What happens when you step out of your own “filter bubble” and participate in open discussions? We all need our assumptions and outlooks challenged on a regular basis to encourage ideas to develop and for the events to meet the actual needs of our audience, not just what we think they are. Gabriella decided to attend Vinocamp Lisboa to do this with a great bunch of friends and here are some of the lessons learned.
For those of you unfamiliar with Vinocamp, it is a technology and wine un-conference co-founded by Grégoire Japiot and Miss Vicky in 2009. Based on the Barcamp philosophy, the conference aims to merge wine and technology through informal participant initiated workshops as opposed to formal top-down lecturing.
Though previous editions of Vinocamp were hosted in Paris, Beaune and Carcasonne, this one was the very first to have trekked off French terroir and onto the Opaz home stomping ground of Iberia; hence, we felt it was doubly-imperative that we supported the event. Additionally, as we’re always trying to diversify the European Wine Blogger’s Conference (a Vrazon project), it was only logical that we spread the good word among groups that we typically don’t have enough interaction with (e.g. the French – a group very well represented at the last EWBC). So last week, I hopped on a plane and headed west, and returned with many great topics churning in my head.
The Power of Presence
Living in a virtual bubble, we have a tendency to assume that our support of an event through Twitter, Facebook, Livestream, etc is powerful enough to make a significant impact. We retweet relevant information, offer a salient comment on blog post, or simply parlay questions on live video, thus showing our interest in the given discussion. Though this methodology has its merits, the power of one’s physical presence, especially if you’re adding to the conversation, outweighs the virtual presence. Relationships are stronger when people come together in the same physical space, and the goal of what we do online should be to create more offline interaction, not replace it.
What helps a winemaker make a really interesting wine?
Is it the tools, technology and modern training received from experts at the best wine colleges? Or might it be the fact that when they walk through a grove, crunching the remains of Autumn leaves underfoot, to the sounds of the local church bell down the hill, they know the fact that the trees are exactly 107 years old because their grandparents planted them to celebrate their wedding?
Vasco Croft at Afros
Does a biodynamic vintner make better wine because (s)he follows this particular regime, … or does the biodynamic respect for nature stem from a connection to that land that the vintner already has?
By the way, Vasco, as a fellow visitor remarked, has more than a passing resemblance to a young Richard Gere and certainly seems to embody the ‘vitality’ that biodynamic followers like to discuss. He looks like he could move seamlessly from the winery to leading a local yoga masterclass.
I was taken by the sounds of his place. I’ve been to many wineries recently, from the large and clinical to the small and haphazard. This place was more ‘natural’, more suited to the translation of ‘Adegga’ as ‘farm’ rather than the grander wine term ‘estate’.
There may have been 30 people there, but you could still FEEL the calm, seeing the mountain horses and sheep allowed to roam freely in the vineyards and hearing the specially designed fountain sculpture ‘dynamising’ the water used in the winery and vineyard.
After a brief outdoor tour, past the edges of the vineyards, through the special room for biodynamic preparations, past the fountain and into the grove, we finally entered the recently completed tasting room. Here we matched the rather individual Afros wines to a menu specially designed by the kitchen team at Ferrugem (a well respected local restaurant) that, like the wines, take traditional materials and delivered them in an exciting way.
Our first experience was to match the delicate mouse and fragrantly biscuity Afros Espumante Reserva Loureiro 2007 (sparkling wine) with a spoon of “sarrabulho* sweet, Reineta apple puree and caviar of cherry tomatoes”. Arguably the food flavours were a little strong for the wine, but both were excellent.
Sarrabulho sweet and caviar of cherry tomatoes
Next was a superb take on a classic: Pastel de (Bacalhau com) Nata – a light pastry which instead of the traditional sweet cream, was filled with creamy, savoury cod in order to match the floral, crisp Afros white made from the Loureiro grape, Afros Loureiro 2009. A stunning combination, not just of the salty food and crisp wine, but also the creamy softness of the food accentuated the structure of the white wine. Wow!
We followed this with a surprising combination of red Vinho Verde, made from a grape no-one thought could make ‘proper’ wine, the 2010 Afros Vinhao, with Caldo Verde soup (based on potato and cabbage I think). Lovely! The wine was intense, with that ‘purple’, inky, sharp character I associate with teinturier grapes (with red flesh) but also fresh, with a fruity character of crisp blueberries, red currants and pepper.
Next was the surprising AfrosEspumante Reserva Vinhão 2006 sparkling red, made from the same Vinhao grapes, but further enhanced by the second fermentation that rounded out the palate with some yeasty character but also had the bubbles to bring out the fruity aromatics. We matched this to chef’s local equivalent of a ‘surf and turf’ dish of octopus, chestnut and red pepper sauce. So many flavours but well complemented by the wine.
polvo com tinta(o)
It is heartening to see a small business balancing a very modern outlook with a natural approach in a traditional context. Biodynamics, from a traditional ‘estate’ but made with an eye on an international consumer.
This is a small estate, and one of the very few registered biodynamic producers in the whole of the country, but I hope it represents a new wave of ‘artisan’ winemakers that will gain international and national recognition for their dedication, and will raise the profile and standing of their region and country.
Well done Vasco, and well done Portugal
p.s. lots more food and vineyard photos if you see the full set above or click through to my Afros photos on flickr
*as far as I can tell this is a dish made in the style of black pudding, but I have been unable to find out much more – it essentially was a blood-pudding meatball
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.
First, 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
Yes, you will see that ‘code’ a lot over the next few days.
#EWBC is the twitter tag for all content related to the European Wine Bloggers Conference which takes place this weekend in Lisbon. If you need to know more about it at this stage, head over to the European Wine Bloggers site.
I will be up at 4am, in a tax before 5am and flying at around 7am, so I doubt I’ll be fully functioning tomorrow, but hope to be better rested for the event kicking off on Friday. However, you can still reach me on twitter (@thirstforwine) and via email (thirstforwine AT Google’s Mail Service)
I am really looking forward to catching up with the wonderful friends I made during the first event last year, and meeting a whole range of new people this year. Our ultimate goal is to create a strong network of friends around Europe, and the rest of the world, so we can do even better, more useful and creative things to do with wine. If you want to help, then join in!
There are almost 120 people coming to the European edition, and some 250 made it to the US version. The enthusiasm for meeting face-to-face is increased and facilitated by social media, despite our critics. Let’s show them some of what they are missing out on by not joining in enthusiastically!
The Royal Exchange has a long history of being a trading floor, one where, presumably, merchants found great deals, did their business and went forth to make their fortunes. Today, the building is home to the exclusive shops of the world’s most famous luxury brands, established names with astronomic price tags that help customers demonstrate their wealth to others.
It occurred to me that, in some way, the current setting was rather incongruous for Vinho Verde wines. These are wonderful wines, full of amazing freshness, drunk young and preferably with fresh seafood to match. They have been famous within Portugal, and with visitors to that country, for many years, but they have not established a major export market in the UK. They are are about as far from famous luxury brands as possible.
In fact, they are more like the raw materials for those luxury brands – the diamonds without settings or the uncut designer cloth, the stuff that would have been traded here in eras past. Someone, somewhere will be able to turn these great materials into something special, and more profitable.
Vinho Verde (Green Wines) are wines from the far north of Portugal, wines of great acidity and freshness, and made from an unusual range of grapes (which is what you’d expect from Portugal, home to hundreds of different, and hard-to-pronounce grape varieties). The majority of the wines I have come across are white, but you also get some rose, a smattering of reds, and I have now discovered, also some amazing sparkling wines.
The key characteristic of these wines is their acidity, but the younger wines also have a certain spritz – not sparkling as such, but some light effervescence that really freshens the mouth. They are not anything like the big, juicy, fruit bombs we get from all sorts of countries of the world in UK supermarkets, but they are an experience that wine lovers should try.
There weren’t that many exhibitors at the tasting, but I still didn’t manage to taste all of them, but I did try several different ranges. The ones that stuck in my mind were:
Quinta de Lourosa – the traditional white Vinho Verde was very good, but I was particularly taken by the 2005 Sparkling White Vinho Verde made from Arinto (another unusual grape) which was very good indeed. [This Quinta also does some wine tourism and offers accommodation and tours, so worth checking them out if you plan on visiting the area.]
Afros – a white and red pair from a brave winemaker Vasco Croft, who is making Biodynamic Vinho Verde and achieving a truly stunning level of concentration on his wines. The 2008 red, made from Vinhao, is inky dark and particularly splendid.
As with many wines from Portugal, the quality of the wines is not in doubt, but getting more people to try them and understand them is difficult because the competition is so fierce. They certainly have the potential to be recognised as a unique style of wines, unlike anything else in the world that are worth exploring, a little like their northern neighbours in Rias Baixas have done with Albariño, and then justify their luxury brand surroundings.
If you are looking for something a little different, especially if you are planning to match some wines to seafood of some form, try selecting a YOUNG Vinho Verde and enjoy!