Five Questions for Geri Druckman and This Year's Wine Conference

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Photos by Jeff Balke
Samples were drained during last year's Wine Conference sessions.
Last September marked the inaugural year for The Wine Conference, an annual event pairing more than just food and wine. The Wine Conference seeks to pair people with knowledge, whether those people are wine experts, oenophiles or simply folks seeking to learn a little more about the differences between red and white wine. In other words, there's room for everyone and every comfort level here, which is what makes The Wine Conference different from other wine-centric events.

Add to that the fact that the sommeliers, chefs and organizers are all local, and you have the makings of what is quickly becoming one of the city's most popular events. Last year, the conference was a bit more formal, with seminars and lectures and a tented food and wine event afterwards, all held at the stately Italian Cultural Center. This year, organizer Geri Druckman sought to hold something more educational and more informal at the same time.

We caught up with him about what to expect from this year's conference (hint: food from chefs such as L.J. Wiley of Yelapa Playa Mexicana, Maurizio Ferrarese of Quattro, Manabu Horiuchi and Seth Siegel-Garder of Kata Robata, Randy Rucker and Chris Leung of Bootsie's Heritage Cafe, David Grossman of Branchwater Tavern and Jonathan Jones of Beaver's) and whether to expect any supreme diva behavior like Robert Gadsby's last-minute trip to Japan instead of his planned appearance at last year's event.

Eating Our Words: What's different about this year's Wine Conference?

Geri Druckman: A lot, actually. Instead of a lecture format with food and wine sampling in between, this year attendees will actually sample wine and food during each session while learning from the wine experts. The intent is to educate people about the flavors found in different types of wine, and how they pair best with different types of food. This year we have even more wine experts, all of whom are incredibly knowledgeable, and the chefs will have a chance to really present their food and talk about flavors as well. It should be fun, delicious and informative all at the same time. We're lucky to have assembled such a great group of people. We're very excited.

This year we will be at the Four Seasons, so we'll also have a lot more space.

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Stephanie Stradley and her sisters at last year's conference.
EOW: What was the biggest success you had last year?

GD: We packed the venue to capacity, and had incredible speakers including the always entertaining Gary Vaynerchuk. We felt great about last year's inaugural event, so we're really looking forward to doing it again.

EOW: What -- if any -- issues did you run into with last year's event?

GD: There are always unforeseeable pitfalls with any event, and we did have a couple. I don't think anyone noticed, but getting Gary there was no small feat. He was actually booked at Disney World that same day, and very generously flew from Orlando to Houston, arriving minutes before he was scheduled to speak. That was a tense few minutes for us, but everything came together wonderfully. Then we also had a missing chef. Of course the silver lining to that is that David Buehrer filled in at the last minute, and served some amazing coffee and introduced us to his coffee ninja skills.

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Jonathan Jones plating food at last year's conference.
EOW: Where do you see the Wine Conference headed in the future?

GD: That's a great question, and I will probably have a better answer after this Sunday's event. We'd love to continue the theme of wine education, and also work with Houston's most creative chefs and most knowledgeable wine experts, but we'll have to see what our inspiration will be for our next theme and format.

EOW: What was your favorite story from last year's conference?

GD: We have so many! The not-so-PG story is probably Gary V's f-bomb inspired by his feelings about wine distributors, which caused a bit of controversy. People were definitely talking after that. Honestly, the best stories are of the people we got to know better. We've discovered a deeper appreciation for Houston's local talent as a result of this conference, and that is the best part.

Tickets for the Wine Conference are still available online for $95 each. You can also make a $5 contribution to the Houston Food Bank when you purchase a ticket, an act of charity that we always highly encourage here at EOW.

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