Wine bloggers make way to Walla Walla for Wine Bloggers Conference

The third annual conference is described as an intersection of wine and new media. This is the first time the conference has taken place outside California's Napa Valley.

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WALLA WALLA -- The basic tips for tasting wine take a different twist when the tasters are also bloggers.

Case in point: Along with the conventional wisdom about pacing and spitting, Joel Vincent recommends a good broadband card. The California blogger, whose words of wisdom were circulating on Twitter this morning, is one of 300 people headed to the Valley this weekend for the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference.

He and wine enthusiasts from across the country have been tweeting and blogging about it for weeks. After this weekend, their words could have an incalculable impact on local tourism, officials say.

Their three-day foray through the sold-out conference will take them through Walla Walla Valley tasting rooms, vineyards, dinners and discussions. They'll get to know the local wine industry from grape to glass, write about it and introduce their view of Walla Walla to their online audiences.

What that means for local residents: Brace yourselves for a crowd of people this weekend. Or, in the words, of Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance communications associate Cora Davidson, get ready to "embrace the bloggers."

"If we can greet them with open arms, that's what's going to make this weekend all the better," she said.

The third annual conference is described as an intersection of wine and new media and is unlike any other tasting event that's taken place here, she said. Many of the bloggers will be experiencing Walla Walla for the first time.

What impact their experiences will have is unclear. This is the first time the conference has taken place outside California's Napa Valley. Walla Walla was selected by the bloggers.

Since Napa is inundated with visitors, it's hard to know whether the conference has built tourism there, said Tourism Walla Walla Executive Director Michael Davidson. But he has no doubt it will build awareness of Walla Walla.

"In terms of the marketing value of it, I can't even calculate what it's going to be worth," he said.

He does, however, believe the value of the new buzz generated could exceed the $275,000 Tourism Walla Walla spends on marketing and public relations.

If nothing else, it will be an exciting weekend for a special group of visitors, organizers say. After a dinner at the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center on Friday night, the bloggers will tour a "Walla Walla Walkabout," meandering through downtown tasting rooms that will open their doors late for the event.

Saturday's agenda includes a discussion on terroir -- the relationship between the land and wine -- and vineyard and winery tours. Fifteen buses will transport 20 bloggers apiece on their excursions with the goal that no tasting room will be seen twice by a single blogger. The keynote speaker will be wine journalist, author, columnist and blogger Lettie Teague of The Wall Street Journal.

"This really is for them to see the whole realm of wine in this Valley from where it's grown, to the winemakers and learning how the wine pairs up with local cuisine," Cora Davidson said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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