I've been back from the Wine Future conference in Rioja for a few days now, and have been hearing from a number of other attendees who agree that it was fascinating in parts, but patchy, with speakers dividing into those who stayed on point and talked about the future (the clue was in the title guys), and those who just talked about themselves, and their own organisations.

One of the most interesting things for me was how fun and useful it was to use Twitter during the two days - to comment on talks, to locate people, and to track the general mood of the conference. 'If this is the future of wine, I'm changing industries...'. said Decanter correspondent and MW student Rebecca Gibb on her twitter feed (@rebeccagibb) on the first day.

She definitely had a point that things got off to a shaky start - we were treated on the first day to Spain's leading wine writer telling us he was going to make his writing more succint in the most rambling speech of the day, and Mel Dick of Southern Wine & Spirits telling us that a Florida wine festival had benefited from sunshine and blue seas.

Thank god for Gary Vaynerchuck of WineTV tv.winelibrary.com, who livened things up by assuring the assembled wine producers that they had been shamefully negligent for ignoring their consumers and allowing third parties (stand up wine writers) to tell their stories for them. He was a showman, and enormously entertaining to watch (Robert Parker said on his forum afterwards that Vaynerchuck has a career in motivational speaking ahead of him that is going to net him millions).

The highlight on the first day was - inevitably - the Robert Parker tasting, attended by 530 people, the biggest wine tasting to date in Europe apparently. I'm afraid I wasn't one of these 530, so can only give feedback that I have heard from others - one Bordeaux producer who said, 'it confirmed that Bob has a very different palate from me', and one journalist who was asked not to write about the event. That needed a moment to process - what do you mean don't write about the event? Apart from the fact that there were (apparently) five Flip cameras in the room, and numerous tweets going out throughout... what exactly would Parker have to be afraid of about someone writing about the tasting? And although I missed it, I was lucky enough to try the 1945 Marques de Riscal a few days later - the wine that finished the Parker tasting, and was still amazingly vibrant and youthful.

So, highlights of the conference?
Robert Joseph's excellent talk on the future of branding. He expects there to be:
- fewer and fewer wineries because of lack of routes to market, and few appellations because there will be no reason for them to exist.
- clearer distinctions between beverage wines and fine wines
- Wine will no longer automatically come in bottles with corks - or even screwcaps. 'Wine is everything from Blossom Hill to Vega Sicilia. Why do they all need corkscrews, glasses, corks... and please tell me why anyone needs to drink rose with a cork?'
- Education will have its place, but rather than focus so much on that, why not make wine easier to understand??

And from various speakers, but most eloquently Ryan Opaz of the brilliant http://catavino.net/ and Gary Vaynerchuck, the rise of social media as a game-changing way of doing business. And how lazy and dangerous it is for brand owners and wineries to leave their story in the hands of others, instead of telling their own stories though facebook, twitter and their own websites.

Ryan again emphasised how education might not always be as clear-cut as it can seem to the wine industry: 'The problem is retailers, importers, and the press were all trying to sell the same package of BS that you need to ďknow wineĒ to love wine. Itís the teach first drink later model, which I believe leads too often to consumers afraid that they might do something wrong, and as a result they end up simply buying based on price and what the label looks like. Why, because they are the only things not trying to tell them that they arenít smart enough to enjoy wine'

(this point, by the way, was emphasised so clearly by the wine educators who disappointingly gave the worst 'block' of talks of the whole two days).

Read the whole of his excellent speech here:
http://catavino.net/event/ryans-speech-at-winefuture-conference-in-logrono-spain/