On the Trail

Society of Wine Educators Conference 2017

On the Trail
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I have been attending the Society of Wine Educators conferences since 2003, and became a Certified Wine Specialist in 2006 and a Certified Wine Educator in 2009. I continue attending the conferences because the wine industry is constantly changing and growing, and the organization is an excellent way to keep current and socialize with others in the business. I can connect with old friends and make new ones. Most important, however, is how much I learn every time I attend.

Our keynote speaker this year was Paul Hobbs and he started his talk with some background about his upbringing and how he got into the wine business. He defines himself as a farmer who wants to grow the best grapes as he can, and is willing to use both traditional methods and modern techniques. His portfolio of Argentina wines is sold in our marketplace and is familiar to anyone who is a fan of that region’s wine. The focus of his talk was the international consulting projects he has in the Ukraine, Hungary, and the region of Cahors in France. It was very interesting to hear him talk about the different challenges in each country. Some were political, others geographical, but what they all had in common was the strong hold of local cultural traditions, which are the most difficult challenge of all.

When we left the room after the lecture, you could tell he had motivated and inspired us. I’m sure you all remember when you were young and in school; when the bell rang everyone ran out of the classrooms in a hurry to get outside.  Well, this was just the opposite; during the entire meeting all of us were eager to get into the classrooms and learn more. My first session was called The Basque Adventure with Carl Etcheverry. It was a bit nostalgic for me, since I lived in the southwest of France in Les Landes when I was a young girl. Les Landes is situated just north of the French Basque region, which we visited often, and I have very fond memories of the area. During this class, we touched on both French and Spanish Basque regions; their history, cuisine, and of course, the wines.  The images and videos shown were beautiful and the wines we tasted were delicious. 

In Spain the most well known Basque wine is Txakolina, a crisp white wine with citrus aromas and a slight spritz. It’s a great summer wine! The other Basque wine regions in Spain are Navarro, which produces mostly rosés and Rioja Alavesa, the smallest of the three sub zones of Rioja DOCa. The French Basque region also makes good white, red and rosé wines in the Irouléguy AOC. The whites are made from Courbu, Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng grapes, and the reds from Tannat, the predominant grape, blended with Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the videos included in Carl’s presentation was of school children competing for the best sheep herding call. When it was over, we were asked to stand and make those same calls. Imagine a hundred people all making herding calls at the same time. The other conference attendees had no idea what was going on!

So this is how I started my first morning at conference and I had 14 more classes to go!

There were more than sixty sessions offered at this years SWE conference, with a variety of subjects about Sake, Prosecco, Hungarian Furmint, Sicilian qines, New Zealand or Oregon Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, Champagne, spirits, craft beers, historical events, cheese pairing and olive oil.  There were also sessions on how to become a better teacher or a better taster. There are way more classes than I have time for, so I am always eager to return to the SWE conference every year because of the endless knowledge offered, and I would advise others in the field to check it out.

-Muriel Sarik