The Orangerie@the Schönbrunn Palace where part of the conference was held
The popularity and size of this conference (http://winebloggersconference.org/europe/) continues to grow. The first conference in Logoño Rioja attracted between 30 and 40 participants. The second in Lisbon was up to around 130. This year it is just under 200.
The level of sponsorship is also increasing with Austrian wines leading the way not only with wine dinners and wineries showing their wines, but making it possible to hold the conference in the Orangerie of the Schônbrunn Palace and associated buildings and to have the closing party in the Österreicher im MAK (http://www.oesterreicherimmak.at/). Other major sponsors included Wienwein, Rona (glassware), Wines of Chile, Wein Burgenland and The Wine Management Institute.
It is surprising that the only UK print media represented here is the Drinks Business with no sign of anyone else from the commercial press: harpers, Off Licence News, etc. Also the consumer press – there is no one from Decanter or The World of Fine Wine. My impression is that the UK is far from unique here with few editorial staff of Europe’s wine magazines present.
I happened to ask an editor at a specialist magazine just before I set out to Vienna whether they were sending anyone. “No I can’t see the point of going to Vienna to hear Charles Metcalfe tell me about blogging. He ought to come to see us.”
Sadly he has spectacularly missed the whole point. Charles was here to chair just one of the discussions. The conference was an opportunity to meet wine bloggers from 30 different countries, to hear two very good keynote speeches as well as seminars on various issues and the latest technical developments. The keynote speeches were by Elin McCoy and Evan Schnittman – both were excellent and thought provoking.
Elin McCoy giving her presentation
Elin, who writes for Bloomberg News, presented on the future of the wine critic and talked about the change from the old system of wine criticism (the ivory tower critic) to the new more democratic wine criticism that the internet, especially blogging, has allowed to flourish. She stressed the difference between the small number of ‘ivory tower’ critics and now the large number of bloggers on the net.
Elin posited Robert Parker as the now archetypal ivory tower wine critic - tasting many thousands of wines a year giving them scores out of 100, probably assessing many wines from countries he has never visited but wielding, particularly in the case of Parker, remarkable and enduring power.
This, Elin said, is changing. The ivory tower critic is less influential than they were, especially amongst the younger generation who are more confident in their taste and also more adventurous. The younger generation are now used to sharing opinions and tasting notes with their peers on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Clearly Elin sees the era of the wine critic gurus ending. This may be true in some areas but in Bordeaux the established critics, especially Parker, still surely hold sway. At the start of the en primeur campaigns it is scores and comments from Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson MW, Andrew Jefford (etc.) that are consulted by potential buyers and listed by fine wine merchants rather than any coverage they may get on the blogosphere. Neal Martin is the sole example of someone who first established his reputation on the net and has now joined this elite group of critics who matter in relation to top Bordeaux. Perhaps the top end of the Bordeaux market really is different, especially the en primeur market where many of the top wines are now bought for investment and the 'ivory tower' critics are in effect investment
Evan Schnittman, managing director of group sales and marketing, print and digital, at Bloomsbury, talked about the arrival of ebooks and how they had their ‘iPod moment’ in 2007 with the arrival of the Kindle reader from Amazon. This has transformed the market and possibilities for ebooks, making it attractive for immersive reading (novels etc.) as well as extractive (reference works etc.). This also provides opportunities for self-publishing. It is noticeable that more and more members of the Circle of Wine Writers are turning to self-publishing.
Unfortunately the webinar session run by The Wine Management Institute showed only too clearly the current limitations of video conferencing across the globe. Doubtless it can be a very useful tool when it works properly but to claim that it could make ‘the press trip … obsolete’ is purely foolish, at least for the moment. Although press trips are not perfect, journalists have a chance of selecting what they see whereas with webinars you see only what someone wants you to see.
Towards the end of the conference’s formal sessions, the organisers Robert McIntosh, Gabriella and Ryan Opaz announced that they are setting up a new series of awards for on-line journalism called Born Digital. The new awards have some interesting criteria: an entry has to have been published on-line first and not in traditional media and then made available on-line. It has to be available to all on-line. Perhaps the biggest innovation is that entries can be in all languages. Articles will be translated and the judging will be carried out in English. Details are here (http://borndigitalwineawards.com/).
Post conference there was a choice of three day trips on the Sunday to Burgenland, Weinviertel and one up the Danube. Then on Monday two longer trips to Burgenland and the Danube returning on Tuesday.
The 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference will be in Franciacorta (Italy) next year: 14th-16th October.
Naturally the question to pose is – should Les 5 meet up together in Northern Italy? My answer is yes or at least if all of us cannot make it then as many possible and certainly Les 5 should have a greater representation at the next edition. Like any conference it isn’t just the programme but it’s the opportunity of meeting people from all over the world who are involved in blogging and wine.
My thanks to the organisers – Gabriella, Ryan and Robert – and to all the sponsors who made this conference possible.