The Wine Media Conference just wrapped in Italy and this year’s was better than ever (and after Australia in 2019, I didn’t think I’d say that!) I’ve attended this conference since 2018 and it’s fast become not only a source of education and inspiration but a source of lasting friendships.
The whole point of the Wine Media Conference is to bring together people who create wine content for their own websites, blogs or social media outlets, or for other media outlets and publications. It’s different from the Society of Wine Educators, or the Wine Writers Symposium hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners Association and Meadowood in that it is more three-dimensional, if you will. Instead of listening to speakers all day in a meeting room, the Wine Media Conference gets us out to the local wineries and vineyards, interacting with and learning from winemakers.
Of course, it takes a lot of sponsors to make this happen, because the Wine Media Conference has a pretty nifty tiered registration system. If you want to pay the lowest registration fee ($150 or thereabouts), you must commit to writing at least three stories that spotlight the very people whose time and money got us there, so to speak. (Everyone pays their own way for travel.)
So, you will see upcoming stories from me on Lugana and Valtellina and the wineries and winemakers from those regions, but I decided to share a comprehensive look at the overall conference because people are curious! So let’s break it down.
The Place: The organizers of the WMC identify regions whose consortiums and other entities basically want a bunch of wine writers to visit their area and write about it! So they step up and participate as sponsors. This year the place was the Lombardy region, which is home to Ascovilo, which represents all wineries in Lombardy and Garda DOC, a wine region within Lombardy. Our hotel (Acquaviva – it was lovely and the staff were amazing) was located in Desenzano, on the shores of Lake Garda. Most of us flew into Milan took the train (about 2.5 hours) to the town.
The Excursions! Honestly, this is the best part: field trips that offer an in-depth look at a particular region. I signed up for Lugana on Sept. 27, and Valtellina on Oct. 2-3.
There were about 20 of us on the Lugana excursion and we were picked up bright and early at 9 a.m. By 9:15, we were seated in the beautiful church-like tasting room at Ca’ di Frati (I got excited the minute I saw the sign, because I’ve bought these wines from Eataly!) getting an overview from the head of the Consorzio di Lugana. After that we broke up into two groups for trips to two more wineries and a late-day culture stop, capped with a fabulous dinner party at Selva Capuzza Winery, where local winemakers joined us for a feast!
On Thursday, I took my own field trip to Verona, after finding out it was 20 minutes away by train! (Did you watch “Love in the Villa” on Netflix? Mmmm hmmm, me, too. So you know why I had to go!) In case you ever need to do Verona in three hours, here’s the blog post I followed – it was perfect! (And that spaghetti carbonara was the best I’ve ever had.)
The Program That afternoon at 2 p.m. we filed into the conference room at the Acquaviva for our first tasting! It was wines from Sannio, a region in Campania (an hour east of Naples) that was new to me. We had a few more speakers and presos before a reception hosted by Garda DOC and Piave DOP (yes! Piave cheese! I love it.)
Friday was rainy, so a perfect day to hunker down for a day of panel discussions, tastings and presentations that gave us an excellent feel for the entire region. Cantine Bertani sponsored lunch and the wines were amazing, paired with seafood risotto and a big piece of steak with polenta.
We had a fun tasting of Sweet White Bordeaux wines with food pairings from our friends at Charming Taste of Europe. Before you say, “Oh, I don’t like sweet wines,” I will say: “Don’t knock it til you try it!” These wines were delicious with ceviche, barbecued chicken, fried seafood and cheese (Piave cheese!).
Friday night was a really cool dinner at the Museo Rambotti in Desenzano, where we not only got schooled on the local history, but also had a tasting of three ages of Grana Padano cheese. Grana Padano is a hard cheese made from cow’s milk, very similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, but it can be made in many areas of Italy. And it’s lactose-free! It’s one of my fave cheeses with wine – salty, a little nutty the older the age and just plain delicious.
Journalist Bruce Schoenfeld kicked off Saturday’s program with an inspiring and insightful talk about the Death & Rebirth of Wine Writing. He’s been in the business a good long time, writing about travel, wine, food and a lot of sports, and is skilled at sharing historic, big-picture views of a subject. I always walk away smarter after hearing him talk.
Lunch on Saturday was brought to us by Italian Wine Brands, which includes the Voga wines in those cool bottles and a host of other recognizable Italian wines.
Saturday night was a big party at the castle in Desenzano, with wines from Lugana and Valtènesi.
And then all of a sudden, it was Sunday morning and about 20 of us were off to Valtellina, high up in the alps of northern Italy. This was an overnighter, and there will be another story just on Valtellina, because this place is simply unforgettable and nearly indescribable in its beauty and the quality of its wines.
So this is what it’s like to attend the Wine Media Conference. The founder of this conference, Allan Wright, and Sarah Wohlner who now runs the WMC, have created something really special that we all look forward to each year. You can’t be a wine writer if you don’t get out and taste and explore and stomp through vineyards and get to know winery owners and winemakers – and that’s what this event delivers every single year. Cin cin, my friends!
We so missed being there with all of you and can’t wait to hear where it is being held next year!
We missed you both too! Allan was throwing around places like Rioja, Bordeaux, Abruzzo, Texas (!?) for next year. I also suggested Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico.
What fun, what an experience in one of the most beautiful parts of the world! Too bad they don’t have these conferences for NON writers of wine! I’d go in a minute!