The Blue Mountains near Walla Walla
One reason I find wine fascinating is that wine lovers form a genuine aesthetic community organized around a shared interest in appreciating the aesthetic qualities of wine. There are of course commercial interests involved. Wine isn’t liquid manna—someone must make it and that requires substantial resources. There are those in the wine industry for whom wine is nothing more than a way to make a quick (or slow) dollar. But they are a minority. Most people are in the wine business because they love wine for its intoxicating flavors, infinite variations, and the sense of celebration and community that wine enables.
It is intoxicating to be among people who have a deep love of an aesthetic object, because love can cut through the ulterior motives and manipulative agendas of modern life and revel in moments of pure enjoyment.
That is the magic of the Wine Bloggers Conference, which held its 11th meeting this past weekend in Walla Walla Washington. The vast majority of wine bloggers earn no money from their efforts and posts can often take hours to write. We do it simply because we love wine and enjoy writing about it. When we get together it is really all about the wine—and at the conference there was lots of wine to sample. The conference is in part supported by local wineries and winery associations, who pour their wines and tell us their stories hoping we will write about them.
There is of course a transactional element. The wineries want us to talk and write about them; the bloggers would love to get free wine samples. And most of the workshops and informational sessions are about how to increase your media reach and influence. But none of that would matter if we didn’t love the aesthetic qualities of wine.
Three Rivers Winery
The hosting wineries go all out to impress, throwing lavish dinners to show off their wines. Where else will you find such a concentration of wine lovers most of whom have a good deal of wine knowledge and tasting expertise? Does it pay off for them in dollars and cents?
I doubt it.
But winemakers and winery owners love wine as well, take intense pride in their art, and it’s a chance for them to engage with people who understand and appreciate what they’re doing. If it sounds like a big party, well, yeah, that is the point.
For example, through the luck of the draw, for our Saturday mystery dinner, a group of about 20 attendees were chauffeured to Three Rivers Winery, a mid-size producer of mostly Bordeaux varietals with a Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling to round out their lineup. Winemaker Holly Turner decided she wanted to serve her ideal menu of favorite dishes so she brought in CIA-trained Chef Matt Antonich and his team from Coer d’Alene, Idaho to meticulously pair Three River’s best wines with an elaborate five course dinner.
The menu: King crab saffron risotto with seared scallops; an Elk Chop with huckleberry gastrique, elk demi glace and fresh chanterelle; Cabernet braised lamb shank with roasted tomato/lamb glace over blue cheese corn grits; an Impossible burger-filled empanada with red mole, tomatillo verde with queso fresco and chipotle lime sour cream; and for dessert pear poached in Riesling served with huckleberry mousse and vanilla bean Frangelico cream.
The meal was lavish, over-the-top delicious, and inventive. The wine pairings were spot on reflecting a very careful, detailed approach in developing the dishes.
I enjoyed all the wines, especially the 2016 Trivulet, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. But for me the show stopper was their 2016 Malbec which had great balance and life on the palate. Holly Turner spent a year working in Argentina as she was learning the wine business and that background is reflected in her skill with Malbec.
Could Holly and her team have made do with a less impressive meal? Of course. But that isn’t what lovers do.
Wine communities such as Walla Walla host events like this in order to increase their profile and visibility among the wine community. To succeed, they must create memories. Ordinary, good-enough-to-get-by events will not be memorable. The folks in Walla Walla get it.
Many thanks to the Walla Walla community, the conference organizers Zephyr Conferences, and especially Three Rivers Winery (and the many others who exceeded expectations) for the wonderful memories from this weekend.