Confessions of a wine groupie at the EWBC

The European Wine Bloggers Conference 2012 (EWBC) was three days with an all access pass to hang with the European rock stars of wine communication, with Izmir, Turkey as the backdrop, and local Turkey wines as the beverage sponsor.

Some of the most influential wine bloggers, wine authors, and wine communicators were on hand to talk and discuss the impact of social media in the wine sector, consumer engagement and the future of wine communications. The atmosphere at this year’s EWBC was one of community; it was welcoming, not at all intimidating and the willingness to share and learn from one another, actually gave hope that the wine industry is not the elitist monster, I always feared.

Social media is diffusing the power of the critics and allowing everyday wine drinkers to find their “tribe”(this is a coined phrase by Sarah Abott MW- great word); writing and sharing with other “kindred spirits” who cultivate a willingness to explore wine. The theme of sharing is exactly what went down at the EWBC.

People exchanged different wines, different cultures and different ideas. People discussed and shared their wine stories, but these stories lead inevitably to personal tales and experiences. The BYOB event was the perfect way to kick it off the EWBC in style, an entire event centered on sharing a wine that is personal interesting to you. There were wines that survived hurricane Sandy, Turkish wines, Lebanese wine, Swedish wine- the wines, like all the people, had stories.

The second night was an adventure in unchartered territory, with more new people, and a mystery destination winery in the Turkish hills.  There was some incredible food, an amazing winery, some great Turkish wines thanks to URLA the host winery, and some great music.  We all shared/ survived the experience of some really killer dance movies. WOW!

The final evening of the EWBC culminated at the Gala dinner. I had the pleasure of joining the generous people who adopted me through the course of the EWBC, my tribe.  We liberated copious amounts of wine (some highlighted on Jamie Goodes blog- reference him); we shared stories, laughed, danced and sang.  I am not an expert in wine by any stretch and these are the rock stars of the digital wine world.  They weren’t interested in my tasting notes, although we discussed the wines as well; I think they were more interested in knowing me, and my story.  A passion for wine and learning more about it in the digital age just happened to be a very large common thread that brought us together and a great social lubricant (bonus).

But like all great music tours, after three incredible days, filled with amazing speakers, hysterical laughs, some deeply personal stories, and the exploration of Turkish wines, we all had to pack up and move on to whatever and wherever was next. Reality. It was a whirlwind, it was a party, I started a love affair with Turkish wines and most importantly, for me, I found some of my tribe.  All this was made possible by wine and my love of it. I am a wine groupie and proud.

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Part 1: Copenhagen: Beauty and Beers

As some of you may know or not know, last week I went to Copenhagen and Stockholm, under the guised excuse of going to rendezvous with Chad, my older bro.  He had to work and I got to play and discover some pretty incredible things about Copenhagen and then continued the adventure solo status up to Stockholm.

Old Port District of the City
Old Port District of the City

Copenhagen is a pretty incredible city and hands down has some of the nicest folks around (or maybe I have just been in France too long).  When first arriving, I got lost and when I finally stopped to ask for directions from a girl in a coffee kiosk in a plaza, she did not hesitate to whip out her cell phone and get me on my way.  I mean seriously nice people, and serious about their beer.

Copenhagen has had a long love affair with beer.  Probably the most famous international beer out Denmark is Carlsberg and a close second in Tuborg. But these pilsners are not the only beer this city brews. The city has an incredible amount of small microbrews just waiting to be discovered.

These guys even make their own vinegar at the brewery.This place is a must!
These guys even make their own vinegar at the brewery.This place is a must!

Right off Strøget, which is one of the longest pedestrian walkways in the world, I found a pretty cutty spot that I would recommend to anyone who winds up in Copenhagen. The spot is called the Brewpub, and they have amazing pub fare and brew some pretty spectacular beers, they even brew their own malt vinegar.  It is not the cheapest, but an exceptional value. The fish ‘n chips are dynamite, I went here twice out of four days.  Killer!

The Little Mermaid- an iconic place to visit in Copenhagen
The Little Mermaid- an iconic place to visit in Copenhagen

But there are several beers to be discovered as you just walk around the city.  The canals that are built throughout Copenhagen, make is a fabulous walking city.  But the don’t miss spots are the Old Port, the Palace, Hans Christian Anderson’s little mermaid and I also took a tour boat that takes you through the canal systems of the city to check out the sights.  It is pretty touristy, but I learned some historical facts, took in some great views, covered some serious ground and got to sit back and sip on beer (I brought it from land).  Not sure if the beer is actually permitted, but no one looked at me expect another envious passenger.  Tivoli Gardens in another main attraction and during the summer I am told the Jazz festivals are spectacular around the Copenhagen.

The nightlife is pretty happening, with lots of little pubs to sneak into to warm yourself on some pretty nippy nights.  There are some great bars as well that play live music.  Chad, a few of his coworkers and I found ourselves one evening squeezed into a packed little (and I do mean LITTLE) pub, with a few tables of people with their smörgåsbord, all singing along with a guy on a guitar sing old American tunes.  To say that people were having a good time was an understatement.

There was so much to see and do I did not have enough time to discover all I wanted to in just four short days. Copenhagen is without a doubt a city I will be returning to again… but it was time to catch a flight to Stockholm.

The Wine Duchess and easing into French living

I have to say I understand why there is so much good wine here…. Without this self-medication readily available to consume at any given moment, people would rise up and revolt (as historically they did many times).

Upon arrival, the only thing I wanted more than a meal was a hot shower and a bed. Having traveled for over 24 hours I was not feeling so fresh or so clean. I turned on the shower and while waiting for the water to get hot, took a look around. “Despite the size, this place has potential”, I thought to myself. An added bonus was that the bathroom, thankfully, had been cleaned.

I grabbed my towel and headed in to take a relaxing shower and hit the hay. The water was ice cold. ”I must not be letting this warm up correctly”, I thought. So I try it the other way. Nothing, but freezing cold water. WHAT??!!! Seriously??!!

Although the home front was cozy, it was not as turn key ready as I had hoped. I just needed a shower, which was not in the cards that evening. So the following morning I proceeded to boil water in both a plug-in teakettle and a pot that was left (Thank you Jenny!!) by the previous tenant and finally got my shower. Yes it was with pots of hot water and then rinsing cold with what came from the showerhead, but it was a shower.

I had to go talk with the landlady immediately. In her quintessential French accent exclaims, “No! This cannot be! Wait until tomorrow and see what happens.” The next morning was the same horrible procedure again…. I ended up taking showers out of a pot for the first three days I was here.

On the third day I tell her, “Madame, I need to get this fixed.” “Ahhh yes”, she tells me. “We need to flip a switch on your circuit breaker…. How silly? This should work now. “ The clouds parted and I finally got a hot shower…. But this taught me several things that came up time and again in the coming weeks of adjusting to France…. No one is in a hurry to get anything done here and it is often something minor that is forgotten or overlooked that is going to prohibit any movement towards a possible solution. You just need to sit back and relax, because it is going to take a long time for things to come together.

Getting a cell phone took two weeks. You can’t get a cell phone, without a bank account, and getting a bank account, takes two weeks. Getting the Internet is still an ongoing process. First, the password given to me was incorrect, which I did not find out until I was able to get into the landlord’s house and actually look at the back of the wifi box. That has since gone out, a new Internet box has arrived and I am now in possession of yet another incorrect password. The first time I ran the washer…. Not going to lie, I had to run it three times before I figured out where the soap went and how to get the cycle to run correctly. It is a process.

This is Place de la Liberation. A gorgeous plaza that has the Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne in the background. This is but a few steps from my door and a great place to sit and enjoy a glass of vino.

Which brings me back to the wine. I have decided this is why they have wine all the time and with almost every meal. For example, it is total acceptable to drink at lunch in France, contrastingly stateside the mad men days of martini lunches are long gone. I like the French take on wine here- if you are going to do it, you may as well as do it right. People take the two-hour lunch and talk with their friends. Everyday the Plaza de Liberation, outside my apartment, is packed with people, having a glass of wine or cool beer, and just enjoying the process. You can’t sweat it, just sit back have a glass of wine and enjoy the process. You may be here a while.

In anticipation of going to try and get a cell phone, I myself needed to harness some liquid courage and find my inner Zen, which it turns out I found at the bottom of my second glass of wine. All this, prior to entering the cell phone store and then a post-celebratory libation. I had accomplished a major administrative feat of getting a signed phone contract with a French number, with only a single visit to the store (this is unheard of, btw)! You have to celebrate the small victories! The administrative hurdles are big here, but you can’t sweat it, just sit back and enjoy the copious amounts of sweet nectar this place produces to keep the masses maxing and relaxing. They do it well, as you will soon see.

For you folks who may not be in the know, we are going to review a couple basics about Burgundy and some of the mind-blowing wines this area produces. Burgundy is a region southeast of Paris and, as far as wine goes, has the largest number of appellation d’origine controlee, also known as AOCs, in France. What the hell is that? In Burgundy, terroir of wine is serious business … well what the hell is that you ask? Lets start from the end and work backwards.

This is a map of terrior that is all within the appellation of Aloxe -Corton AOC. As you can see the French take this stuff seriously.

Terrior is a religion here, and there is no other terrior exactly like what you have right here in Burgundy, or so the “Burgundian” religion dictates. Terrior, is of course a French word (that could never be really translated, again because it is French), that refers to a unique combination or recipe of soil, climate, altitude and other natural factors that a particular wine region, village, vineyard or even the rows with n a vineyard (that is right people, even rows) have, that are responsible for specific characteristics within the fruit of the wine. Wikipedia says it well: “Terroir can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product. At its core is the assumption that the land from which the grapes are grown imparts a unique quality that is specific to that growing site.” A little poetic, but none the less true. Why is terrior so important and what does it have to do with AOCs?

In Burgundy, the varietal of wine, the producer and the winemaker are not in the driver’s seat on the label. Here, the AOC is king. It is pretty standard to see the AOC designation being the dominate feature on Burgundy wine labels. This appellation designation will tell you geographically, where exactly the grapes came from. You are expected to know that the indicated AOC or area produces the specific varietal, the quality of the fruit and thus the quality of the wine. You do a lot of reading, and a lot of drinking, for that matter, to understand this religion (praise the wine gods!).

Here are the cliffnotes on the Burgundy Bible, but keep in mind these are heavily suggested patterns of behavior and not the ten commandments of wines, so there may be some exceptions to the rules. The two most popular varieties produced in Burgundy are Pinot Noir (if it is a red) and Chardonnay (if it is a white). It is rare to see the varietal on the label (this is serious French mafia shit), so don’t be surprised when you first start scoping out the French wine section and can’t figure out if it is a pinot or a cab, a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. They like to keep you on your wine toes. As an AOC gets more specific in a geographic area, it is a good indicator that the wine is, in theory, supposed to be getting better in quality. So, if a label has a regional appellation, it means really the grapes came from all over that region, doesn’t mean it will not be enjoyable, but it will usually be a lot cheaper than a single estate wine would be.

This is a pretty standard French label. The AOC is prominently displayed as you can see clearly it is from “Pommard”. An FYI this was a fantastic bottle from a rather icon area of Burgundy.

The crème de la crème of Burgundy wines have an AOC specific designation, which will be on the label, called Grand Cru, which is the best of only a small number of vineyard sites. We are talking less than 2%; these wines can blow your mind and your entire budget. Consider yourself warned. The vineyard appellation is the only name that will be found on the bottle, not a village or region. Grand Cru grapes are often found on the highest points of the hills in those vineyards, this where terrior comes into play, with things like slope. Premier Cru is like a silver medalist…. Not a gold, but hell it made the podium and gave the winners a run for their money. Premier Crus often will have the Premier Cru designation, the village and if the wine came from a single vineyard, this too is permitted on the label. Then the bronze medalists of wines are usually indicated by an AOC with a village or communal designation. The grapes may come from a single vineyard or several vineyards within the village. I really find myself gravitating frequently towards this category of wine. It is a bit of gamble (which is always exciting) and I feel like you can find some killer wines, at a great price here. Lastly, we have come full circle back to the regional wine AOCs. The grapes can come from all over Burgundy for example and are often grapes from the lower-lying areas.

I know that was a lot to take in. But now that you have some idea of what a Burgundy wine label is all about- get out there and start experimenting! See why Burgundians not only drink so much wine, but why they are able to drink so much good wine.

Next stop- this Duchess goes from the vineyards to the market and back to the vineyards.

Dijon, the duchess has landed.

Home away from home
A chateau…. not this duchess’ but one not so far away and vastly larger than my closest of an apartment… a duchess can dream can’t she?

Holy Luggage!

So when planning to move to another country for the next year a bit of advice- less is more.  If you have to carry it all from CDG airport to a bus, get to a train station, board said train, and then make it from the train station to an establishment; it is a feat more for Andre the giant, not a lone girl from California with little French speaking abilities finding her way to the heart of Burgundy.  Of course, this did not cross my mind completely (despite some parental advice on my ability to carry the bags… what do they know? I needed my 10 pairs of shoes!!).

But amazingly, despite leaving an ENTIRE suitcase in an elevator in Paris…. this luggage just so you know, was one I had to pay an extra weight limit on… seriously I don’t know how I managed to lose track of it…. it could fit a body inside of it with room to spare. Additionally, this MIA piece of luggage managed to have a wheel blow out in the Gard de Nord train station.  Yes, despite all these things, I managed to make to Dijon.  I have only the sweet people of France to thank for that- whoever said that they are all rude is clueless… some people are rude but the same can be said for Americans as well…. I have met some of them (rude Americans that is).

But to the gentleman at the airport who booked my ticket on the train- thank goodness he was smart enough to say “get the flexible ticket in case you miss the train” boy was he right.  He also said go first class you will need the space for all your luggage. To the other nice gentleman who chased me down at Charles de Guille, who said “Miss! I believe you left a piece of luggage in the elevator.” – that guy is a saint. We go running back to the lift to see it open up and there in the elevator sat my ridiculously huge bag.  “Boy are you lucky…. that never happens!”. Then the guy on the bus- he helped me from the bus to the train station… Seriously, it takes a group of people to get me where I need to be from my parents to getting my luggage to the airport counter to the taxi guy who met me in Dijon to take me to my apartment…. I know he doubted whether the little euro car would fit all the luggage- but he made it work.  The world was working to get me there…. but so were the French.  I made it and so did all my luggage.

The road to French living. This is my street and my new home away from. It is only a pedestrian walkway most of the time…. with the occasional moped.

Luckily, my land lady happen to be there when I arrived…. it all managed to work out.

So after 24 hours of full traveling door to door… I can honestly say- thank goodness for the French or else this Cali duchess may not have made it with all my luggage in tow… next time I would definitely pack lighter and bring a better wine opener (hello? where was the game plan on that one??!).

Now, let the adventure begin.