It had been a long time since we had traveled. I mean, this past year or so has been that way for most of us, right? We packed the car for 15 days on the road, complete with masks, hand wipes, hand sanitizer spray, snacks, and headed out.
The Wine Media Conference is for the Wine Industry Media. The Conference itself is paid for primarily through the sponsors. The turnaround is that attendees have promised to write about the sponsors and their experience. This overview takes in a few of those, you will see more content to fulfill our obligation for posts, but quite honestly, there is so much to write about, that you will see more than our requirement. Please note that all opinions are our own.
(The conference content and wine for tasting at the sessions and excursions were provided by the sponsors, travel, hotel and most meals were paid for by attendees.)
Our trip took us through wine country in 3 different states, along the California Coast and through Yosemite. The impetus for this trip was the 2021 Wine Media Conference. It would mark the center of our trip, 3 days spent in Eugene Oregon, with 150 or so wine writers and industry people.
The Wine Media Conference is a gathering all centered around wine, where the attendees are bloggers, writers, podcasters, vodcasters, and other media people centered around wine. Zephyr Conferences, led by Allan Wright typically puts on 5 conferences each year including the International Food Bloggers Conference, the Wine Marketing and Tourism Conference, the Beer Now Conference, and the Beer Marketing & Tourism Conference, and… the Wine Media Conference.
Zephyr Conferences is just one segment under the Zephyr umbrella which also includes Zephyr Adventures, Taste Vacations, and Travel Montana. We were able to do an interview with Allan at the conference, See below.
In the meantime….back to the conference.
The Wine Media Conference
We attended the last Live Conference in 2019 in Australia. 2020 of course, was not a great year for travel, and the 2020 Wine Media Conference that was scheduled to be held in August 2020 in Eugene, was postponed. (Shout out to the Sponsors who stuck with the conference for 2021!).
To keep the engagement going, the Wine Media Conference went digital in 2020 with several days of online sessions, which included sessions with tastings. Michael took part in one featuring Troon and Winderlea and I took part in one covering the Della Venezie. These were limited to a certain number of people and samples were sent in advance. It was a great way to keep us engaged and thinking about an IRL (In Real Life) version in 2021.
Allan kept us up to date on changes and updates as the Conference approached. We had vaccines available in the US, but as we got closer to the date, the Delta variant was spreading. All attendees were required to present proof of vaccination or a negative test result before attending. Allan was able to announce at the conference, that ALL attendees were vaccinated. We became our own little (or I suppose, not so little) bubble.
The conference, held at the River View Inn in Eugene, began with a reception with participating wineries pouring. Our friends at Winery Wanderings had invited us (well, they invited everyone on the Attendees Facebook page) to a gathering at their home in their beautiful backyard following the reception. As is tradition, everyone brought a bottle of something wonderful, so there was plenty of wine flowing. The gathering ended up with 60 or so people enjoying a beautiful summer evening.
The following day the conference began in earnest with a wonderful opening by Allan, detailing most humorously, his journey to this particular conference. There was an introduction and welcome to Eugene from Kari Westlund of Travel Lane County (the county that contains Eugene), followed by remarks from Sarah Murdoch with the Oregon Wine Board.
Our opening Keynote was with Cyril Penn the editor at Wine Business Monthly. As he went through the history of the publication and its offshoots and brought us back to the present day, I couldn’t help but reflect on the immense changes within the industry of writing and talking about wine.
Over the two days of the conference, there were general sessions covering topics like Advice from Professional Media with Chastity Cooper, Melissa Dowling, and Jill Barth moderated brilliantly by Frank Morgan. We also dove into Sparkling wine in Oregon with Christine Clair of Willamette Valley Vineyards where they are building a new facility just for sparkling wines, Jessica Thomas of Sweet Cheeks right here in Eugene, and Craig Camp of Troon where they are making some fantastic, if not traditional sparkling wines (more on that with our visit to Troon!)
Then there were breakout sessions, such as Collaboration in the wine media Post-Covid (by Austin Beeman), Managing yourself as a business (for wine writers) with Christine Deussen, a session on Podcasting, Zoom, and Livestreaming with Chris Kern and Jason Stubblefield, and a session on writing about the less obvious topics like legal coverage for wine by Liza Zimmerman.
Day 2 breakouts included: Leveraging Social Media with Brett Rawson, the Art of Storytelling for the Wine Industry with the wonderful Jill Barth (who I finally was able to meet IRL), a session on photography with George Rose, increasing your IG with Scott Fish, Personal Branding with Sarah Tracey of The Lush Life (it was so nice to see Sarah again!), and Digital Marketing with Mike Wangbickler.
Wine Education Sessions
There were also wine-focused sessions with tasting and education from DOC Della Venezie with a Pinot Grigio tasting and Union Des Vines Doux de Bordeaux with the Sweet wines of Bordeaux.
I attended a session on Italy’s Le Marche, exploring the wines of this region, where we tasted through Verdicchio, Pecorino, Lacrima, and a red blend based on Montepulciano, all by Velenosi Winery. (I am smitten by Lacrima). A room over and a little further south, Michael attended the Consorzio di Tutela di Vini d’Abruzzo, where they tasted through a variety of styles of Pecorino.
Read more about these regions:
Live Wine Social
The Live Wine Social is like speed dating for wine. In a normal year, there would be 15 (or so) tables with 10 wine writers each, and 15 winemakers with bottles in hand. The clock would start and the winemakers would step up to the table, pour and talk about their wine for 5 minutes, while the wine writers attempt to take photos, jot down details, and post on social media. When the 5 minutes were complete, the winemaker shifted to the next table and it started all over again.
It’s crazy and fast-paced. Some focus on the wine and tasting it, some focus on the story, some focus on the photos. I find myself rushed and panicked and so I focus on having fun. Luckily there is time after to catch up with the winemakers.
This year needed to be a little different. There were 5 or so wineries. Bottles were placed on each table so each person could pour for themselves. The winery representative stood at the front and spoke to the entire group, which allowed them to have slide presentations and videos. But, as before, we were limited to 5 minutes.
Day #1 saw us doing the Live Wine Social for White & Rosé, and Day #2 for Reds. (You can check out my IG posts for August 6th and 7th for details.)
Friday ended with the Wine Country Excursions. Attendees have been very spoiled in the past when these were Mystery Tours, where you jumped on a bus and waited to see where you would arrive. Again, this year needed to be different. The conference was set to not provide food so that we avoided some of the unmasked sitting together talking and eating, so a formal sit-down dinner was not in the cards.
We attended the Urban Wine Excursion which was held in the Newly opened 5th Street Alley. Travel Lane County and the Southern Willamette Wineries Association sponsored this event. We were shuttled down to the beautiful 5th Street Market Area, where we could explore the shops, restaurants, and tasting rooms at our leisure. They also set up a tremendous artisan charcuterie board in an upstairs room at the newly opened Gordon Hotel and had several local wineries pouring.
We enjoyed bubbles from King Estate and a plate of charcuterie on the patio overlooking the shops.
Half of the conference group enjoyed this Wine Excursion with us, the other half did an excursion to Pfeiffer Estate.
Lighting talks were a highlight this year. 5 minutes presentations by attendees, each is allowed 20 slides that rotate every 15 seconds. It can be a race! Often in the past some of the presentations could be dry…this year, they were diverse, fun, and informative, often having the room in tears with laughter, like the one by Steve Noel! Others were given by Gwendolyn Alley on working harvest and Brianne Cohen (seen pictured here).
Conference Wrap Up
Allan gave the Conference Wrap Up, which typically is where they announce the location for the next Conference. These days, sadly, with this year being a bit out of the norm and Zephyr focusing all their energy on just getting this conference up and running, Allan did not have that information for us. They have some thoughts and sent a survey to see what we all might be interested in!
The conference offered so much. You could catch up with friends, meet people you only knew online, and make new friends and connections. The sessions were pretty varied, and it allowed me to see how diverse the wine media industry is. There are sectors for business, for travel, for food, for winemaking, there is print and online, there are journalists, writers, and podcasters. Some people love Livecasting, others are providing video content and interviews. The umbrella of “Wine Media” is large and there is plenty of room for all of us!
If you are in the Industry and think that this sounds like an experience you might enjoy…Well look up Zephyr Conferences and watch for news of where the Conference might find itself next year.
If not, (I mean maybe you just like to drink wine and travel), well check back here because we have lots more to tell you about the conference and the trip!
We had an opportunity to catch up with Allan Wright, the founder of Zephyr at the end of the conference and learn a bit more about him and all of his companies, Zephyr Conferences, Taste Vacations, and Travel Montana! Here is our interview with Allan!
Sources, Resources, Conference Sponsors & Speakers
More on #TheScenicRoute2021 and our trip to the Wine Media Conference
- The Scenic Route 2021 – The Overview
- Vegas to Paso Robles to Monterey with a stop at Lone Madrone – Day 1 The Scenic Route 2021
- Monterey to Healdsburg (and beyond) with a stop at Selby Wines – Day 2 The Scenic Route 2021
- Troon & into the Umpqua – Day 3 of the Scenic Route 2021
- The Hundred Valleys of the Umpqua – Discovering the Wineries of the region (Day 1)
- Exploring undercover Umpqua Valley – Day 5 of The Scenic Route
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.