Okay. Here I am at the Wine Bloggers Conference, 2015 (WBC 15), up in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York. (Yeah, no. Not THAT part. The cool as hell part of New York!) Anyway. It was my first conference and I really had no idea what to expect other than that there was going to be LOTS of wine to drink and several strangers telling me I didn’t know how to write.
The highlight of the WBC 15 was, for me, the Secret Dinner (Key the lightning and creepy music….and pass out the almost dead flashlights). We all got herded down to the area where what looked like a refugee transportation center full of buses was waiting for us. Staying together and holding our bottle openers at the ready, we waited for our boarding instructions. The woman said, “First ten to bus number one” and we were off like a shot.
Getting on towards evening, we finally left the lot and headed out onto the highway to ‘Destination: Unknown’. It was a winding and seemingly pointless exercise in secrecy, but it gave our bus monitors a chance to talk about the terroir of the Finger Lakes region. Pretty informative. Finally, we turned off the highway onto a back road that wandered a bit through some hills and eventually took us to the town of Arkport. Have you heard of it? Well, let’s just say “don’t blink”.
We pulled into town and turned down a narrow back street that took us to a marshaling yard for semi tractors and trailers. I told Elizabeth and Miki, “Well this is it. We’re all going to end up in Louisiana as slave laborers on some farm.” Not so! We were just turning around in the parking yard and ended up in front of this old garage that was apparently our destination.
We were met by our host for the evening, Christopher Bates, owner and wine maker for Element Winery located in the fabled village of Arkport. I have to tell you, this was beyond any winery I had ever been to for a tasting. IT WAS GREAT!!
We walked in and it was dirty and cluttered, with lots of discarded ‘maybe I can use it later’ stuff. There were half a dozen wine barrels, upended and used as tasting stations for everything from wine to hard cider. Chris said, and I heartily agree, that just about every wine tasting dinner is the same: a chef brought in from who knows where; fine crystal, silver and china; a dozen people to fawn over you (well, him maybe). He wanted to do something different. Drinks and dinner with friends.
We sampled the wines and ciders and they were excellent. He offered us, are you ready for this?…beer. No kidding, beer. Who goes to a wine tasting/dinner and gets offered beer? It really was as though a bunch of us had gotten together for pizza. And baby, was I ready for some pizza. Or burgers.
We were led through the building and up these rickety old stairs into what I would call the loft. Before my very eyes appeared about 25 feet of plank tables heavily laden with freshly cooked vegetables, pickled vegetables, cheeses and fresh baked artisan breads. It looked like the kind of setup you would expect to find when the field hands came in from the vines for lunch or dinner.
Everyone sat, talked, ate and drank. Just when I thought that Chris was a vegetarian, out came the helper bees carrying this huge wooden trencher occupied by great slabs of roasted pork. It was just damn fabulous. I can’t say enough good things about that night. I do know that wherever the other buses went they probably ate fine and were treated like visiting dignitaries, but nobody there had a better evening than we did.
So then, Element Winery in Arkport, New York. What a splendid and astonishing evening that truly set the benchmark for me for other WBC’s. They will be fine and I will enjoy them to no end, but NOTHING will compare, for me, to that night when we rolled up our sleeves and sat, ate and drank with our friends.
And now, my personal rant: