A record number of over 450 hobby winemakers from across North America descended on Santa Barbara, California in May for the sold-out WineMaker Magazine Conference. This fourth annual conference featured an all-star cast of local professional winemakers, WineMaker writers and top hobbyists leading 28 different seminars over two days covering the full spectrum of the hobby. The attendees came from over 30 different states and provinces to the oceanfront Fess Parker Doubletree Resort and enjoyed the chance to trade advice and stories with fellow winemakers.
This year we rounded out our popular pre-conference bootcamps with a new five hour wine testing class where attendees got to conduct their own tests for sulfites, acidity, malolactic and pH on wine samples. We also ran again bootcamps on making wine from grapes and grape growing.
The main conference had four different seminar choices each time period for attendees to choose from across a broad variety of topics. From kits to grape growing to techniques for the fresh grape winemaker, there were subjects for every level and style of winemaker. Each day attendees also were treated to a conference-wide group workshop that emphasized a hands-on learning experience. Friday featured Pat Henderson of Kenwood Vineyards lead attendees through a blending exercise with four different varietals on each table and measuring cups for attendees to to work with as blending techniques were discussed. Saturday's workshop run by WineMaker columnist Tim Vandergrift was a side-by-side tasting of seven different oak trial samples so attendees could gain better understanding of American versus French oak as well as the impact of oak addition pre- and post-fermentation. Two keynote presentations anchored each day. Brian Loring, winemaker and co-owner of Santa Barbara County-based Loring Wine Company, spoke about the passion behind making a great wine. On Saturday we were lucky to have for the first time all five current WineMaker columnists together in person for a live Q & A with the audience. Daniel Pambianchi ("Techniques"), Alison Crowe ("Wine Wizard"), Chik Brenneman ("Varietal Focus"), Tim Vandergrift ("Wine Kits") and Wes Hagen ("Backyard Vines") all field questions during the second day's lunch in one of the highlights of the conference.
After Friday's seminars ended a tasting and wine swap party kicked off on the beautiful Plaza Del Sol with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Attendees brought hundreds of their own bottles of wine (and even one 6-glalon carboy!) to swap and share with other hobbyists. Commercial wineries from Santa Barbara County joined six California-based home winemaking clubs to pour samples of their wines for attendees as well. Plenty of mahi mahi, beef and turkey as well as local cheeses rounded out the memorable night.
Saturday evening Mother Nature cooperated again and we were fortunate to be back on the Plaza Del Sol for our awards dinner for this year's WineMaker International Amaterur Wine Competition. Attendees found out first who won medals in the 2011 competition and all winners in the audience came forward to get their medals along with some well-deserved applause from the audience.
Audio recordings for a selection of the seminars presented in Santa Barbara are now available from the WineMaker webstore by clicking here or by calling 802-362-3981 ext. 106.
The 2012 WineMaker Magazine Conference will take place for the first time on the East Coast in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Our fifth annual conference will be located at the Statler Hotel and Conference Center on the campus of Cornell University, home to one of North America's top viticulture and enology programs. We are already working hard on next year's program on June 1 & 2. Full details and registration information will be in the December-January issue of WineMaker and posted on winemakermag.com November 1. Our conference for all four years have sold out so be sure not to wait if you are interested in joining us next year in the beautiful Finger Lakes for our fifth annual conference!