was just a room of wine bloggers. All they wanted to do was drink wine. They didn't want to really learn how to be wine tasting robots. Showing his non-professionalism, he even had to ask his Heimoffness if he could explain his stages of tasting. At least he was put in his place by Mr. Heimoff when, years ago, he thought that Joe "doesn't know what the hell he's talking about." Those you keenly paying attention will notice that Heimoff didn't adjust the statement to suggest that Joe now knows what he's talking about.
And leave it to the blogger to have his camera battery die half way through the session. I'm sure the greatness continued. Like any great seminar, the key points are held until the very end. I'm sure that after the video ended the panelists made sure to "strip themselves bare (so to speak) and describe, exactly and specifically, how they go about the daily tasks of tasting." At least that was what was promised in the sponsor note about the session on the WBC website. I can only assume that's why I didn't see many specifics revealed in the opening 50 minutes (other than Joe's 3-step robot tasting process).
Apparently there was a fourth, mystery wine to be tasted at the end of the session. I do wish Joe understood how a battery operates so that I could have seen all the experts correctly identify the secret wine, while all the hacks in the audience probably would mistake an McLaren Vale grenache with a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. I'm sure that the pros really proved their mettle.
So, to conclude, I must stand up and applaud these experts' effort and to admit that the WBC wasn't completely a wine orgy wrought with amateurism. The WBC organizers did the right thing by not inviting any MSs or MWs or HMWs to teach systematic approaches to wine tasting. I know that it’s hard to describe the process of tasting to someone who doesn’t understand it. So why bother trying? I believe in getting paid to write about wine. That's why I have this paid externship. Plus, like any widely read wine blogger, I don't write about wine, but other bloggers. But for all those bloggers in the audience who don't get paid to write up those glowing reviews, the effort to teach them something would have been all for naught.