As regular followers of this blog know, we’re road warriors. Nearly every domestic vacation we take is by car. Mr. N and Miss A have each been in more than 25 states as well as three Canadian provinces. One of these days I should calculate the miles! Well, this past month we once again found ourselves on a road trip, this time back to the Finger Lakes region of New York, but by way of Colorado!
We’ll devote an upcoming post to the beautiful Rocky Mountain state, but first, let’s revisit the Finger Lakes. Thanks to the Finger Lakes Wine Country marketing team who orchestrated our photo shoot last month, I was invited to attend the Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC15) held in Corning, New York. They know I am a blogger, and while not a wine blogger per say, they know Mike and I share a particular affection for wine and wineries (not to mention the Finger Lakes).
While incredibly nervous to attend, I was certainly game. I really had no idea what to expect of the WBC15 and was terrified that I wouldn’t know enough about wine to come close to fitting in with the other conference goers. Not to mention wine is something I always do with Mike, here I’d be flying solo. And while Mike and I have been to well over a hundred (if not two) wineries, we don’t consider ourselves technical wine reviewers. We simply know what we like, what we don’t like and whether or not we had a memorable experience.
Well, after this three-day event, I can tell you it was definitely a memorable experience! The WBC15 kicked off with a reception on Thursday night, held outdoors near the river in downtown Corning. It was a beautiful evening with live music from the square and a showcase of Finger Lakes food and wine. The area’s winemakers and chefs shone bright bringing their best wines and most inventive dishes, and they also brought what I love most about this area – their gracious, inviting and enthusiastic hospitality.
Friday and Saturday followed with informative sessions on blogging, social media, the business of wine and wine writing. The highlight of the program for me was the keynote speaker, Karen MacNeil, author of the renowned Wine Bible. She spoke, not as the wine aficionado she is, but as a writer, as a mother, as an imperfect person. Ms. MacNeil put herself out there, shared her story and encouraged us all to keep after our craft. Two points of her speech particularly resonated with me. First, she said not to worry about if it’s already been written and not to let that stop you from writing, because it has yet to be written from your perspective. We all have our own unique perspective. Secondly, and perhaps most relevant for me, she spoke of the work/life/parenting balance, “There is no balance. Live with it and thank God for Champagne.” Yes. Simply, yes.
In addition to the informative sessions, there were of course wine tastings. Many of the discovery sessions featured Finger Lakes wines, but other regions were also represented – Italy, Spain, South Africa, Brazil, and Hudson Valley in New York to name a few. The highlight of the tasting events, by far, were the Live Blogging sessions. Imagine speed dating. Now imagine speed dating 10 winemakers in an hour….while tasting their wines! And if that weren’t wild enough, everyone is encouraged to live blog or Tweet their tastings. As a first time attendee at the WBC15, this was intense, but I enjoyed the heck out of it!
The WBC15 also held several receptions at the area’s beautiful museums including the Rockwell Museum of Art and the Corning Museum of Glass (worth a trip to the region for this place alone!). In addition, everyone attended one of ten Finger Lakes excursions. I was fortunate enough to have been assigned to the Keuka Lake excursion hosted by the Steuben County Conference & Visitors Bureau.
We began with an introduction to Mr. Fred Frank, grandson of Dr. Konstantin Frank the father of vinifera wines in the Finger Lakes wine region. Dr. Frank, a professor of plant sciences who held a Ph.D. in viticulture, was a European immigrant who moved to the United States in 1951. He believed European grapes (vinifera) could be grown in the Finger Lakes and he set out to do it. In 1962 he opened Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars and the rest, as they say, is history. On our excursion we were fortunate enough to receive a private tour of Chateau Frank’s sparkling production cellar as well as taste the Chateau’s Blanc de Noir and Blanc de Blanc. Both were fantastic and a bottle of each made it home with me.
The next stop on our Keuka excursion was Pleasant Valley Wine Company, also known as the Great Western Winery. Located near the village of Hammondsport, New York, Pleasant Valley is the oldest winery in the Finger Lakes region. Established in 1860, the winery proudly displays the designation U.S. Bonded Winery No. 1. After a glass of Pleasant Valley American Champagne, we were seated to an elegant dinner in the Winery’s former cellar. It was stunning. It was here I met one of my favorite people of the whole experience, but more on that in another post.
The WBC15 was a whirlwind wine adventure that began on a Thursday night and ended on Sunday afternoon. It was a non-stop thrill ride. It was informative. It was enlightening. It was inspiring. And it wasn’t the least bit pretentious. My fears prior to attending were quickly allayed. Despite not having a blog dedicated to wine, or a tasting vocabulary, I was enveloped into the fold with open arms. This was a group of fellow wine lovers, writers, and bloggers all dedicated to wine tasting, writing, touring and most importantly a group of people invested in sharing a memorable experience with the backdrop of a beautiful wine region.
I came away from the experience with a deeper appreciation of wine, writing, the Finger Lakes and even live Tweeting! (This could make Chopped Challenge far more interesting next year!) The biggest takeaway for me, however, were the new friendships forged. I cease to be amazed by the ability of bloggers to connect across miles and circumstances, forming real connections and friendships. It’s absolutely my favorite by-product of this blogging adventure. And as for this particular adventure, I also had the good fortune to bring home something golden – a better understanding of myself. I think self-exploration and understanding is a life long process. I’ve spent the first third of my life (yes, I plan on living a long time!) navigating relationships and emotions. I have a feeling this next third will also be focused on giving myself permission to not only explore my passions and interests, but to also live them more freely. You could say the WBC15 gave me my first taste.
Now, some of you may be wondering, where Mike, Mr. N and Miss A were while I sampled my way through more than 75 wines. Well, not to worry. They found a museum or two, went hiking, ate at the Wienery (and taunted me with pictures via text), and even took a moment to mourn Sesame Street’s move from public television to HBO.
They don’t watch Sesame anymore, and realize that HBO is funding the show’s on-going run, but it’s still a change to a symbol of their childhood (and we all know they both have a flare for the dramatic). I imagine it’s about how I felt when Snuffaluffagus was no longer Big Bird’s imaginary friend. What do you mean everyone can see him now?!
I want to briefly thank everyone involved in the production of the WBC15 from Zephyr Adventures and the Finger Lakes Wine Country marketing association, to the Steuben County, Corning and Gaffer tourism organizations, and to the many, many wineries, winemakers, chefs and sommeliers that poured for us over the weekend. Also, thank you to the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, Keuka Lake Wine Trail and Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. I look forward to our return visit! And to my new friends with whom I shared many excellent wines, conversations and late nights, may the wine and your words continue to flow.
We’ll be back in a few days with a special dish combining Miss A’s tomatoes and a Finger Lakes’ chef’s recipe featured at one of our wine receptions. Spoiler alert, Miss A gave it 7 spoons and made off with more than half of the dish! Cheers!