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Wine Writers Symposium 2024: Living on the Edge

Wine Writer Symposium

Living on the Edge is Where I found Organic Diversity

By Erin Ortiz


As a born and raised New Yorker, outings to Central Park are typically the culmination of my nature adventures. But in just four days of the 2024 Wine Writers’ Symposium, program organizers Sarah Bray, Kelli White, Teresa Wall, Maryam Ahmed, and Brett Van Emst worked tirelessly to transport me from my comfort zone. I landed in a healing and transformative experience involving wine and nature. Why hadn’t I done this before? Oh right. Living on this particular edge involves the kind of money typically allocated to the finance and tech sectors, not passion-driven wine creatives. 

The Wine Writers Symposium

The theme for the 2024 Wine Writers Symposium was ‘“Exploring the Edge of Wine,” delving into innovative and unconventional ways wine writers can contribute to the industry.”’ Veteran wine focused Author and Journalist, Andrew Jefford delivered the opening speech during a welcome dinner at the Meadowood in Napa Valley. The speech was as an inspirational reminder that we serve a noble purpose as writers. We do so by celebrating our authenticity and shared passion for wine. 

Over four days, the calling to speak our truth, which sometimes whispers, and sometimes screams, inside of us created familial bonds amongst strangers from around the world.  

I made lifelong friends during a scavenger hunt in Downtown Napa, sampling the finest Napa wines in exchange for a string letter with the phrase “Napa Valley Rocks”. 

After a complimentary breakfast in Andaz, fellows boarded a bus to Grgich Hills as the first stop in a vineyard tour. I was standing in a vineyard for the first time and listening to winemaker Ivo Jaramaz speak about the importance of biodiversity. But this was just the start of four days jam-packed with life-changing experiences. The rest of the day involved a combination of educational and decadent experiences with the Louis M. Martini Winery, Sterling Vineyards, and an exquisite lunch with the warm and welcoming team at St. Supery. 

When we arrived at Meadowood carts arrived to take us to our luxury cabins. I barely had time to admire a space that was nicer than any place I have lived in. Instead, I was greeted by a knock at the door to deliver a package that included snacks, a beautifully bound journal to write in, and a 2009 Napa Valley Meritage. I felt like I’d stepped into the Disney Princess version of the wine world, one I usually serve in but cannot afford to participate in. 

Legendary Speakers

I never thought I would be able to casually sip coffee with wine legends like Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. They are the inventors of an annual international wine event called “Open That Bottle Night” that appeared as a question on Jeopardy in 2005, an event embraced by the wine community and is now viral on Instagram in February. Their work has stood the test of time. They are the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and the Aerosmith of the wine world.

“You’re now all children of the Symposium”, said Dorothy, in the room where we would spend the next few days learning from people at the top of their game. I was the child of rock stars. By the end of my time there, I understood that rock stars do not just include wine professionals leading panels. They also include my already accomplished Symposium siblings.

Both accomplished journalists and fledgling aspiring wine writers from around the world eagerly absorbed the panels and workshops. By the end of two days we received valuable information on how to write a pitch, the drinking habits of Millennials and Gen Z, how to share our words through video and podcasts. These seminars provided us with the inspiration to connect with each other. We did so over writing critique workshops, intimate dinners with winemakers at Michelin star restaurants and more. 

There is no way to do this transformative experience justice in one article. Even trying to recount it amongst friends in person proved challenging. “You all deserve to be here” were the first spoken words that I can remember hearing as the opening remarks of the panels.  I was sitting amongst greatness like Brianne Garrett, Elaine Chukan Brown, Chastity Cooper, Ray Isle and Anna Lee Ijima. They would spend the next few days making me feel like I hadn’t just crashed a party.

If you are reading this, and you have a passion for wine, you deserve to be there too. Live on the edge and take a chance. When you live on the edge you will experience fear. But fear is also where you discover your authentic self and your passion. Living on the edge is how you help create organic diversity by finding your soul family. 

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