Tag Archive - european wine bloggers conference

A community of wine lovers and friends at the EWBC

“My nerves were getting to me. After all, I had no formal wine training, no valuable old bottles to bring, and was just wearing jeans in this incredibly chic venue! …

Equipped with spit buckets galore, people start rushing around like some sort of speed dating game with bottles in hand. I realized I had to be more aggressive when I looked at my bottle that was hardly touched. So off I went, to do what I do best… mingle. With some wine the worries went away and I was learning the game. But the highlight came when the crazy Portuguese guys brought out their precious port from the 1980′s and started rationing it out to the line of wine lovers. In partners of newly made friends, we ran over to the chocolate cake table to see how delicious this pairing really could be…and let me tell you.. after 4 doses of port and probably an entire cake…I was set for the evening! What an awesome end to the night and beginning to a memorable wine conference weekend.” – Anna Savino, EWBC first-timer

The unofficial start of the annual EWBC has come to symbolise the heart of this event for me. The European Wine Bloggers Conference is about a lot of things, but one of the most important is community.

This is not your regular conference, where you turn up, alone, listen in silence, exchange a few business cards and then go home, unmoved. The EWBC is an annual gathering of friends who interact all year around and for whom the three days are more like a pilgrimage than a business event, and everyone is invited.

Think back to the last conference you attended. How involved did you get with the other attendees beforehand? How much did you prepare? How many people did you know before … and after?

Nowhere is this more obvious than with the excitement generated by the “BYOB” dinner the night before the main event. The planning starts weeks before. These are passionate wine lovers. Everyone wants to bring something special, unique and personal. Over 80 wines were registered for this event (more arrived on the night) with at least 65 varieties represented. These were special bottles being brought to share. How better to make new friends than by exchanging not just names and handshakes, but wines and stories?

IMG_0990There is a lot left to report on regarding EWBC 2011 – great tastings and visits to the producers of Franciacorta; astonishing wines from across the hugely varied Italian landscape, tasting “modern Chile” with Italian food, and of course the theme of this event, the stories of wine. However, no report by us about the EWBC could begin without a heartfelt thank you to the AMAZING community of friends who make the event so special.

I cannot believe any organisers can be so well supported, or could expect to receive so many personal messages of thanks – even after the unfortunate outcome of what should have been the celebratory dinner on Saturday. We all, the organisers and the catering company, are truly sorry for the failure, and the patience and understanding of all participants was marvellous.

We are very excited about organising even more events for the community and announcing some wonderful plans for EWBC 2012.

If you want to catch up on this EWBC, do check out the video archive (already uploaded), the vast range of photos and all the interaction on facebook and twitter (#ewbc). Here, to entertain you, are some memories from the BYOB night (thanks to MadCatMedia):

… and don’t forget to keep an eye on this site for the EWBC 2012 announcement on November 28th 2012.

Thank you, friends, again. I raise my glass to you all.

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Access Granted

Last week’s Access Zone activities at the 2011 London International Wine Fair (LIWF) were not only great fun and a way to spread the word about social media in wine, but they seemed to strike a chord with the wine trade present.

Gabriella, Ryan and I were very pleased with the buzz around the fair and online about the range of events, seminars, projects and announcements that Vrazon helped to make happen on the relatively small space of the Access Zone. After all, that was the idea. This wasn’t intended to be another “theatre” for presentations, but an interactive space where we could start discussions with a presentation, then have as much participation as possible. As Ryan Opaz observed:

“The only way this will work is if the audience interrupts a lot.”

Every major announcement was well attended, with participants filling the aisles and following on the livestream. We are extremely grateful to all those who took the time out to listen, ask questions, answer queries and generally make the experience of the LIWF as useful as possible.

The archive of the live access zone video and interviews can now be browsed; more polished videos will take a little longer, but BIG thanks to MadCatMedia for making the magic happen

Day 1 – Tuesday 17th May

The Access Zone really kicked off with two big events on Tuesday – the social media Q&A sessions with ourselves and other volunteers, and the launch of the Disrupt Wine (you will be able to learn a lot more about the Disrupt Wine on the dedicated site being built).

Where else would you get the combined talents and different perspectives of Wink Lorch, Louise Hurren, Andre Ribeirinho and Ryan O’Connell on a roundtable? It was a lot of fun for Ryan and me to moderate and be involved in. The overall message from these discussions could probably be summed up a:

“Be yourself, and good stuff will happen”

It was also amazing to be able to create a blend of three different varieties from three different winemakers in three different countries – and made on the stand! We are very grateful to Thierry’s who took the brave step of returning to exhibit at the LIWF by investing in a stand that would sit alongside the Access Zone. Most importantly, they also agreed to the concept of developing a pan-European wine blend on the stand in only three days. It was a privilege to work with Markus Huber (of Weingut Huber in Austria), Emmanuel Laurent (of Rodet in Burgundy) and Giorgio Flessati (of Viña Falernia in Italy) on this project. Evidence, if any was needed, of their own commitment to doing something different and offering creative, fresh thinking to the UK wine trade.

We ended the day with the visit by Naked Wines and their archangels, learning about their latest developments and watched them select a range of new wines. Naked Wines are now also listing the Disrupt Wine on their new marketplace – do check it out and get involved.

Day 2 – Wednesday 18th May

The Wednesday was time to showcase Vrazon‘s other main projects, the Born Digital Wine Awards (BDWA) and the European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC). Congratulations to all the winners and runners up in each of the 5 categories of the inaugural BDWA, many of whom, like Wink Lorch, Tim Atkin, Richard Ross and Mark Ryan were on the stand to hear the results. The response was wonderful, particularly as there were some very deserving finalists in the spotlight, including both new names as well as established writers. Congratulations to all of them!

For more details and a full list of finalists and winners, visit http://borndigitalwineawards.com

We also took the opportunity to announce the overall theme for the fourth edition of the European Wine Bloggers Conference, which will be “Storytelling“, and that George Taber will be our first keynote speaker. Of course, this was all accompanied with a delicious glass of Franciacorta from our host sponsors for 2011. Please visit the EWBC site for more information, and if you are thinking of coming, please do book your tickets soon as the number of tickets is fixed and we anticipate them selling out early again this year.

But it wasn’t all about us, it was also a chance for Ryan O’Connell’s to give hints and tips for wineries looking to take advantage of social media, and to hear more about what Palate Press is up to to help wine bloggers make money from their blogs – check them out!

Day 3 – Thursday 19th May: The final day

The final day was once again dedicated largely to Disrupt Wine - selecting the delicious winning blend (50% Gruner Veltliner, 40% Falanghina and 10% Macon Chardonnay) as well as unveiling the label design incorporating the audience’s own tasting note contributions.

We also had great discussions on blogging by David Lowe (@bigpinots) and another general Q&A with Ryan Opaz. Lots of great content there for reference.

On top of all this there were dozens of great interviews with bloggers, publishers, retailers and winemakers, open tasting sessions and PLENTY of networking, much of it brought to you live but also recorded to watch again.

We hope all those who made it to the stand got something out of it. Not everyone at the fair will have seen the value of Social Media in wine, and it certainly is not a tool to replace everything that is done to sell and promote wine, but it is a great complement for the best brands and people, and we hope to see more great stories being told after this event.

These were three intense days, but with the help of our many friends listed here, as well as the organisers of the LIWF, and Thierry’s, we feel it was all worthwhile for all those involved.

See you next year!

Robert McIntosh, Gabriella Opaz & Ryan Opaz

A new wine conversation

Welcome to the new WineConversation, one where you will find a few new, but familiar voices.

Virtually all blogs begin as solitary endeavours driven by the author’s energy and motivation to share some message or theme. In most cases, this energy is lost over time. The world changes. Eventually the themes have been explored and the clever puns have all been made. The blog gets tired, and authors move on.

A great many bloggers have found it easier to continue their online conversations with specific groups of like-minded friends on Facebook and Twitter rather than continue to preach from the lonely soap-box of the blog, and so blogs eventually die.

However, if you driven to create content as well as sharing it, you need a platform.

I’ve long felt that the future for many bloggers was to move on from running all aspects of their sites, from being publisher, editor, author, marketer, ad sales and chief spokesperson, and to pool their knowledge and resources with others and specialise. The effect will be to create bigger, better, more interesting group blogs. These don’t have to be huge publishing enterprises such as Huffington Post or TechCrunch, but niche sites as before where content creators focus on producing quality content without the need for the filler stuff that keeps blogs ticking over.

When I started this blog in June 2006, it was only intended as a small place for me to publish a few comments about what I was thinking about wine culture in the UK. I hadn’t expected it to become a major part of my working life. I didn’t really have any other “social media” channels to participate in – Facebook was not yet available and Twitter was about to launch. However, it grew, partly because I was convinced that this was going to be important for the wine business, and largely because I was getting to know so many cool people.

Two of those amazingly cool people were Ryan & Gabriella Opaz, not only experts on Iberia writing on Catavino.net, but the experts behind Catavino Marketing.

After becoming friends via Facebook (yes, we are a product of Facebook) we eventually went on to create the European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC), the Access Zone, the Born Digital Wine Awards and more. It made sense to create a proper structure for all these projects, and so together we are launching a new business called Vrazon (and you’ll hear a LOT more on that soon).

This new focus needs a home. It needs a place where all of us can share our thoughts on how social media and new technologies can benefit the wine business. A place where we can inform you about the conferences, events and campaigns that we are participating in, so you might be able to benefit from them too. A place where you can find us easily and contact us with your comments, questions and suggestions.

The obvious solution was this site.

WineConversation was always about the convergence of wine, marketing and social media (well, in the last couple of years anyway), so this is a logical step. I will still be covering these topics, except now the site will have an even greater International focus, it will benefit from an ‘Opaz’ perspective from the US, Spain & Portugal and it will give the site greater access to Ryan’s technical expertise and Gabriella’s insight, editorial skills and management.

Welcome to the NEW Wine Conversation

We are really looking forward to getting started and hearing what you think.

And finally, special thank you to my many readers, commenters, friends and supporters over the first stage of this site’s development. I owe you so much! I will continue to have a space for more personal thoughts on wine, UK events and activities over at thirstforwine.co.uk so do drop by there from time to time too.

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Wine, drugs and an unhealthy debate

For an audio version of this post, click here:

I should warn you now, I am a dedicated proponent of a non-communicable disease.

There is only ALCOHOL!

The debate has been stirred by a report by Professor David Nutt, the former UK chief drugs advisor, published in The Lancet called “Drug harms in the UK“. However, it continues a debate we had at the recent European Wine Bloggers Conference as well, on “Freedoms, Rights and Responsibilities”.

What I discovered in that very interesting session in Vienna, with presentations by Adam Watson-Brown (Information Society & Media Department, EU Commission), George Sandeman (representing Wine In Moderation) and Ken Payton (blogger at Reign of Terroir), was exactly how governments and official bodies think of alcohol – and it makes a BIG difference in understanding their approach to the debate.

In this debate, there is no “Wine”. There are no “Spirits”. There are no “Alcopops”, “RTDs“, “artisanal cordials” or even “record-breaking alcoholic beverages”. There is no ‘good alcohol’ or ‘bad alcohol’. There is only ALCOHOL!

ALCOHOL is not a feature of a beverage, a natural by-product of age-old techniques, nor even an industrial process. Alcohol is a drug, and its consumption is a ”non-communicable disease”.

“The World Health Report 2002: Reducing risks, promoting healthy life, identifies five important risk factors for non-communicable disease in the top ten leading risks to health. These are raised blood pressure, raised cholesterol, tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and overweight.” WHO fact sheet No. 273

In other words alcohol is seen as a disease to be eradicated.

It is like banning bridges because they can be used to jump off

Before I go further, let me state that I agree that alcohol abuse is a problem is many societies, and a factor in many problems, but I believe alcohol is also very different from most of the other drugs listed in Prof. Nutt’s study and so this debate is very ‘unhealthy’. Let me explain how.

The chart we have all seen today is this:

Most harmful drugs - The Lancet

This illustrates that, according to a long list of criteria relating to the harm to the individual and also harm to society, and its widespread consumption, alcohol comes top of the list, delivering to the world’s media the nicely controversial headline: “Alcohol is more harmful than heroine“.

What this chart, and this way of thinking completely misses, in my opinion, is that this is only half of the story. It is like banning bridges because they can be used to jump off.

Take a look again at the list, but from a different perspective. Which of these items listed CONTRIBUTE to individuals and society, if any? Where are the BENEFITS? I think most of us would be very hard pressed to say that Crack, Methylamphetamine and Heroine contribute to society in any meaningful way. [Heroine is interesting. Unlike 'Alcohol', this chart doesn't list 'Opiates' where Heroine = BAD but medically administered Morphine = GOOD]. However, the two ‘legal’ drugs on the list, Tobacco and Alcohol do.

Another look at Nutt Report on drugs and alcohol

Another look at Nutt Report on drugs and alcohol

[note: this is my crude attempt at modifying the graph, sourced from The Lancet, for illustration only]

(I’m not going to make the case for Tobacco, others can do that, but even here there are some benefits to society from taxation, even if they are outweighed by the costs.)

But alcohol IS different.

Let’s take wine, but you could argue a similar case for beer and some spirits too. The benefits include:

  • Huge revenue streams from Duty & VAT receipts to the Treasury
  • Vast numbers of people employed in production, supply, retail, marketing and distribution (not just winemakers, but bar and pub owners & staff, importers, wine shop assistants, glass manufacturers, cork companies, shipping companies, label printers, designers, journalists, educators, etc.)
  • Sustainable environmental benefits from land cultivated, often where little else would be viable, and people making a living in rural areas instead of moving to cities
  • Developing tourism infrastructure around regions dependent on wine production
  • Thousands of years of historic and cultural legacies in production and consumption

I’m not even going to touch on the contentious issue of potential individual health benefits from moderate drinking.

I am not in a position to quantify these benefits, but others such as the WSTA might. However, it is obvious that these benefits do exist.

One of the main reasons this needs to be taken into account is because the blunt weapons of punitive taxation and medical warnings can disproportionately reduce the BENEFITS instead of reducing the harm. Raising taxes on alcohol might cut consumption rates, but it also costs jobs and tax revenue. It reduces the margin and incentive to increase quality for retailers and producers because their products are less affordable. This benefits large brands less connected to any local, cultural investments and driven by sales volume growth (which is the opposite of the policy’s aim).

It won’t be just those who are abusing alcohol the most that are affected, but everyone else as well. The approach is backfiring. We already have some of the highest taxes in the world, yet their own evidence shows that things are still not improving.

We have to change the rules of the debate they have set

I went to the EWBC hoping to make the point that wine blogging can have a positive impact on society, through education and reconnecting consumers with the cultural roots of wine enjoyment so that alcohol may be consumed responsibly. I realised, sadly, that the anti-alcohol lobby wasn’t just ignoring us, we weren’t even speaking the same language.

So, how do we engage with the discussion? We have to change the rules of the debate they have set. It is a time for much more concerted efforts by wine lovers and wine businesses.

Unfortunately, printing messages on labels and adverts about “drinking responsibly” are not the answer.

We need clearer data on the benefits of the alcohol trade to individuals, governments, countries and regions. We need to broaden out the debate about dealing with alcohol abuse from the purely medical, to the cultural and economic areas too. And we need informed politicians willing to have a sensible debate about these points without fear of being pilloried by the media.

[UPDATE: 03/11/2010 An interesting follow-up on this debate from an NHS site is here]

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The Pre EWBC Post

It is the final countdown for the start of the third European Wine Bloggers Conference, the annual gathering of wine communicators of all types, and this year representing 30 countries.

There is so much about this event worth sharing but I have to be brief – I’ve a conference to put on and more than 386 wines to taste!

EWBC 2010 Venue
Image by Ryan Opaz via Flickr

First, thank you so much to my amazing partners in this venture – Ryan & Gabriella Opaz of Catavino.net. We’ve got so many ideas of great EWBC related stuff, I am SO excited about what the future will bring.

We are also so glad to have put together the kind of event that can bring together wine lovers from so many different backgrounds and locations. 180+ delegates from 30 countries is an amazing statistic for a young conference in this area. Check out the live streaming page for videos and tweets to follow the event.

We are forever grateful to the sponsors that make these events happen. Our past sponsors, Dinastia Vivanco and ViniPortugal are still involved with the EWBC – that must say something! This year we are so excited to be working with the fabulous team at Austrian Wines and I am REALLY looking forward to learning more about the fabulous wines of this country.

Finally, the full benefit of the event is hard to measure. We hope the visitors learn about, and love, the wines of the sponsors for themselves, but also on their blogs. We hope to see A LOT more content about Austrian wines, grapes, regions and foods in the coming months. But there are also all intangibles, such as the contacts made, the collaborations established and the many new opportunities created when barriers of language and distance are broken down and people find a common cause.

I look forward to sharing some thoughts on the above over the next few days and hope you enjoy reading it – and maybe consider attending next year – we’ve got more exciting things planned for then too.

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