Now Reading
Peeling Back the Curtain on Wine Dinners

Peeling Back the Curtain on Wine Dinners

How producers are maximizing ROI on this tried and true tasting format

A lineup of wine glasses | Photo Credit: Adobe Stock Image

There is a vast difference between having wine with dinner and taking part in a wine dinner. 

The former entails perhaps five minutes of deep thought about flavors, aromas, and textures, and the varying palates around your table. Guests generally consume maybe one to two, or, on a raucous night, three to four glasses of wine per person. 

The latter is a highly choreographed dance involving dozens of organizers and participants, and weeks of planning, product sourcing, and promotion. These events are often quite costly both for those who produce and attend them. And, there might be a dozen (or more) glasses of wine consumed per person – in small pours, of course. 

The reason there are probably at least two dozen wine dinners going on in major metropolitan areas on the same night throughout most of the year is because the format is, arguably, one of the best ways for wineries to reach new people and cement relationships with current fans.

The Logistics of Dinners

Pouring a taste | Photo Credit: Adobe Stock Image

There are a number of ways to hold wine dinners. Typically, they are held in restaurants. But private clubs and even individuals who are happy to open their doors to wine lovers can host.

Marika Vida-Arnold, a sommelier and owner of Vida et Fils Wine Consulting, has seen—and hosted—it all. 

“When I was wine director at the Ritz Carlton, we had a Women & Wine series that we created to combine iconic female winemakers with classic cuisine over several courses,” she says. “I have also hosted several dinners at the Yale Club, other private country clubs, and, occasionally, people’s homes.”

The arrangement between the host venue and the winery can vary dramatically. 

“Often a restaurant will carry the wines being served, but not always,” she says. “Sometimes, one of the goals of the winery is to be carried on their wine list after the event. And sometimes the wines that are served are purchased by the venue or host, but not always. Sometimes the winery’s distributor covers the costs, and sometimes several parties share them.”

Dinners for Wine Lovers and Collectors

Marika Vida-Arnold at a wine dinner with Amy Chappellet | Photo Credit: Kathleen Willcox

Wineries should think carefully about their goals before choosing the venue, but also before deciding whom they should target as invitees. 

Wine dinners that are set up for wine lovers and collectors at restaurants and private homes or clubs are the most successful when they aim to fulfill a particular desire or curiosity.

“My Women & Wine series at the Ritz and a later Phenomenal Femmes series at Yale attracted both men and women who were excited to get to know more of the female winemakers out there,” Vida-Arnold explains. “Other successful series have been focused on thought-out, unusual food and wine pairings that would appeal to a wide audience.”

According to Vida-Arnold, the goal for the winery is always going to prioritize spreading the word among a self-selected audience that is demonstrably interested in fine wine. The goal for the venue and distributor or importer is twofold:  cement relationships and leverage the opportunity for both parties to get some of the wine’s more premium offerings on the list.

For these dinners to work, though, Vida-Arnold says a few key elements need to be in place.

“If you’re doing a dinner at a restaurant, you’re going to need to ensure they have a great PR team,” she says. “They’re going to need to advertise the dinner on social media and at the restaurant. And, ideally, the distributor or importer and the winemaker will also be utilizing their contacts and email lists to ensure there’s a strong attendance.”

Dr. Laura Catena, a physician who has also been dubbed the “face of Argentine wine,” has worked with Vida-Arnold on several successful dinners for Catena Zapata in Mendoza. She says that having an M.C. like Vida-Arnold is equally important.

“You cannot believe how well she runs these dinners,” Catena says. “It makes all the difference. You need a professional sommelier to ensure the event runs smoothly, that attendees have the opportunity to learn, but also enjoy their wine and food with their friends.”

Vida-Arnold also explains that restaurants and private establishments will ultimately draw in slightly different crowds.

“I love doing dinners at both,” she says. “And ultimately, both are important. I will say that with private clubs and homes, though, you may have a more serious group of potential collectors. Take Yale. Everyone who is a member graduated from Yale, and, by definition, that will probably be an extremely affluent and successful group of people. And clubs are expected to do wine dinners like this as part of their amenities package, so attendance is always excellent.”

Veronique Bonnie, co-owner of Classified Growth Château Malartic Lagravière in Graves, says that she has recently enjoyed hosting dinners at private clubs. 

“I find that it really allows me to create relationships with these current or potential collectors,” she says. “It is definitely the audience I want to connect with as a winemaker, and in recent years, I’ve found some of these relationships have become very fruitful.”

Dinners for Influencers and the Media

Photographing food and wine | Photo Credit: Adobe Stock Image

Wine dinners for members of the media and other influencers—which includes the commonly accepted shorthand for people who have built a career sharing their wine recommendations online, but also traditional restaurant sommeliers and retail wine buyers—are generally the most successful when a winemaker has news to share, or is traveling from far afield and would like to introduce their line in the U.S. 

“We find that dinners with members of the media and influencers are effective for several reasons,” says Michael Delatizky, senior brand manager and brand systems lead at Kobrand Corporation. “It allows us to essentially get the word out about new wines or other news we have to share, and it also allows us to create relationships with people who may not be familiar with wineries like Sequoia Grove Winery in Napa, which is a smaller winery with limited nationwide distribution.”

While there may not be a lot of coverage of the dinner itself—aside from social media posts, which do have value, he says—it plants a seed with the media and influencers.

“They’ll leave the dinner with a lot of information,” Delatizky says. “From there, it may lead to other stories down the line.”

Delatizky also uses media dinners to dispel common misconceptions about Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

“I love doing vegan or fish pairings with Sequoia Grove’s Cabernet Sauvignon,” Delatizky says. “We have also done incredible pairings with Cantonese cuisine. The goal of those dinners is to show how versatile Cabernet can be. You don’t just have to pair it with steak.”

On the surface, wine dinners are an excuse to pair great wines and foods. But dig a little deeper. With forethought and a carefully calibrated plan, they can be the best way to reach general wine lovers, discriminating collectors, members of the media, and buyers with a highly curated message that will lead to placements, purchases, and articles. 

It may feel like a party, but if you work it, a wine dinner can be so much more.