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Top 10 Takeaways From the Wine Bloggers Conference

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Did you know that there are enough wine bloggers to hold an annual conference? There are actually about 1500 of us more or less. Approximately 300 bloggers, me included, showed up in Charlottesville, Virginia for the 4th Wine Bloggers Conference last week. It was a big deal to Virginia. The Governor taped a special hello. There were banners in downtown Charlottesville welcoming the bloggers. We even had a special wine reception on the hallowed grounds of Monticello. Oh yeah, we were big in Virginia.

And no wonder. You get a critical mass of 300 or so bloggers blogging about Virginia wine. Add in the thousands (if not tens of thousands) 0f tweets all of us sent out while visiting Virginia wineries and tasting Virginia wines. The Virginia wine industry has been growing over the past 40 years. I had never tasted a Virginia wine, and knew nothing about the state's wineries. Now that I've been to six Virginia wineries, and tasted dozens of the state's wines, I can tell you that Virginia is on its way to being a player in the wine world. Not all wines were good, and they do make a lot of sweet wine. Even so, you must get to know the wines coming out of this state.

Before the conference began, I joined a small group of bloggers on a tour of Virginia wine country. We visited four wineries in Loudon County, called D.C.'s Wine Country, as it is 30 minutes to an hour outside of Washington D.C. During the conference I visited two wineries near Charlottesville. I can tell you I was very impressed not only with the quality of the wines -- most very good, some not so much -- but also with the passion of the winemakers and what they are doing.

When all is said and done, there are 10 takeaways from my time at the Wine Bloggers Conference, on Virginia wine and on blogging.

1. Thomas Jefferson never made wine. I think we all assume since Jefferson loved and collected wine, that he also made it. Not true. He planted cuttings from European varietals, but the vines died. Jefferson is basically the figurehead of Virginia wine. He would be very proud of how the contemporary Virginia wine country has taken root and continues to grow.

2. Norton, a red varietal grape, is native to Virginia. But Missouri has claimed it as its state grape. Norton is the rare red skinned grape that also has red juice. Most red grapes have clear juice. The jury's still out on this grape for me. I much prefer the Cabernet Francs poured at several of the wineries.

3. Virginia is for Viognier lovers. Viognier is Virginia's state grape, and there is a good reason for this. Nearly every Viognier I tasted was wonderful -- full of peaches, white flowers and honey. I even had a sparkling Viognier, from Horton Vineyards and a fabulous aged Viognier, a 2002 vintage, from Barboursville Vineyards that was amazing.

4. There are 193 wineries in the state of Virginia. The state's vineyards have come a long way since the early days of the Jamestown settlers. In 1619 a law was passed that required every male settler to plant and cultivate at least 10 grapevines. None of the plantings took root. It wasn't until the early 1970's that growers tried again, and vineyards started to flourish.

5. Virginia wine producers use (and often prefer) Virginia oak barrels over French or other American oak barrels. Didn't know Virginia produced oak for wine barrels.

6. Twitter has jumped the shark. That's according to a few wine bloggers who feel Twitter is just noise and ego (I have to agree). Do we need 300 wine bloggers tweeting about the wines we had at dinner? On the flip side, an initial analysis of tweets generated on the last day of the conference (a half day really) shows a reach of 404,903 people. What I can be sure of is that Virginia wines probably have never received this much (free) publicity.

7. About four out of 300 bloggers depend on their blogs as their primary income source. The rest of us have a long way to go before we see any profit from our writing. Most bloggers have "day jobs" that pay the bills. I certainly do!

8. Wine bloggers are really wine writers. That's according to Jancis Robinson and Eric Asimov. Finally, validation that we're all not hacks.

9. Bloggers will start calling out wineries or distributors who still ship wine in styrofoam and/or use heavy glass bottles. The wine industry needs more greening. Please don't send me samples in styrofoam shippers. You've been warned.

10. Eric Asimov challenges all of us not to write wine tasting notes for a year. Think we can do it? I know I'll try my best not to write useless tasting note. That's so boring. You just want to know whether a particular bottle is good or not. You know how to taste it.

A group of wine bloggers is interested in creating an an online community for writers and our readers where we can have a collective conversation. One goal would be to impact on the wine industry. For example what would happen if we all blog about direct shipping laws or styrofoam shippers? Could we move the debate to one side or the other? It's an interesting concept, and we'll see if anything like this gets off the ground before the Wine Bloggers Conference 2012 in Oregon.

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