In the last few years, many meeting planners have seen an increase in demand from their corporate clients for wine-tasting experiences guided by certified sommeliers. The following five factors may explain this trend and its likely continuation into the future.
1. Wine tastings are entertaining, educational and highly interactive.
Corporate leaders looking for engaging events for their teams find that a well-designed wine tasting can meet all of their objectives. The most popular wine-tasting experiences are wine flights paired with multi-course dinners; receptions with tasting stations; team-building exercises, such as a competitive blind tasting in which teams work to identify 10 key grapes or regions with the guidance of a sommelier; and seminars on the essentials of wine and wine etiquette for client-facing individuals.
2. Client-facing individuals benefit from a special study of wines.
Client-facing individuals often admit they feel intimidated selecting among dozens of bottles on a restaurant’s wine list in front of an important client. Expert tips that cut through contradictory rules of thumb and inspire confidence during an important dinner meeting are highly desirable take-away values for those who entertain clients.
3. Wine is at the intersection of art, culture, geography, travel and history.
A quality wine-tasting experience is about more than describing the aromatic variations of different kinds of fermented grape juice. The story of wine encompasses so many of the world’s most intriguing subjects that it acts as a medium of communication between people with otherwise highly divergent interests. This (and perhaps a bit of alcohol) can be the secret to relationship-building and an overall more enjoyable corporate retreat.
4. Americans’ wine horizons are broadening, and so are their expectations.
But why certified sommeliers? With the development of American wine culture over the last few decades, it has become increasingly more common for American consumers to venture beyond the familiar wines of California to the Old World appellations of France, Italy and Germany. With the broadening of the American palate has come the need for more specialized expertise. High-end restaurants and resorts now routinely work with sommeliers to design their menus, tend their cellars, and assist guests with pairing choices. Previously only well-known in Europe, professional sommeliers are now a staple of the American luxury experience.
5. Independent experts offer a refreshing, unbiased tour of diverse wines.
But why sommeliers and not winemakers? Many of us have attended a tasting put on by a winemaker or distributor with a clear business interest in convincing us that his or hers are the most interesting wines in the world. These tastings can be enjoyable, but they are not a good way to learn about and appreciate a diverse set of wines. Only independent experts tend to guide clients through an objective world tour with no underlying pressure to buy or to speak admiringly of what’s in the glass.
Joey Kleinhans is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine. He is the owner and chief sommelier of The Wine Elite, which provides sommelier-guided wine tasting experiences in southern California and Las Vegas, with a network of affiliated sommeliers covering events nationwide.