Society of Wine Educators Conference; Why You Should Go Next Year

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Chateau Coutet Sauternes

Chateau Coutet Sauternes

Last night I returned home after spending the better part of the week in Seattle at the Society of Wine Educators’ Conference. I went with two friends, one of them a manager for Total Wine who has been to the conferences before. Because she is in the business, she took many opportunities to network. That is part of her job, after all. She very generously introduced me to quite a few of her friends and acquaintances who are, also, in the business. When the unavoidable question eventually came up, ‘What do you do,’ I squirmed a bit. I tried my pat answer, ‘I’m a stay at home mom.’ That was met, as it often is, with a mildly sympathetic smile, and averted eyes, trying desperately to find an interesting follow-up question, but usually settling into an uncomfortable silence. After a few of those encounters I switched to ‘I’m a wine blogger.’ The number of people who seemed to be fascinated with that answer was exactly zero. By the second day I was beginning to feel a bit out of sorts and perhaps out of place. Mind you, the classes were fantastic. The quantity and quality of information that I gained from the conference was massive and well worth the time and money. It was just in the social situations, the meals and mingles where I was scratching around for some more solid footing. Undaunted, I tried yet a third answer to the inevitable question, ‘ I am a wine enthusiast.’ That struck a chord with everyone I met. In fact, it was after I owned my position as an avid hobbyist that I found many others like myself. There were many professionals there, wine producers, wine educators, wine retailers, wine distributors, but many were from different industries that had nothing to do with wine. The one thing that we all had in common was our wine enthusiasm.

I like wine people. If I were to describe a typical wine person, I would describe him or her as curious of mind and generous of spirit. With very few exceptions, the wine people that I have met (and that includes you, my fellow-bloggers) have been more interested and dedicated to the subject than to the ego. Collectively, they are a force, a very ebullient force. And that’s not just the wine talking.

My wine people.

My wine people.

Everyone that I met was incredibly friendly, gracious and enthusiastic. There was a great deal of camaraderie and generosity. It was a community that was sharing information, ideas, and enthusiasm as freely as we were sharing the wine. That is not to say that the camaraderie was a product of the effects of the wine. Most everyone conducted him or herself with an air of professionalism. We were all there to learn. It was the sharing that really impressed me. People were not in a lone, competitive state of mind, but rather they were in a community state of mind. And that sense of community created an environment that was conducive not just for shared information, but also, for new ideas. As Jonah Lehrer so eloquently put it in his book , Imagine: How Creativity Works, ‘…a group is not just a collection of individual talents. Instead, it is a chance for those talents to exceed themselves, to produce something greater…’

Meeting Miss Jane!

Meeting Miss Jane!

My three and a half days in Seattle at the Society of Wine Educators conference were full of fantastic speakers, even some rock stars in the wine industry, such as Jane Nickles, Tim Gaiser, Greg Harrington and Sean Sullivan. And don’t even get me started about catching a glimpse of Ann Noble at lunch. For those of you who don’t know, she invented the wheel, the aroma wheel. When I met Karen MacNeil’s assistant, the conversation went something like this, ‘I work for a wine writer, Karen MacNeil, Maybe you’ve heard of her book, the Wine Bible?’ After I put my lower jaw back in place, I was able to respond with something quite intelligent like, ‘Holy crap! How’d you get that gig?!’ My point is, in spite of stereotypes to the contrary, the wine people I met this week were humble and generous.

The food was good. The wine tastings were plentiful. Each day we tasted through close to 30 wines which was a great opportunity to not only taste new wines, but to hone my spitting skills, as well. By the end of the week, I barely dribbled at all. The planned outing to Chihuly Gardens was breath-taking. The information gained from the presentations was stimulating. The ideas shared with fellow enthusiasts were inspiring.

Chihuly Gardens

Chihuly Gardens

When I signed up for the conference, I had thought of it as special indulgence, one that I probably wouldn’t repeat. But I got so much out of it, that I’m already thinking about next year’s conference. It will be in New Orleans. If you are a wine enthusiast of any stripe, you may want to consider going as well for the wine and the learning experience, but mostly for the shared community.