Wednesday, August 19, 2009

WBC09: As Seen Through The Eyes of a Newbie!

As it has been several weeks since I've attended WBC09, I've had some time to reflect on my experience. It was an amazing whirlwind of wine, friends, sights, information and fun! Before I even start, I'd like to thank Joel Vincent and his amazing team for putting it all together! I am just amazed and stunned at how it all came together!

My journey to WBC09 began as an accident. Doing a search for something else, I came across an ad for the conference. After checking out my finances, I decided to apply for the "Bloggership" to help needy bloggers attend this year's conference. After about a month of nail-biting (just kidding) torture, I found out I was a recipient of the coveted scholarship!


July 24th finally arrived and I set off from Iowa to Santa Rosa, California! Nothing seemed to go as planned that morning. On the first leg of my flight, the plane's engine would not start so the flight was delayed. I arrived in Minneapolis on time thanks to a shorter, faster route. However, to get to my connecting flight, I had twenty minutes to literally run to the other side of the airport! As I arrived at the farthest gate in the airport, all soaked in sweat and ready to kill somebody, I found out the connecting flight was late! When I finally arrived at SFO, I had fifteen minutes to find my Sonoma County Express Shuttle! It was crazy! I thought I would never get there! An accident near the Golden Gate Bridge took us into the East Bay and delayed my arrival in Santa Rosa that much more! There was just no end to the snafus that morning.... Luckily, with the help of two of my friends who picked me up at the bus stop, I arrived at the conference with my sense of humor still intact and ready to conquer!

After checking in, they handed me this awesome burlap goodie bag with a ton of wine-related trinkets in it--including a half bottle of '05 Pedroncelli Dry Creek Merlot, chocolate and wine truffles, corkscrew, pens, thumbdrives, magazines etc. Way cool!I love swag! I dropped everything off in my room and went to the ballroom for a brief (very brief) lunch and a few introductions. I then visited the Sponsors Room next door. The first person I saw was my friend Clay Mauritson, owner of Mauritson Winery in Dry Creek. He was manning the Dry Creek Wine Growers booth! It was sampling time and I sampled!! As you already know, just say the word, "Zinfandel" and I fall apart! Quivira, Papapietro Perry, Mauritson Rockpile and so many more! I was a goner! I also visited the Benziger table where I got to sample organic wines from their "Signaterra" line. Very nice. Bouchaine from the Carneros region of Napa was represented and it was a treat to try their wines for the first time. Last but not least, I sampled Faust Cabernet, a very nice Cabernet Sauvignon from the winemaker at Quintessa. I obtained a "Spicy Zin" temporary tattoo from the Sonoma County Tourism Board, although the word "temporary" was stretching it a bit as the tattoo would not disappear from my arm for weeks! I also visited with my friends Marc and Brenda Lhormer, producers of the film, "Bottle Shock". I am one of the movie's biggest supporters having put on an event for our showing here in Iowa!

After some logistical issues, i.e, the Wi-Fi kept crashing and some guest winemakers got stuck in traffic, we began our "Live Blogging Session". What fun! I sat with Cheryl Alvarez of Miraflores Winery--whom I've since become friends with, Gretchen Neuman, who also has a wine blog, "Vino Verve" , Ed Thralls of WineTonite and Jim McNamee of HelloVino. We had some great winemakers and winery representatives show up and discuss their wines at our table: Charlie Tsegeletos of Cline Cellars (pictured above), Greg La Follette of Tandem Winery (formerly of Flowers), Linzi Gay of Clif Winery, Rick "Kaz" Kasmier of Kaz Wnery (pictured below), Jeff "El Jefe" Stai of Twisted Oak Winery (also pictured above) and John Adriance of Snows Lake Vineyard just to name a few... We blogged live on Twitter that afternoon. After a short intermission, we were told to meet by the pool for a Sonoma County Grand Tasting!

The Sonoma County Grand Tasting was a Sonoma County wine lover's dream come true! I met so many people and tasted so many great wines, I never wanted it to end!! There's was an unbelievable amount of wineries represented: I met Dick Keenan, Vintner & Grower for Carica Wines. The 2006 Carica Syrah was a standout!! I cannot wait to visit the property! My dear friend Harry Wetzel from Alexander Valley Vineyards (pictured below)was there and I was so excited to meet with him! Jennifer Higgins, the winemaker from Lancaster Estate (Alexander Valley) turned me on to their wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon! I tried wines for the very first time from Pezzi King, Paradise Ridge Winery, Thomas George Estates, Medlock Ames, Paul Hobbs and Montemaggiore. I sampled away at the Quivira table and tried some wines with Matanzas Creek winemaker, Francois Cordesse. My friend Joy Sterling (pictured above) was there representing Iron Horse Vineyards and it was great sampling her wines. Last but certainly not least, my friend Pete Seghesio of Seghesio Family Vineyards had sent me an e-mail stating that his wife Cathy would be there representing their winery. It was so great to finally meet her! She was so nice and so fun and we had a chance to chat and sample! What a great event!!! Wish it could have gone on a bit longer!

Dinner was next and we all made our way happily into the ballroom and waited for our meals. Each table had a winemaker and that winemaker's wines would be featured with the meal. A slight screw-up brought me a chicken dinner rather than steak, but I was so hungry by then it didn't matter. Seated at our table was Eric Luse, winemaker with Eric Ross Winery (pictured above). We drank Eric Ross Pinot Noir and Viognier, both of which were fantastic. It was wonderful to meet Eric and I have since found out we both have roots here in Iowa. He's a wonderful photographer as well as a winemaker and I treasure our friendship and hope to feature his story on my upcoming website!

After dinner, we had another short break to freshen up then it was off to the other side of the hotel for the Russian River Valley Wine Growers After hours Party! What a wonderful opportunity to meet some of the small family producers of this area, chat with them and sample their wines! Here is a not so complete list of some of the producers represented: D & L Carinalli Vineyards, Tim Olson of Olson Ogden Wines, Akiko Freeman of Freeman Vineyard & Winery, Chris Donatiello of C. Donatiello Winery, J. Lynne Winery, Luke Bass of Porter Bass, and Frei Brothers. Also in attendance were Nicole and Katey Bacigalupi of John Tyler Wines (pictured above). They have been long-time contacts of mine on several social networks and it was a pleasure to finally meet them and sample their Pinot Noir, which I had heard so many good things about. Everyone was right! It was fantastic and I can't wait to visit their new tasting room! There were so many stand out wines that night! I couldn't believe it. Two that come to mind right away are the Pinot Noir from C. Donatiello and the Chardonnay from Kistler. The big surprise of the night came as I was getting ready to go back to my room! I stopped at the Windsor Oaks table. I met Doug and Julie Lumgair, the owners and two of the nicest people you could ever meet! It was so fun chatting with Julie, their winemaker (pictured below), and seeing how excited she gets talking about the winery and the wines! So down to earth, she really made me want to visit them! After sampling some of their wonderful wines, she pulled out a limited edition bottle of SuperTuscan and opened it. She poured me a whole glass and told me to go back to my room, take a long hot bath and savor the wine! Now that is hospitality and that is exactly what I did! It was wonderful!

And it didn't just end there...Stay tuned for more excitement from Day Two!!!

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