This year’s Wine Bloggers Conference in Corning, New York, kicked off in style with an eloquent keynote speech by Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible. This was certainly one of the highlights of the conference, and I must tell you that if you ever have the opportunity to listen to her speak, please jump at the chance. She has lived a very interesting life as a pioneer in the world of women wine writers. I left with some great takeaways, with which I hope to be able to continually improve my writing, my wine knowledge, and how I describe those wines. Karen MacNeil shared many insights, but the three that really resonated with me are:
Be a learner, really know your subject. If you really know your subject, you can explain it in 17 words.
Tell your story, don’t write the story; it’s a conversation.
Never say X wine is like Y wine. Describe it in a way without referencing another wine. Same thing for referencing wine regions (think “Napa North” or “Napa of China”). It does a disservice to that region.
I look forward to reading The Wine Bible, 2nd Edition, which is scheduled to be released October 6th.
Next up on the agenda was an introduction to the Finger Lakes Wine Country, featuring Alan Lakso of Cornell University, specialising in grape physiology research, Fred Merwarth of Hermann J. Wiemer Winery, and Christopher Bates of Element Winery. Throughout this session I kept hearing many parallels between the Finger Lakes region and the wine regions of British Columbia. Finger Lakes is young region that now has fine winemaking and winegrowing but is still finding its sense of place and how to show this sense of place to the world. This is a small region where people have said, upon tasting the wines, “Great wine, for New York.” The challenge is to change people’s thinking that actually, the Finger Lakes region produces great wine, full stop.
The Wine Bloggers Conference Expo and Lunch was held outside, under a large tent, and allowed attendees to sample wines from around New York and the world, including wines from Ribero del Duero in Spain, Mendoza in Argentina, Alsace in France, and Montefalco in Italy.
After lunch, attendees were able to choose between three different Wine Discovery Sessions. I chose “Finger Lakes & Riesling: A Love Story”. After a brief summary of the region, we tasted through eight different Rieslings, from three AVAs. The 2013 Eugenia Dry Riesling (Keuka West) from Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars was pale lemon with a green hue. It had lemon and flint on the nose with some hints of passionfruit. It was dry with high acidity and a medium-minus body with flavours of lemon, lime, peach, gooseberry and minerality on the palate. It was well-balanced with a long finish. It was very tasty, but almost more like a Sauvignon Blanc in style. The 2014 Humphreys Vineyard Riesling (Seneca West) from Keuka Spring Vineyards was pale lemon in colour with a very light nose. It was slightly off-dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body. It had flavours of peach and apple. I quite enjoyed the 2012 Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling (Seneca East) from Red Newt Cellars. It was pale lemon in colour with a rich nose of petrol notes and rubber eraser. It was dry with medium-plus acidity and medium-minus body. It had petrol notes carrying over to the fresh clean palate, along with flavours of Granny Smith apple, lemon, lime and some minerality with a medium-plus finish. The 2014 Dry Riesling (Seneca West) from Knapp Winery was pale lemon in colour with aromas of peach, apple and lemon. It was dry with high acidity, medium body and a rounder mouthfeel, with flavours of apple, peach and lime. The 2014 Dry Oak Vineyard Riesling (Seneca East) from Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars was pale lemon in colour with a tropical nose of honey, passionfruit, guava and peach. It was dry with medium-plus acidity and a light body. It was very light on the palate with flavours of lemon and apple and a short finish. The 2014 Riesling (Cayuga West) from Sheldrake Point Winery was a medium lemon in colour with a rich ripe nose and aromas of baked apple, honey, peach and apricot. It was off-dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body with flavours of apricot, honey and melon. It did have a bit of botrytis present, was well-balanced with a medium-plus finish; quite lovely. The next wine was probably my favourite of the lineup – the 2011 Reserve Riesling (Seneca West) from Fox Run Vineyards. It was a medium gold in colour with aromas of petrol, rubber, apricot, honey and tangerine. It was dry with high acidity and medium body, with flavours of tangerine, honey, apricot, apple, spice and preserved ginger with a long finish. The final wine was the 2014 Full Monty Riesling (Seneca West) from Lakewood Vineyards. It was pale lemon in colour with a rich honeyed nose with aromas of gooseberry and melon. It was off-dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of apple, lemon, peach and honey. It was very tasty with a long finish.
Following the Live Blogging/Tweeting speed tasting session – having ten wineries each present a wine to your table and get as much information and as many tasting impressions of the wine in five minutes per wine – we all set off for our Friday evening excursions. There were ten different excursions and each one was a mystery. All the attendees were split up onto buses and it wasn’t until the buses were in motion that we were told where we would be heading. I hopped on Bus #4, which was heading toward Keuka Lake. We picked up a mystery guest en route, which turned out to be Fred Frank of Dr. Frank Wines. We headed to his sparkling wine production facility for a tour and some sparkling wines and canapés. We sampled the 2009 Blanc de Blancs and 2009 Blanc de Noirs, both delicious. Two other wineries were part of this excursion – Heron Hill Winery & Ravine’s Wine Cellars. We sampled the 2006 Ravine’s Brut (50% Chardonnay 50% Pinot Noir) and their 2009 Brut Rosé (100% Pinot Noir). Heron Hill poured their 2013 Reserve Pinot Blanc and a delicious 2008 Single Vineyard Riesling that paired beautifully with goat cheese on a baguette round, drizzled with honey and topped with a fresh peach slice and some lavender. After admiring the views over Keuka Lake, we departed for our final destination of the excursion – Pleasant Valley Wine Company also known as Great Western Winery, which was the first US-bonded winery, established in 1860. They released their first vintage of American Champagne in 1865 to celebrate the end of the Civil War. Great Western Champagne took the gold medal at the Paris Exhibition in 1900, and because of that, they have been grandfathered in and are allowed to call it Champagne, rather than sparkling wine. We were treated to their Millennium American Champagne, which had lovely toasty notes. Dinner was served in a grand banquet hall – it had the feel of being in an old castle. The food was delicious and plentiful, featuring a salad, steak, Madeira chicken and a large ravioli, followed by a dessert of fresh berries on a puff pastry base. Throughout dinner we were able to sample several wines from all four host wineries: Pleasant Valley Wine Company, Heron Hill, Dr Konstantin Frank & Ravine’s Wine Cellar. The wines included were the 2013 Dry Riesling from Ravine’s, 2013 Heron Hill Estate on Keuka Lake Dry Riesling, 2013 Rkatsiteli from Dr Konstantin Frank (one of my favourites), 2013 Chardonnay from Ravine’s, 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay from Heron Hill, 2012 Pinot Noir from Ravine’s, 2012 Reserve Cabernet Franc from Heron Hill (bottled especially for us), Pleasant Valley Port, and a Late Harvest Botrytis-Affected Riesling from Dr Frank. The wines selected showed a broad range of the varietals and wine styles of the Keuka Lake area and I was impressed by them all. We hopped back on our bus to head back to Corning and the final official event of the evening – a reception at the Rockwell Museum, which featured other wine regions from around New York State. Then back to the hotel for a couple of unofficial events – a tasting of wines from Solena Estate & Hyland Estates from Oregon, followed by the Jordan After Party.
It was a long day that started at 9:30am and it was well after midnight by the time I got back to my room. But part of the fun of the Wine Bloggers Conference is all of the socializing, networking and wine tasting that happens outside of the scheduled agenda.