I have the good fortune this week to be attending the ninth annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at the Meadowood Resort in St. Helena. With a grand total of three published news stories (all in January, but several queued up for the coming weeks) behind me, I am thrilled to be able to participate in this exclusive gathering of writers and “faculty.” The funny thing is, when I applied to the Symposium last November I was declined, because while my blog was considered good, I had not been published in mainstream media. I was politely encouraged to spend the next year getting 3-4 pieces published and then I could register in 2014.
Well, that was just not acceptable to me!
So I immediately reached out to the Napa Valley Register and asked if they needed someone to write wine feature stories, and the editor replied with a resounding yes. My writing commenced in December, with my first story appearing January 4th. But even before that first story appeared, I re-applied to the Symposium in December and explained my course of action. The Director called the newspaper to verify my claim, and replied back to me congratulating me on my tenacity, and approving my attendance.
And now the week is here. The Symposium runs from Tuesday through Friday. I am equally excited and intimidated.
Only 50 writers may attend, and the agenda is packed. Some sessions are in listen-only mode, some involve wine tasting (one of my specialties), but most of the sessions are hands-on (meaning we will be interviewing, writing, and/or critiqued) or individually focused. For example, I get to have two 1:1 sessions with faculty members that I pre-selected. One will be with Gary Walther, a regular luxury lifestyle columnist for Forbes.com and contributing editor at ForbesLife magazine. He has a big hotel/travel writing background. My second 1:1 is with James Conaway, author of the two “bibles” of Napa history: “Napa: The Story of an American Eden,” and its sequel “The Far Side of Eden.” He is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford.
Other faculty members include a number of other decorated editors and authors, including Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle food and wine section.
Wine writers do not earn much money for their work. Very little, in fact. But vintners rely on the writers to provide coverage of their wines and wineries. So, the Symposium is subsidized by a number of vintners, who provide scholarships for writers who need them, as well as amazing wines for us to taste and learn about. I did not ask for a scholarship. Still, I know the vintners are helping to keep the costs amazingly low for a program of this caliber.
An added bonus (and one that makes the week completely ridiculous for those of us in attendance) is that the big Premiere Napa Valley wine auction takes place this week, and we, as members of the media, get to cover it. Hundreds (if not thousands) of people in the wine trade (resellers, not consumers) are in Napa this week to participate in the auction, which takes place Saturday. At this auction, 200 vintners auction offer 5-, 10- or 20-case lots of specially blended wine, with all the proceeds going to the Napa Valley Vintners. The NVV is the organization that promotes Napa Valley wine around the world and supports all its vintner members. This auction provides most of NVV’s annual operating budget.
(The better-known Napa Valley Wine Auction takes place in June, is open to consumers ((if you can afford the $2500 ticket)), and benefits numerous local charities.)
Prior to Saturday’s grand barrel tasting and auction, there will be countless meetings, luncheons, private tastings and gala parties during the week for the buyers who are in town. As members of the press, we get to attend a lot of them–to the best of our ability, given our Symposium commitments.
My goals for the week are to learn as much as I can, make as many connections as I can to people who can help me further this writing career, and stay as sober as possible.
At some point I will summarize the experience here, but it may take a while to decompress first. Stay tuned for more info. Meanwhile, I may be in over my head, but it sure as hell will be an interesting week!