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European Wine Bloggers Conference review

EWBC Petrol Art

EWBC Petrol Art

It is too early to really be able to take it all in, but I am back from Lisbon and the European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) 2009.

The conference this year was about 3 times the size of last year’s event, with around 120 bloggers and a great number of producers and other wine businesses there to support the event and promote their wines. That is a big change in a year, and makes me wonder about next year.

I have so many things in my head that writing one post seemed incredibly hard, so I thought I’d kick it off with a brief summary and a few notes of thanks to get the flow going, then over time I can post my thoughts on the sessions, the people, the location, the sponsors, the food, the practicalities of running a large conference and more. Wow, so many things to think about.

European Wine Bloggers ConferenceFirst, I need to restate my thanks to Ryan and Gabriella Opaz of Catavino. Although all three of us are listed as ‘organisers’ the load of all parts of the conference was not exactly evenly distributed and Gabriella in particular really does deserve an extra reward for making things happen as well as they did – just don’t hand her an open bottle of wine! (photo by eatlikeagirl)

Secondly, as with all conferences of this type, we struggled to keep everyone online so they could email, tweet, blog and generally record their impressions. The hotel network did not, unfortunately, seem up to the task as promised, but the boys from Adegga who are already experts in their own areas (check out their brilliant wine social site) also became our de-facto IT support setting up, monitoring and moving the network for 120 people. Thanks Andre, Andre and Emidio!

I must also mention all those who were at their second EWBC event. They too took on informal roles to support the team, welcoming new friends and encouraging the discussion, and I still think we managed to keep the tone very friendly despite growing the event so considerably. This is down entirely to the community-mindedness of all those involved. Thanks everyone!

So, briefly, what did I learn?

  • I really enjoyed Portuguese wine and must buy more of it to learn the key regional differences
  • Portuguese food is amazing and deserves a more relaxed enjoyment of it than I was able to devote
  • The people of Portugal are very warm and generous. We were always well treated despite being so unusual and being so poor at speaking their language
  • That cork is making great efforts and inroads, via people like Amorim, to gain our trust in it again as the best closure for quality wine (more on this very soon)
  • That bloggers themselves are still a strong community with an inclination to help others and share, so we need to build on this while we can
  • That differences between bloggers on certain issues that might seem important, such as monetisation, are vastly outweighed by what we have in common and we need more opportunities to meet face to face to remember this
  • That one of the main barriers to more international cooperation is language differences, something that can be easily, if expensively, overcome, and that otherwise we would benefit a great deal from working together. So, how do we fix this? Certainly not by sticking to our local cliques
  • That we still have not yet truly captured the essence of what the consumer is looking for regarding wine in social media, but we are getting closer
  • That I have a weakness for 70′s & 80′s dancefloor classics and revivals

All of these deserve a post of their own, so hopefully I’ll be able to raise some of these issues in more detail soon

In summary, if you like writing about wine and you didn’t make it to Lisbon this year, pay close attention to this site and to the event site to grab a place for next year!

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Wine is Science – but only the fun bit

I’m always on the look out for new ways to explain wine that inspires people to look at wine differently and maybe choose to explore it further. I can’t say that I expected this introduction though:

“Wine is one of the most influential forms of biotechnology. …

The use of yeast to make fermented beverages such as wine is possibly the earliest form of biotechnology, according to Patrick McGovern, who has pioneered the use of biomolecular archaeology to reveal how wines were made as long ago as the Neolithic. This biotechnology has evolved a great deal since the earliest known vintages were fermented seven millennia ago in Hajji Firuz in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.” [read more here]

The New Scientist magazine has teamed up with local wine merchant The Colchester Wine Company, to create a tasting case for readers, and used great creativity to present the wine in manner relevant to the audience (although quite how many will really approach their next bottle as the outcome of a biomolecular science experiment, I’m not sure!)

By the way, if you are interested in this link, check out Jamie Goode’s excellent Wine Science book

Hats off to those involved, and do let me know how sales go!

Note: It is a little ironic of course if you consider the “WHO” headline on the New Scientist site itself of course:

Thanks to Bob Young (@SOCOACH) for the tip!

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Young, foodish and coffee loving

Coffee at Monmouth

Coffee at Monmouth

Just back from a great chat with Dan Young (aka @youngandfoodish), author of several books including Coffee Love: 50 ways to drink your java, and blogger at YoungandFoodish.

I really wanted to meet him and pick his brains about where to start my exploration of Coffee Culture as it relates to Wine Culture, but as with all these meetings, nothing stays on topic for long and we discussed wine, retail, weddings, photography, The Wire, video, culture and more. I love the fact that twitter, and social media in general, allows me to meet such diverse people and start a conversation so readily. I love the fact that we all have experts at hand who are prepared to listen to our questions.

I have lots of new ideas “brewing” and I need to “filter” them into something meaningful, but here are some general thoughts that emerged:

  • blending vs. varietals – in both wine and coffee blending is important, but does that art risk diluting the importance of the constituent varietals (grapes & beans) that can be unique, indigenous and differentiating, … or does talking about each part of that blend simply risk confusing and alienating consumers?
  • does coffee culture, particularly Down Under, owe much to the style and attitude (friendly, encouraging, fun) of the baristas more than the coffee itself? If so, is there something that sommeliers can learn from?
  • coffee and wine have both been successful at getting people to consume them – now how do we get those “consumers” to become “appreciators” and therefore take more time to taste, evaluate and enjoy?
  • does the success of a brand (in both coffee and wine) necessarily result in a decline in quality? If so, what is an optimal size to reach a wide audience without losing one’s roots? If not, how is this achieved and what can be learned?
  • coffee and wine are both, ultimately, agricultural products intricately linked with the land they come from, to the lives of those who grow the raw materials, and the struggle to make a modern, consistent and mass “product” from a less than reliable Mother Nature

Lots to ponder, and I need to learn more about where coffee comes from and the many ways it can be enjoyed. I do feel that there is a combined “Wine and Coffee” experience event in my near future. Fancy it? How do you see it working?

BTW, we had some excellent coffee at Monmouth Coffee in Borough Market. Above is a picture of two particularly nice “Flat White” coffees.

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Coffee & Wine

Expect to see a fair bit about coffee and wine over the next few weeks as I’ve “discovered” that there are a lot of similarities between the two and maybe learning about coffee will give me a different perspective on wine.

Rather than a post this time, here is an AudioBoo I posted earlier.

Listen!

If you are interested in some of the things I’m planning (even if I have not told you what these might be), leave me a comment here.

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Coffee and wine

A Starbucks coffee shop in Leeds, United Kingdom
Image via Wikipedia

It seems that Starbucks is about to start selling wine and beer alongside its coffee in New York Seattle.

Is this a victory for common sense and the treatment of the public as responsible adults, or something else? Sadly, it is probably 99% something else: financial self-interest.

Starbucks are in a whole heap of financial trouble and looking for ways to turn around the business. Their coffee brand has lost much of its lustre and now they have too many outlets selling too little coffee to keep shareholders happy (never mind all the jobs they provide). So, a new model is to be found.

Is the idea of alcohol served in a coffee led retail space revolutionary? Not at all if you have ever visited France, Italy, Spain and pretty much all of Continental Europe. Unfortunately it says a lot that this is not the norm in the US, or in the UK.

It worries me though, not because of what they are doing, but because of why they are doing it.

This will be one of the first experiments on liberalising the straightjacket of alcohol licensing in the UK and US, and as such it will be watched carefully and treated as a case study. If it were to be done properly, the staff in the local area would select suitable drinks for their clientelle, one they had a relationship with, to ensure they were selecting the mix that would be right. In practice it will be treated as an auction with the biggest brands bidding to be listed and ‘marketed’, and there is every chance the customers will not be interested.

Will that do anything for Starbucks?

Maybe in the short term, but if it is a failure in the medium to long term, it will not only be bad for Starbucks, it will make it that much harder for any well intentioned cafe owner doing it properly.

I must say I am very pessimistic about it working in the UK if all else stays the same.

If you like good coffee, like me, you will realise that the very robotic uniformity and ‘global solution’ approach to serving coffee that is killing Starbucks’ coffee brand is total anathema to the real world of wine and beer.

Dear Starbucks, don’t you realise we are laughing and crying when you say:

“We’ll be equally as proud of our beer and wine as we are of our coffee,”

PLEASE do this properly, or not at all!

Oh, and by the way, I’m available at reasonable rates to advise on implementing this in the UK, and while you are at it, I have an idea that will REALLY change the business – feel free to ask :)

Update: if you are interested in these two subjects you might also want to check out: http://coffeelikewine.blogspot.com/

Further Update (23:34): In case you didn’t decide to follow the link in the first paragraph, and have not read this story elsewhere, Starbucks is trialling this coffee + wine + beer concept in only 1 store in Seattle to be called “15th Ave. Coffee and Tea inspired by Starbucks” (except missing the inspiration bit in the name). This is not (yet) an announcement that they will do the same in the main Starbucks branded outlets.

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