What I learned at Blogger Camp!

Not too long ago I was a solitary wine enthusiast sojourning in the land of the grape.  My personal circle of friends, family, and colleagues were not on the road with me.  I decided to throw my voice out there, into the ether, as it were.

As a complete newbie I started to read the blog written by my blog host, looking for tips and tricks on how to grow audience for my blog, WiningWays. The first light bulb moment was the advice to engage. Engage your intended audience every way you can.

My wine epiphany was no spiffy 1961 Cheval Blanc moment.  After many youthful memories of Boones Farm, Mateus, and Lancer’s from the 70’s I left wine behind until a simple retail shop tasting of a Port wine and chocolates. I became hooked on magical pairings. It led me down a path of self-education.

I devoured all of the most popular books by the acknowledged experts – Jancis Robinson, Oz Clarke, Kevin Zraly, Hugh Johnson, Tom Stevenson, etc., etc. From there I landed a job with an Italian wine importer and was able to learn the business from the wholesale point of view. It was a great opportunity to learn about the incredible number of different varieties grown in Italy. I started conducting tasting for people who knew even less than I did about wine. I would get a lot of the same questions time after time. This led me to start writing a blog.

It was still within my first month of blogging that a fellow blogger (Amanda Maynard, The Wine-ing Woman) I discovered lived near me told me that there was a wine bloggers conference and that there were scholarships available.  The deadline was coming up and I was never known to be on the good side of timing but somehow I managed to snag one of these scholarships.

In preparation for the conference I started reading other bloggers’ content. At first I felt incredibly inadequate.  So many people have so much knowledge and have a much broader experience than I do. Still I was receiving good comments on my blog and began to see that I did have something to contribute. There is such a long spectrum of knowledge along the wine trail that there are always going to be some who know more and some who need to know more. So somewhere along this spectrum there was a place for me. This is what I was telling myself leading up the conference in July.

As the weeks went by I began connecting with the other bloggers who were registered to attend. Some lived near me in the northeast. Others lived quite far away. Many lived in Virginia. Some wrote from within the industry – winemakers, tasting room managers, wholesalers, etc. Many wrote reviews, some from a specific point of view, such as only wines under/over certain price point, only French wines, only local regional wines. Everyone appeared to know their voice and where they belonged in the mix. I was just learning. One of my concerns was that I would go to this conference and it would only be people my daughter’s age, the age that hates its moniker – Millenials. I knew there were a good number of bloggers attending who lived in New England and hoped I would get to meet up with them, and that I wouldn’t be twenty years older than everyone else there.

It was encouraging when, while waiting for a connecting flight to board, a woman came up to me holding my picture up on her iPad asking if that was me. She had been doing the same kind of research, checking out the bloggers registered for the conference and I just happened to be sitting there in the same terminal. We both live in Massachusetts. While I knew she was younger than me I felt good that she was older than my daughter. We shared a cab to the hotel.  This is how I met Marie Payton, who writes the Life of Vines blog. She was the first of many great people I met at the conference. Now I participate in the weekly virtual wine tasting chat on Twitter (#winechat) that she co-hosts every Wednesday night at 9 pm EST. You should check it out too.

As a scholarship recipient, I was sharing a room with someone I had only had the opportunity to meet only virtually just a week before. Chandra Savage turned out to be the best roommate and we became fast friends. Her blog and her life’s motto is Mo’ Wine! I also met a fellow WBC Scholarship recipient, who lives not more than a half hour from me.  Jason Phelps was brimming with enthusiasm that was infectious. He is also an amateur winemaker. Having tasted some of his wines I can say he should go pro. His wines are the best I have tasted from a home winemaker. his blog, Ancient Fire Wine, is award winning.  I was in great company!

Reflecting on the event after the conference, it was a great experience and gave back more than I ever expected. I went there with a few virtual friends and now I can say that I have so many new real friends, and an entire community that shares my interest.  We meet at events, both virtual and real; we continually learn from each other.  I feel now like I really do have something to contribute.  I am in awe of the many who know so much more than I do but I know some things too and I really feel that this community accepts all who wine, no matter the level of experience, or place along the journey.

I enjoyed the meet and greets with the winemakers, the seminars, the Virginia hospitality, and the wonderful opportunity to tour and taste at the local vineyards. For the incredibly small cost of registration few conferences will ever offer as much. Even so, having been out of work at the time the conference came around I would not have been able to attend without the help of the WBC Scholarship, and all of the generous donors and sponsors who made it possible. I left full of enthusiasm to pay it forward.

I came away from the conference with so much more than new friends. I have better defined my writing voice and my intentions. I joined the Society of Wine Educators and began studying for my CSW. I have been able to land a few paid writing assignments. I was inspired by the Virginia bloggers and the New York bloggers to write about the wines from my own region and give them support whenever I can. I had no idea, until Eric Asimov spoke, that there was a separation of meaning between blogging and writing. He told us during his keynote speech that bloggers are writers. I was naïve enough to have thought that all along. I suppose that since most people don’t blog according to the rules of the AP Style Manual some see the conversational tone of some blogging in a lesser light but it is writing. Most of the blogs I read do an excellent job of demonstrating voice. I think that is a key element of writing. Of course even this community has a few naysayers, the disenchanted, the snobs, and those getting off the road for a while but they do not dampen the bright enthusiasm of those of us who write for the pure pleasure of it. Many of us provide significant public relations and marketing, and opinions in our blogs as influences for the wine industry and for little or no reward – and we’re ok with that.

If you are a new blogger, wine enthusiast, or you just learned that wine bloggers actually have a conference I heartily encourage you to attend WBC12 in Oregon next summer. You will meet some great people, in an environment where you encounter very little snobbery, and there is room and acceptance for all. I can’t wait to see you there.

I could not have participated without the generous sponsoshop of the WBC Scholarship.  If you would like to help a blogger attend the WBC12 in Portland, please donate today!  No amount is too small.



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