Just a quick post really because as soon as I got back to the real world I was up to my ass in alligators! I don't think David Honig will be too psyched about this post because its not edited and not even re-read. In fact, I'm posting it from my email account (hell, he's lucky I'm not posting this from my iPhone!), but I think its necessary.
I am overjoyed at what I've been reading about the conference. So many people enjoyed it and thought it went well and I can tell you that I think my partners at Zephyr and I are learning as we go and this year we anticipated much better than we had in the past (and we already have some great ideas for next year). But I think thats table steaks – we listen to ALL the feedback we get and try to continuously improve. Its definitely gratifying that we've gotten better, but not "inspiring".
What inspires me, personally, to improve it and push harder are the little things.
At breakfast on Saturday, I ran into two women (I am absolutely terrible with names so I apologize ahead of time…it is strange because I can remember obscure movie trivia from the 1980s and quote most of The Breakfast Club, but I can't remember names…). They were smiling and laughing and when they saw me they thanked me. Not for how well the conference went off, but for giving them to opportunity to meet each other. They felt they were becoming fast friends, as if they had known each other for years, but they only met because of the conference. They were simply giddy… I LOVE that people connected on a personal level and made new friends and enriched their lives in that way and I'm honored that they attributed that friendship to something I did…
At the Safeway up the street from the Marcus Whitman, Allan and I stopped by for some sundries and a sandwich. The woman behind the counter saw Allan's shirt and said "are you with the conference?" to which Allan replied "Yes. How did you know about the conference?". "Oh, it was in the local paper and people have been talking about it…" she replied. Related to this was the moment in the taxi on the way to the airport. "Are you with the conference?" the driver asked me. "Yes." I replied. When I told her I was an organizer she went on to thank me for bringing everyone to town and how happy she was for it.
On this point, let me first say that this conference wouldn't even be if it wasn't for Sonoma, the related organizations there, and the Flamingo Hotel and Conference center. But what is inspiring about this last conference was the total embrace of the entire town of Walla Walla. I've read online some more about this and what I didn't realize was that the community was truly excited about the conference. That they saw this as an evolution of Walla Walla into a more wine-based economy. We were important to this community and they were, as a collective community, completely embracing us. Not just the hotel and the wineries – every person in the town seemed to know about the conference and were genuinely happy to have us.
This warm embrace by an entire community made me feel inspired because I didn't realize it but I think we really helped the community. The warm embrace of an entire community and their reasons for it changed how I feel about the conference. I was heads down working on the network and stuff and didn't partake in too many of the festivities because of that. In fact, I participated WAY less than I had in the past. And yet, this was the best experience I've had at any of the conferences at a personal level.
If the Wine Life is all about the experience then Walla Walla is all about the Wine Life. I truly hope that the "thousand voices booming", as Steve Heimoff described it in his keynote, rings out to the world that if you want to experience the wine life, you should head to Walla Walla, Washington.
Catie, thanks for riding my ass until we came to Walla Walla!