Monday, May 30, 2011

Rant: How Memorable is TasteCamp?

Two weeks ago, under dreary skies, I visited the vineyards and wineries of the Niagara region, both on the Canadian and New York sides. This was TasteCamp North, the third such wine blogger conference and I have been pondering various matters about the event since then. One of the questions that came to mind concerned the overall impact of TasteCamp, and whether the attendees would still be talking about Niagara wines in a year from now. And of course that made me consider whether the attendees of the TasteCamps in Long Island and the Finger Lakes still talked about those wines. What is the long term impact of TasteCamp?

I have attended all three TasteCamps so feel I have a good understanding of them. TasteCamp is a small, intimate wine conference, limited to approximately 30-40 bloggers and their significant others.  Lenn, of the New York Cork Report, deserves much of the credit for originating the concept of TasteCamp, though numerous others have contributed to creating and arranging the three TasteCamp events. The main idea is to highlight some lesser known wine regions, areas which don't often garner much attention in wine print media.

Over a three day period, you visit numerous wineries, meet various wine makers, and have the opportunity to taste 200+ wines. It is an intense weekend, dedicated to an educational experience concerning the wine region. Yet there is plenty of fun to be had as well, and overall it is an extremely enjoyable time. There are no seminars or classes on blogging, though some independent discussion inevitably occurs. The weekend is devoted to wine. In those respects, it is a much different experience than the Wine Bloggers Conference.

The attendees pay for much of the trip themselves, such as travel and hotel costs, though some of the meals are partially or totally subsidized. Plus, there is not a cost for the various tastings. The attendees are not obligated to write about TasteCamp, and if they do write something, they have full discretion to write whatever they feel, whether positive or negative. Obviously, it is hoped and encouraged that the bloggers will choose to write about their experiences. And everyone should be able to find at least a few story ideas out of the weekend.  

Though only two weeks have passed since TasteCamp North, it has already generated over 25 blog posts, with more to come. That certainly seems a very promising start, garnering plenty of publicity for the Niagara region. TasteCamp Finger Lakes and TasteCamp Long Island each generated at least 50 posts. How many articles about these regions have appeared in wine print media during the last three years?  I bet there have been only a handful of printed articles at best.

Besides the blog posts, TasteCamp also generated hundreds of tweets, before the event, during the event and after the event. Those tweets reach many thousands of wine lovers all across the world, giving lots of exposure to the wine region. Less documentable, TasteCamp also generates plenty of word of mouth recommendations concerning the wine regions. There are also additional benefits, from attendees who purchase wine from these regions, to attendees that might even become wine ambassadors.

I am curious though as to whether the wineries involved in TasteCamp consider all of that sufficient coverage and publicity for participating in TasteCamp. The participating wineries do incur expenses, including time, money and product. Do they feel they obtain a good return on their investment? To me, I think the overall wine region receives plenty of great coverage, more than they might receive from many other events. With the wine print media, some of these wine regions might see only one or two articles in a year. With TasteCamp, a region is likely to garner over 50 articles, many hundreds of tweets, and much more.

Particular wineries from each region may only receive a little, if any, specific coverage. I am sure that may disappoint those wineries, but there are no guarantees of coverage. They may feel their investment was largely wasted. Speaking for myself, some of the participating wineries do not offer wines that excite me, and sometimes the wines are just not very good at all. I prefer to highlight the wines which most impressed me, or the stories which most fascinated me.  I have little motivation to write reviews of mediocre or poor wine. Maybe a lack of coverage should be a wake-up call to those wineries to step up their game.

I am especially curious though as to how memorable TasteCamp is for the attendees. Does it have a lasting impact? Or is its influence limited to the immediate period surrounding the event?  As for myself, it has had a lingering effect and I still discuss and recommend wines and wineries from both Long Island and the Finger Lakes. I know people who have made plans to visit these regions and I have offered suggestions of which wineries they should visit.  Prior TasteCamp wines have been included in my year-end Top Ten Wine lists, and I think it is likely that at least one, if not more, Niagara wines will end up on my 2011 Top Ten Wine lists.

But am I alone? Or do many TasteCamp attendees feel the same way?  It is a given that the attendees who live in the respective wine regions will continue to talk and write about those wines. But what about the outsiders, especially when most of the wines from these regions are not available outside of the region? Even though Massachusetts is next to New York, few wines from New York make it to our wine store shelves. So I cannot locally find some of my favorite wines from Long Island and the Finger Lakes.

From some limited discussions with other attendees, it seems that a number of them are like me, and still talk about wines from prior TasteCamps. So at least anecdotally, it appears that TasteCamp can have a lingering effect on attendees. But I would like more evidence to support that theory, and to see what percentage of attendees feel that same way. If it is a significant percentage, then TasteCamp generates more than immediate publicity, but also creates permanent advocates for a region. And that is a valuable thing.

So, if you have attended the prior TasteCamps, please tell me whether you still discuss and/or write about the wines and wineries from those regions.  If not, please give an explanation.

Let us answer the question: How memorable is TasteCamp?


Bryan said...

Both previous Long Island and Finger Lakes TasteCamps have given me memories I will take to my grave. Whether it's standing around a drain at Lenz with my fellow attendees spitting the base wines of future sparklers or being the first to try a Long Island Cab Franc next to expertly prepared Long Island duck, Tastecamp provides a setting with unlimited potential for those moments that affect your appreciation for a winery, winemaker or region.

There are moments I've had speaking with winemakers like Johannes Rheinhardt that I don't even want to share because they've provided such a personal evolution in the way I appreciate wine.

These are extreme examples yet even though I'd already experienced each region before the last three tastecamps, I still took away from each personal memories that I can only relive by tasting the wines, sharing these wines or describing my experiences from past events to the uninitiated.

Michael Gorton, Jr. said...

Great post. As you know, I was not at TasteCamp North, I was in Mexico instead. I really wanted to go to Tastecamp but the timing was just not right.

In 2005 Melis and I went to Niagara on the Lake for a 4 day weekend and fell in love with the region, the food and the wine. We were young and immature as far as palates go, but we will always remember our visit to Stratus. Of all of the Wineries outside of my hometown region, (Napa, Sonoma, FLX, Tuscany, Sienna, etc...) Stratus struck a cord and we fell in love with their lineup then.

When I was at TasteCamp last year in the Finger Lakes, I was impressed and fell in love with that region. There were some clunkers, but there were some standouts. I can still smell Anthony Road's TBA, Weimer's Riesling and Heart and Hand's Pinot Noir. I talk about all of the wines that wowed me and crave Finger Lakes Gewürztraminer every now an then. I can't wait to visit the Finger Lakes again and anytime I know someone is going, I give them a list of places to visit.

I was not a blogger for the TasteCamp East, but you are well aware of my love for Long Island Wine. Had I gone, I am sure that my love would have grown deeper for the North Fork.

To me TasteCamp is and will always be memorable. I had the opportunity to meet great wine makers, wonderful vineyard managers, passionate owners who truly cared for us. I also got to meet some of the bloggers and writers I look up to. I built relationships with them and will always look forward to their company.

If I had gone to TasteCamp and found it forgettable, then I think there would be something wrong with me, I would shut down all operations and seek professional help. Sure I could blame it on wrong place wrong time, bad wine, or just not my style or speed. It might be hard for some to taste 200+ wines over 3 days. If someone is not used to it, it may not bode well.

I hope people walked away wowed by at least one bottle, one person, or one winery. That is all I could ask for and hope for, at the least. I know I did and those memories will be with me for a while.

Rick said...

For me, I only have Finger Lakes #tastecamp to go on not counting Niagara (which was totally different as one of the organizers). Obviously Finger Lakes had a lasting impression that will live on forever for many reasons. The unique nature of an independent bloggers gathering with people only connected by a love of wine (not a love of junkets) was impressive to me. I wanted it to be shared in Niagara, that same spirit of independence and total exploration of a region new to wine lovers. To see a region laid out and concentrated over two or three days like it was in Finger Lakes (and I hope some think in Niagara)provides images and memories that I will never forget. I will always make semi-regular trips back to FLX see some of my favourite wineries. A lasting impression? Yes.

Dale Cruse said...

I said this on Twitter, but I'll say it again here: I still think about that Shinn Estate Cab Franc barrel sample we had at Taste Camp 1.

What I didn't have enough room to say on Twitter was the thing most memorable about Taste Camp 1 to me was that while so many producers were counting on Merlot to be "the" grape Long Island was identified with, I much preferred the Cab Francs we tasted & think that grape had much more character in that region.

Tim Appelt said...

Richard, as a first time attendee, but also a local who is somewhat familiar with most of the wineries and many of the wines, I suspect that my reaction to Tastecamp was a-typical. Because of my familiarity with the region, the real interest for me was in meeting and talking with other attendees, especially those “from away”, and observing their reactions to the local wine culture and wines. While I try to be an objective and realistic observer of my local region, and acknowledge both the good and not so good aspects of it, initially I found myself fighting a tendency to explain and justify some of our idiosyncrasies, especially on the first day! However I soon got over that inclination, and enjoyed the astute and insightful comments and reactions of the group.

I think that the attendees were very observant and pretty quickly got to the nub of things! A common theme I heard was the need for any region to focus on the very best that it does, and I think that’s an issue for Niagara. I hope that I’ll have the chance to attend a Tastecamp in another region and have the “wine emersion” experience that most of you had. The only downside for me is that I’m not inspired to write an article on our local wines from the Tastecamp perspective. On the other hand I learned a great deal about wine writers, bloggers and enthusiasts and the passion that we all share. It was very rewarding for me.