The Sixth European Wine Bloggers Conference: Logrono – a return to the birthplace
The First Digital Wine Communications Conference
In June 2008 the first EWBC was held in Rioja. Organised by Robert McIntosh, Gabriella and Ryan Opaz it attracted 38 bloggers and appears to have been a somewhat seat of the pants event. Now six years later the conference had some 260 delegates from all over the world. Also it has now transmogrified into the Digital Wine Communications Conference. The name change was made to reflect the broadening out of social media to include Facebook and Twitter. The conference attracts a wide range of people – journalists, wine producers, wine merchants.
Probably the most important part of the DWCC (née EWBC) is meeting old friends – some physical, some who until the conference have been virtual friend – as well as meeting new people. The big and growing problem is remembering everybody’s name. All too often the face is very recognisable but can I put a name to match the face?! Not made any easier by the passing years.
The 2013 edition was another enjoyable and useful conference, although not quite special as last year’s in Izmir when most of us were in the same hotel, so building a real community spirit. In Logroño we were dispersed in a number of hotels, so only really came together for the various sessions in the Rioja Forum.
The two keynote speakers were Clark Smith (The Post-Modern Winemaking) and Arto Koskelo.
Smith was disappointing. He chose to be shallowly controversial. For instance he suggested that oak chips were more sustainable than oak barrels because of the quantity of oak that is wasted. Clark here appears to suggest that the sole function of oak barrels is to give flavours ignoring the part they can play in maturation. Talking to him later it was clear that his real point was that winemakers could actually keep barrels for much longer than they do. A fair point and made this way would have been much more powerful especially in Rioja where the larger companies have huge hangars filled with oak barrels.
Arto Kostelo is a young Finnish writer and broadcaster, who with Irken Siren, created the ViniTV (www.viini.tv). Theirs was a crazy approach that took some of its inspiration from Gary V but without his commerciality. In his speech Arto described their TV programme as "absolute crap" but it did treat wine in a fresh and irreverent style. He is convinced that the arrival of Google, with the access it gives to information from many sources, has been a ‘game changer’.
Tim Hanni MW gave the best presentation that I attended – relaxed, witty and thought-provoking. Hanni ought to have been one of the keynote speakers. His premise is that everything is subjective that little or nothing is objective truth and that it is human to be deluded. By the end of the presentation I wasn’t sure whether it was Hanni who had been addressing us or whether this was another subjective delusion. One of Hanni’s themes was how we as wine communicators had helped to make sweet wines unfashionable coinciding with the rise of dry wines – both still and sparkling. I was well aware that there was a time when top sweet wines from Sauternes and Germany fetched at least similar prices to the First Growths of Bordeaux. I had not been aware that in the best vintages of Montrachet the wine was sweet being made from botrytised grapes.
We have tended to associate a liking for sweet wines with a lack of sophistication. While we were in Sauternes on the way down to Logrono and the conference, we visited Chateau Raymond Lafon and were shown around by Jean-Pierre Meslier, who believes that the Chinese love of sweet things will remake the fortune of Sauternes and associated sweet wines. Meslier points to the small production of good sweet wines, so that it wouldn’t take a huge upsurge in demand to create a shortage and a commensurately swift rise in prices. I trust Jean-Pierre’s hopes are well founded. He will not be the first who has counted on sales star dust in China but who has in time been disappointed.
The other highlight of the conference was the grand tasting of lesser known Iberian grape varieties with an excellent and informed presentation given by Julia Harding MW and José Vouillamoz.
On the Friday night I was in the group that went to Dinastía Vivanco (DV) and was fortunate to sit opposite Rafael Vivanco, who was very interesting and passionate about what he was doing, especially with new or rediscovered grape varieties like Tempranillo Blanco and Maturana Tinto.
Tempranillo Blanco is a recent mutation of Tempranillo Tinto. This either occurred in 1985 or 1988 – I have been told told both dates. Anyway it is recent! In 2008 Tempranillo Blanco was officially recognised as a permitted grape variety in white Rioja. It has smaller berries than the Tinto version and doesn’t have the shoulders found on the red variety and has a smaller yield than Viura. It is also early ripening – ready just a week after Chardonnay.
Maturana Tinto was originally thought to be a local variety that had virtually died out. Very recently DNA studies have shown that it is a French grape called Castet from the Bordeaux region. One of its parents is Cabernet Franc, whose origins are now believed to be Basque. The other parent is unknown.
I chose the Sunday trip that visited Bodegas LAN, BAIGORRI and Marqués de Riscal, which turned out to be a good and varied day. LAN was bought by Portugal’s Sogrape about two years ago. I found the wines rather dumb and lacking expression. Although they were competently made, I wouldn’t get excited by the prospect of opening a bottle of LAN. The best range of wines came from Riscal, while we were very well looked after at BAIGORRY with its gravitational winery. We enjoyed a very good lunch – highlighting the move to fine dining at the bodegas which was also in evidence at Dinastía Vivanco.
BAIGORRI is of the new wineries, which grabs the attention through its architecture and the use of gravity. It is also one of the increasing number of wineries who have their own high calibre chef. Now in Spain they build wineries instead of cathedrals.
A relatively small group of us enjoyed a last 2013 DWCC meal@El Rincón del Vino in the centre of Logroño. While the food is simple and tasty, it is the amazing wine list that sets this restaurant apart. There is a wide choice of old vintages of Rioja at very reasonable prices. I selected a red 1982 Ygay from Marqués de Murrieta for 40€ and a 2001 Monte Real Reserva for 22€.
The seventh conference will be held in Montreux, Switzerland from 30th October – 2nd November 2014. Jancis Robinson MW is expected to be a keynote speaker. The organisers have been trying to get Jancis to come to the conference for the last three years and, although she is apparently keen to come, the dates have never worked out. This year it was the launch of the seventh edition of the World Atlas of Wine in the United States that got in the way. Robert McIntosh tells me that Jancis is keen to be fully involved in the conference rather than just flying in and out for a keynote session – an active participant rather than a godlike figure who appears briefly before the adoring throng before disappearing.
My thanks to Gabriella, Robert, Ryan and their team for organising the conference and for Rioja’s sponsorship that made the event possible.