Hosting Wine Events: Lessons Learned

I’m currently launching a new business with my partner-in-wine Melanie Webber, called Wine Tarts, hosting team-building exercises using wine as the tool. We really enjoy our sessions with various teams of friends, family and corporate colleagues, and everyone seems to have fun exploring their wine palates together.

logo for The Great Whites Fest
The Great Whites Fest logo

At my “day job” at the Wine House in Los Angeles, my main job is to sell wine to all types of customers, those that know exactly what they want, those who look for guidance, and everything in between. Recently, I expanded my role and began planning and hosting events at the Wine House.

My first two events happened this past month, and were very different. The first was an in-store tasting with Handpicked Wines from Australia: 40 people, 10 wines, the winemaker in attendance, and assorted Australian cheeses. The crowd was great, didn’t tear up the place, and seemed genuinely interested in meeting the winemaker and discussing his winemaking philosophy.

Handpicked Wines bottles on ice
Handpicked Wines of Australia

The second event was a mini-festival, called Great White: 60 people, 9 distributors pouring 51 wines, and passed appetizers prepared by Chef Maiki Le of Upstairs2 restaurant.

The genesis for Great Whites was my recent fascination for and love of Italian white varieties, which began a little over a year ago when I attended a trade event featuring Lugana white wines. The wines so delighted me that I pressed our Italian wine buyer, Lance Montalto, to bring more of them into our renowned Italian wine section at the Wine House (currently featuring close to 1300 SKUs). I ventured to other Italians whites, tasting my way through bottles from the various regions of Italy — Vermentino from Sardinia, Verdicchio from the Marche, Fiano and Falanghina from Campania, and Etna Bianco from Sicily, to name a few. Most of thse wines were between $15 and $25 per bottle. I wanted to spread the word about the expressiveness and affordability of  Italian wines, plus the other great whites I’d sampled from Spain, France, Australia, Austria, and all around the globe.

Both events were wonderful experiences for me personally and professionally. And, I learned a few things about putting on a wine event, which I’d like to share.

Plan ahead, and plan some more

I truly believe I had good results only because of the planning I put into these events. I lined up vendors and their wines early, confirmed they would all be there to pour their wines, and got sample bottles in ahead of time so they could be chilled — this is key when pouring whites and roses.

Have an ally or allies

In the case of Handpicked Wines, I had Adam Dromi, the US Marketing Manager for Handpicked, and former colleague at the Wine House, helping me pull this event together. We both had a vested interested in the event going well. For the Great Whites fest, I had the buyers from the Wine House, as well as the numerous wine reps who trot by my workstation daily. I began chatting them up a couple months before the event, creating buzz, and getting them interested in the event.

Wine festival pourer
Knowledgeable pourers are key

Have knowledgeable people pouring

Handpicked brought several staffers and this allowed the winemaker, Peter Dillon, to mingle with attendees, who loved having him there. For Great Whites, I had three people besides the distributors helping me out. Two of my wine education friends jumped at the opportunity to help pour wine, and they took the time to learn about what they were serving ahead of time. Both were nicely rewarded with some great bottles after the event. Having knowledgeable people pouring is key to great interaction with the paying attendee, especially if the winemaker is not present.

Have plenty of spit buckets

Wine is alcohol, and even if tastings are only 1 ounce, attendees often get tipsy. At Great Whites, we had 51 wines: an ounce of each is the equivalent of  two full bottles of wine. Give people the opportunity to dump and spit.

Food on table at wine festival
Pair food with the wine being poured

Feed and hydrate

Try to pair the food with the wine. For the Handpicked event, I worked with the Wine House cheese monger Lorenzo Broadnax, and together we chose artisan-made cheeses from Australia, which was a nice touch. At Great Whites, Chef Maike Le chose cheese, fruit, veggies, corn chowder, and other lighter appetizers.

Don’t indulge until after the event

It’s a good idea to keep a clear head so that you can be on your toes should any fires need to be put out. I had quite a few partially filled bottle to choose from after each event, and once cleanup was done, I was able to kick back and try the wines.

wine festival display
Nice displays entice

Solicit feedback

Don’t be afraid to ask people how they liked the event afterward — all feedback is good feedback. At Great Whites, I held a wine raffle which attendees could only enter if they answered a few important questions. I got some great feedback, which will help me plan my next event.

Encourage Uber/Lyft/taxi 

Enough said.

Thank people for attending

There’s a lot of competition for attracting people to wine events. Attendees pay good money to attend. A smile and a verbal appreciation go a long way.

Until next time,

You meet some lovely people at wine tastings. Here are some happy wine sippers!
Group of wine tasters
Groups are welcome!
Couple at wine festival
Happy Sippers