Tweets and tastes

Social media met swish and sip Thursday in a statewide wine-tasting Twitter party.

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All balancing cell phones and wine glasses, participants in #WAMerlot, the state-wide Twitter and wine tasting event Thursday evening, invest attention in their individual mobile devices to update followers on their tasting experiences.

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Two Twittering wine tasters simultaneously taste wines and text Twitter updates with their cell phones during a state-wide wine tasting and Twitter event Thursday evening.

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Glass of wine in one hand and cell phone in the other, Andrae Bopp (left) writes a Twitter post about his tasting experience while Jean-François Pellet (center) looks through the wide range of wines available at the Walla Walla tasting during a state-wide Twitter and wine tasting experience called #WAMerlot.

WALLA WALLA -- On her quest to narrow down "the best nose" in an array of Walla Walla wines Thursday, Christa Hilt realized how much she missed her own.

Struck by a sinus ailment Hilt needed help picking out some of the notes as she inhaled one of about 25 merlot wines at Otis Kenyon's Main Street tasting room. "Can you smell that?" she asked, lifting the glass to a friend's nose. "It kind of seems like rhubarb," Michael Mettler described.

Seconds later Hilt, marketing director for both Waters Winery and Substance, began typing furiously on her mobile phone, describing the wine to followers of her Twitter account.

Around her more than 20 other people were posting their own updates on the merlot wines brought in for the tasting. The idea of party guests dismissing themselves from socializing to type on their Blackberries and Palms would surely horrify the goddess of social etiquette Miss Manners if not for the fact that engaging their mobile devices was the point of the party.

Across the state, similar Twitter parties were being hosted at tasting rooms and private events to raise awareness of merlot through tweets -- text-based posts of up to 140 characters that are displayed on the author's profile page and shared with the page's followers. The posts were like micro-reviews of the wines and can be used to help introduce wine drinkers to different brands and blends.

It also added another element to the classic "S's" of wine tasting: see, swirl, sniff, sip, savor -- and now "scribe."

The event was initiated by Spokane blogger Josh Wade, who was inspired by similar Twitter party tastings for other varietals. His instruction to wine drinkers: Find a Washington merlot, drink it and tweet about it using "#WAMerlot" as the hashtag. According to estimates on Wade's DrinkNectar Facebook page, an estimated 3,000 bottles of Washington merlot were consumed by more than 1,500 people -- 500 of whom posted 2,000 tweets.

At Otis Kenyon, just one of several wineries hosting Thursday, the attendees were largely representatives of local wineries, including Pepper Bridge, Dusted Valley Vintners, Trio Vintners and L'Ecole No 41.

"The goal is to get consumers," said Mettler, a local marketing professional who works with wineries. "But I still think Twitter parties are a bit abstract for the average consumer."

Hilt, who began by posting first impressions of each wine, said the event is another way to bring the industry together.

"I feel like it's connecting us to other parts of the Inland Northwest, showcasing merlot in pinot (noir) country or the west side," Hilt said. "Overall it's promoting Washington wines and helping us all in the end."

What outcome such events will have directly on the wineries is still unknown, as is the effect of social media overall.

Otis Kenyon's Muriel Kenyon said she began exploring social media for her family's winery about six weeks ago. She and friends from Pepper Bridge, Woodward Canyon, Substance and L'Ecole began working together through Twitter tutorials to learn how best to utilize the service.

In about six months Kenyon said she'll evaluate whether Twitter and Facebook have been worthwhile uses of her time for the winery.

From the turnout she could already see the power of social media at work.

Kenyon said she originally planned to get together with friends from other wineries at her house. She didn't have a wireless connection, so it moved to the tasting room. Then they decided to invite blogger Catie McIntyre Walker, the Walla Walla Wine Woman, and then a few other people who might be interested.

"It completely snowballed," Kenyon said. "Really it was going to be five girls getting together. Social media happened to us. We put a word out there and then everybody put a word out to their people and so on."

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

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