Wine Dinners

I started thinking about this one recently because I have been getting a lot of requests for wine dinners lately (Also, CP, this one’s for you). I am generally against the idea of doing wine dinners just for the sake of doing them–so many times they are poorly attended, poorly executed, and end up being a waste of time and money, both for you and your distributor partner (and the restaurant too). I know that when a supplier visits a market, distributors want to keep them busy and fill their time up, so I have a few things I shoot for with every wine dinner I do. My goal with every wine dinner is to accomplish at least two of the top 3 action items, each and every dinner:

  1. SELL WINE. It seems like a no-brainer, but is never a guarantee. Selling wine is good for everyone involved. Restaurants like to have wines that are well received and sell through on their list, distributor reps like to have solid placements, and winery sales people like the sales and exposure given by a restaurant list placement. Generally speaking, to sell wine at a wine dinner you should make sure the following things: the restaurant actually supports your wine (either in the past, by having it as by the glass or list placements, or promises to carry it going forward, usually chosen based on what wine received the most positive responses–this should be non-negotiable);  the restaurant agrees to promote the event via check inserts, posters, and social media; you tie in the event with a local retailer–so that they can take orders and invite their customers (WIN-WIN!).
  2. Promote your brand. Get up and walk around. Go to each and every table TWICE and introduce yourself, engage the diners, and tell stories about your wines. You are not at this dinner to eat. You are there to create future customers.
  3. Promote direct sales. My distributor friends might not like this one, but it’s important. If you do not carry around a card with information about how customers can buy your wine directly from YOU, the winery, you’re crazy. Ignoring potential increased profit margin from direct sales? I don’t think I need to explain this one further.

Make sure you keep up your end of the bargain by promoting the dinner on your website, via social media and your mailing list. This is a risk that a restaurant is taking on you, so you want to make sure that the event is mutually beneficial! And don’t forget to be engaging and have some funny stories ready. Most people attending wine dinners could give two sh*ts about what percentage of oak or what clone of grape was used in the wine. Instead tell stories that relate to the character of the winery, the owners, and introduce a personal element. That is what people connect with. (You should know winemaking details, though, just in case people want to know–it’s hugely important. I hear stories all the time about winery sales reps who are embarrassingly uninformed about the wines they are selling. I won’t name names–but do your homework for goodness sake! )

Finally, my #1 rule of wine dinners: DO NOT GET DRUNK! You are there to be professional, fun and to do business. I hardly ever have more than a glass at any wine dinner and you shouldn’t either! It reflects poorly on you, your brand, and your distributor and is unprofessional. Save the drinking for later…

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4 thoughts on “Wine Dinners

  1. Excellent Merritt! I am filing this one away. ;^)

    To this I would add that less is more. Today John d’Anna told me about an idea he had – “We feed Winemakers.” Take a restaurant, a winemaker, and an 8-top. No special menu. Just a few free bottles from the distributor or winery. Email blasts and twitter well in advance of the visit. Instead of a boozefest punctuated by burps n’ slurps, you get a chance to actually interact with and break bread with the winemaker. There are only 8 seats to fill – there’s an impromptu feeling to it and a sense of intimacy. Which winemaker dinner would you rather go to?

  2. And which winemaker dinner is more likely to win more long-term customers? (Assuming the winemaker does not have Asperger’s).

  3. I beg to differ. I’m a Chef and a Sommelier. Recently we did a very successful dinner that sold alot of wines, but they did not care about the stories, they were just happy with how the food pairs perfectly with the wines and enjoyed each other’s company.
    Cin Cin!

    • Tan, I’d argue that while the dinner may have been successful for you, it probably couldn’t be called a success for the winery. It’s been my experience that guests who have a few talking points about the wines, along with the positive dining experience they are much more likely to become repeat customers of a winery than a “one-and-done” thing which I’d wager is what happens when nothing is said about the wines being poured…

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