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HOW TO HOLD A WINE-TASTING FOR THE TRADE

Written by
Gerald Weisl,
wine merchant


Having attended hundreds of "trade tastings," I thought it might be helpful to offer some suggestions and tips for holding such an event.

Presumably the goal of most organizers of a trade wine-tasting event is to show off the wines so that potential customers, buyers from shops and restaurants, actually will place an order.

Attaining this goal seems to be a challenge for many tasting organizers.  And I am using the word "organizer" loosely, since only about half the trade tastings we attend qualify for the word "organized."

Many seem as though they were a spur-of-the-moment event, hastily put together.  If you are going to invest the time and dollars in coordinating a tasting, why not do it so everybody wins?



SELECTING A DATE & TIME
This may not seem like a difficult thing to do, but please check to see if there's a holiday in the vicinity of the tasting, as this may hamper attendance if buyers are busy preparing for an intense sales period.

Being close to San Francisco, where traffic can be a nightmare, it's a good idea to see if there's a sporting event on the day you've selected.   Or a protest march.   There is always some group that's upset with something and so it's very easy to schedule a tasting during the middle of some major protest march or demonstration.

Many firms select a day early in the week.
This has some benefits.  Many restaurants are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays, so buyers can attend, if they choose.  Stores are moderately busy on these days.  I can tell you, attending a tasting on a Friday is damned near impossible, as it's a busy day for shops and restaurants.  And any retail buyer who is able to attend a Saturday tasting is probably one of those who don't sell much wine.  Period.

I would suggest holding the tasting on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.  This gives an efficient company the opportunity to take orders and have the wines delivered before the end of the week.  Nothing like striking while the iron is hot.  Especially if the wine is already in inventory in your warehouse!

Be sure to allow sufficient time for the tasters to have a look at the wines!

We attended one trade event recently which featured a group of 150 wineries.  The event was all of two-and-a-half hours long!  Do the math: I had 150 minutes and 150 wineries.

A group of Sonoma wineries hosted a tasting in Santa Rosa.  The tasting featured 50 wineries each pouring, at least, one wine.
But the tasting was slated from 3 in the afternoon until 4:30.  A buyer coming from San Francisco needs, basically, more time to drive to the event than they'll have to actually taste wines.
I pointed out to one of the organizers that even buyers from Mendocino's Anderson Valley or Napa's Oakville needed well more than an hour to get to the venue.  What if they encounter traffic?  Aren't the people attending the tasting as buyers going to be stressed out at having so little time and so many wines?
Further, the organizers didn't give themselves sufficient time to effectively communicate their story and sales-worthiness of their wines with such a small 'window'.

Start the tasting early enough in the day to allow customers to get there and back with a minimum of lost time.

I am amazed how many tastings are held late in the day so that no orders can be placed immediately following the tasting.  It is also annoying that so many tastings are conducted so that we are forced to combat rush hour traffic. That's a colossal waste of time!

The big liquor distributors routinely schedule their "tastings" (if you want to call them a 'tasting') late in the day as these are typically conducted for the convenience and pleasure of management, not customers, sales reps or purveyors.  The management likes to, then, go drop a few bucks on dinner and drinks at restaurants (which also happen to be accounts or customers, too).



SELECTING A LOCATION
While this wouldn't seem to require an IQ greater than a high Robert Parker score, there are several factors to consider.

1.  Is the place large enough to accommodate the volume of tasters AND provide enough space for the wines and auxiliary staff?

Having attended tastings in cramped quarters, I can tell you NOTHING TASTES GOOD when you're being bumped and bruised more than the San Francisco 49ers' current running back as he's attempting to gain yardage.

2.  Is the prospective site within a reasonable distance for customers to get to?

Given that we actually have work to do, getting away from the shop for more than a couple of hours is a challenge.  We simply don't have time to attend your tasting event that's a hundred miles from the shop!

3.  Will your customers be able to find parking?

One recent tasting event was held in a location in San Francisco where the wineries and early tasters locked up all the available nearby parking.

We were invited to a wine event at a restaurant which did not have valet parking.  There was not a parking facility within 5 or 6 blocks of the place.  After spending 40 minutes driving around in search of a suitable place, we simply drove back home.
In this instance, we'd have been helped had the organizer or host suggested we park downtown and take a cab ride to the restaurant.

Another crew hosted a tasting in a "hip" North Beach (San Francisco) restaurant and bar.  This part of town is routinely "under construction" and there were no economical, open lots within a block or two of this location.  I cruised by a large public lot several blocks away and it was full (1:30 in the afternoon!)!!!  This cost a half an hour of time just searching for parking...

Keep in mind the cost of attending a tasting not only affects your wallet, but mine, too!
I really appreciate being able to find a place to park that's free or close to free.  Paying $15 or $20 for parking when I'm already on the hook to have extra staff at the shop in my absence is a hefty price.  I have to sell a lot of wine, if I find any at your tasting, to cover this expense.

We were thrilled when we'd entered a parking facility and upon registering at the tasting, a tasting crew member asked if we needed a parking pass!  Bravo to that company for thinking of that little courtesy!!!

4.  Is the lighting good?
If the room is too dark, you're not in a place conducive to wine tasting unless it's an underground cave in France.

One importer, who offers a lot of 'natural wines' chose a place where the lighting was quite poor.  I needed a coal miner's hat (and lantern) to see the price list, labels of the wine bottles and, more importantly, the damned wines!  Maybe it makes a certain amount of diabolical sense to hold a tasting in a dark room when you're selling oxidized Chardonnay and brown Pinot Grigio...

5.  Is the temperature controllable?
I've attended tastings in locations where the weather is usually moderate.  But on the occasional day when the place feels like Sicily, tasters are not going to be comfortable when they're sweating profusely because the temperature is in the 80s or 90s.  Further, your wines are going to suffer if they are served close to the boiling point, also.

Do you have access to controlling the air conditioning or heating, if need be?  This may be wise.


INVITATIONS

Alerting your customers to the fact that you are hosting a tasting is always a good idea.

Some firms seem to prefer to alert customers after the tasting or to not tell them at all.  I am unclear as to the efficiencies of this system, however.

The invitation should have the date, time and location clearly noted.

WHOOP-TEE-DO WINE COMPANY

WINE TASTING
June 31, 2014
1-4pm
99 Points Boulevard
in Parkerville

Trade Only


Sometimes, having driving directions to the location is a good idea.  We were surprised to note of the five sets of directions to a tasting in the east bay, not a single one guided clients from San Francisco to the tasting site.  Not surprisingly, very few City accounts attended that tasting.

Most accounts will not bother to respond to the request for an "RSVP."  So you might be surprised by how well or how poorly attended your event is.

One good idea is to have your sales reps personally contact their accounts with the invitations.

One firm decided this was more efficient and less costly than mailing invitations.  They discovered their sales reps were too busy to hand out invitations and, not surprisingly, the event was poorly attended.

I dropped a note to a bigwig with a US importer to say I knew a couple of accounts who carry his wines which were not invited to the distributor's trade tasting.  He wrote back a terse, scolding note saying they had been invited.
Why would the accounts say they did not receive an invitation?
Why he wasn't concerned was curious, but with further conversation with our colleagues (and competitors), maybe it has something to do with the sales reps not calling on the accounts, missing appointments several times and then being too embarrassed (or ashamed) to make amends.

And then, please ask them to remind accounts a day or two before the tasting that they are expected at said tasting.

Being as busy as we are, it's easy to forget about a tasting event, even though we have invitations and noticed posted in a wall in the shop.

A week after holding a trade tasting, the sales rep arrived in the shop to ask how I liked the various wines being offered.  I explained he had not given me an invitation or notified me about the tasting.
"I thought you knew." he told me.
"If you didn't tell me, how would I know?" I replied.
"I thought you knew." he told me.  Again.




WHO SHOULD ATTEND YOUR TASTING

Some of the large distributors prefer to organize a tasting which is more of a circus than an actual sales event.  They are of the mentality that "The More, The Merrier."

These sorts of events, populated by dozens of "amateurs" who are there more for wine drinking and "grazing" purposes, are more of a "thank you" to these customers than an actual, serious wine-tasting and sales presentation.

When I have to elbow my way to the table to taste someone's wines, it is difficult to really have a good look at that producer's products.  Some firms will actually invite bone fide buyers, principals and a staff member or two to come to the tasting an hour or two before they allow entry for the riff raff.

A couple of Bay Area firms actually turn away people who are not legitimate customers.
Some stores or restaurants think nothing of sending their customers to trade events under the guise of their being affiliated with the business.
One recent tasting featured some very rare and very expensive wines.  While it would be nice to share these with as many tasters as possible, the importer felt a sense of duty to the producer to have the wine offered to potential customers who might actually BUY the wine.

What credentials do the attendees have?

It's easy to print some business cards with "WeSellWine.com" or "VaFanculo's Ristorante" on them.

Some firms actually request attendees bring the original invitation to gain entry.  Others have a roster of customers.  Some simply ask for a business card (which allows the bus-boy from VaFanculo's to get in and taste/drink).

We routinely see "fringe" industry people at tastings.  These people seem to know about every open bottle of wine everywhere!

We are all for wine purveyors showing their products to as many people as possible.  But we attend tastings in an effort to discover new wines to recommend.  I don't view the task of tasting as anything easy, but making it more difficult by inviting or allowing in hordes of people makes the job more challenging.

Company staff people should not be tasting during 'tasting hours'.  It's a good idea to have distributor, importer, sales reps, office crew assistants and the like taste the wines being poured.  Perhaps doing this before customers/buyers arrive would be a good idea.

I've attended numerous events where I can't easily access the wines being shown because the sales company reps are busy tasting or "schmoozing" with producers or winery reps.  The purpose of the event is to show the wines to customers, so having the sales company staff impeding this effort seems to be working at cross purposes, doesn't it?

Currently fashionable are "late night" events, as some companies seek to court the "sommelier" crowd.  These sommeliers are often youngsters who would certainly benefit from a bit of wine education.  I attended one recently and question the whole notion of this sort of circus.



The first table was in a dimly lit area adjacent to the main tasting room.  There were few spit buckets, for one thing.  Secondly, by 11pm the place was jammed to the point that it was like trying to hold a "wine tasting" on the Tokyo subway during rush hour.
Having tasted at two of the ten stations, I found the place to be seriously gridlocked and the temperature in the tiny room was near 80 degrees.
Did I mention a lack of spit buckets?
Doesn't this create a certain amount of liability for the restaurant, the hosting distributor and all the wineries participating?  It's a late night event and people are fatigued...I thought it was a bit risky.
Of course, since nobody bothers to RSVP, it's difficult for the hosts to know how many folks are coming.
Better, though, to have too much space than not enough.



NAME TAGS?
Many tastings have a registration table.  Some small firms know virtually every customer, so a name tag is not necessary.
Larger companies often "tattoo" their tasting attendees with a name tag.  I don't like wearing one, but I don't mind, most of the time.

Some firms offer a particular color of a name tag for shops and a different color for restaurant accounts.  This is usually because many wineries have two-tiered pricing, the shops paying a higher price (despite our being a long-standing customer, paying our bills in a timely fashion, costing the seller less money to make a sale and their wine being far more visible in our hands than in the hands of a restaurant which is likely to go out of business in the next 12 months).
Why not discriminate on the basis of hair color or religion, while you're at it?

One winery posted its pricing for all to see.
$360 a case for shops.  Restaurants, however, could buy the same exact wine for $240 a case.
I know the arguments in favor of this two-tiered pricing dynamic.  I don't like it and don't buy into this marketing, since it's based on a 30 year old sales model that needs updating.




STEMWARE

The late Claus Riedel had been producing fabulous wine glasses for many years.  The firm which bears his name is a leader in wine glass design and production.  They would organize tastings of wines in various glasses to convince capable and knowledgeable tasters that wines would taste better if served in the proper stemware.
  Poor glass for critical tasting.
I don't think you have to have top-of-the-line glasses at a tasting, but having a good quality, lightweight, elegant glass is very helpful in showing off your wines.

A small, but serviceable 10 ounce glass, for example, means not a huge amount of wine has to be poured for a decent taste. 

We attended an event featuring some rather special wines.  The venue was a famous, high-priced hotel ballroom.  The stemware was akin to a jelly jar-on-a-stem.
We were pretty certain, given the lousy glassware and disorganized tasting sheets that this tasting was more of a show than it was an actual sales event.

Another "amateur" wine-taster.

I noticed a customer had ordered a pour of three different wines in our tasting room.  We have some rather plain, standard, clunky Libbey glasses.  He left the least costly and least prestigious wine on the counter.  I poured the contents of that glass into a fancier Spiegelau stem (without his knowledge) and asked him to taste that wine.  He was very positive in assessing the wine from its "new" glass.

Some tastings have offered customers the option of actually KEEPING the fancy glass.  One distributor had one of its wineries actually underwrite the cost of the glasses and had the winery name and logo emblazoned on each glass.

A recent stunner was a tasting hosted by the Dalla Terra company, a firm specializing in good Italian wines.
They were offering some costly wines, including a $300-a-bottle Barolo.  The stemware they provided were these:

Plastic, stemless cups.
I didn't know the firm also distributes and sells these, so I asked for a real wine glass.
I found it difficult to taste and really evaluate the wines from such a vessel, so I suppose it's a testimony to the fine quality of that ten year old Barolo that is showed well despite being in a plastic cup.
The website promoting these vessels says "Joseph T. Perrulli and Boyd Willat originally created govino as an industry trade tool to help professional salespeople showcase their wines whenever and wherever proper stemware wasn't accessible."
These people were hosting a tasting in a fancy San Francisco restaurant.  The place has dozens of good quality stemware which would nicely show off the fancy wines they were offering and it would afford tasters a good "view" of the wines.
We were not tasting picnic wines and we were tasting indoors, not guzzling wine by the swimming pool.


A San Francisco distributor hosted its 40th anniversary of a trade tasting, inviting vintners from around the world to attend, pour their wines and meet potential customers.
We were surprised, frankly, when the tasting glasses they offered were the style you see in the photo above:  a Riedel "O" Series glass.
This means you'd warm the wine in the glass, get fingerprints all over the vessel and have a bit of difficulty in swirling the wine.
But even more important for the distributor (and I'll bet they gave this little consideration): What would your winemakers think, having just flown 6000 miles from Germany or France or Italy, at being obliged to pour the fruits of their labors into, essentially, a water glass?

Why, if you know the wines show best in proper stemware (and you just hosted a 40th anniversary party, outdoors, at your Napa Valley residence where you served wine in excellent stemware), would you not go to the effort of showing off your wines to their best by using good wine glasses???

It's sad that in the 21st Century, after many decades of education, some companies operate in a backwards, un-enlightened fashion!

   
Some tastings will have a stack of these red beer cups available for individual "spitters."  These are handy and tasters don't have to fight over the large "community" spittoon which should be on every tasting table with extras scattered around the tasting venue.





ORGANIZE YOUR TASTING SHEET or PRICE LIST!

Most of the guests attending your tasting have only two hands.  Most of them.

One ought to be devoted to holding a wine glass.

The other ought to be for some sort of tasting sheet with pricing information.

Having this document in an easy-to-read, useful layout is most helpful in generating sales.

A small box of pens or pencils for tasters to take notes is also a good idea.  This is a subtle hint to some tasters that your event is a "wine tasting & sales" event, not a party.

One firm recently hid the price lists below maps of the country of specialty in Europe where their wines originate.
There were ten or eleven pages of wines on the price lists, broken down into two parts.
Part One featured wine arriving shortly and Part Two had wines arriving months down the road.  Except some of the wines in Part Two were scheduled to arrived BEFORE some of the Part One offerings.  Further, the lists were arranged alphabetically.  But the first wines on their tables were those in the W's, so the wines were organized differently.
With about 60 or 70 bottles open, the task of tasting these and knowing their prices was a total disaster.  The young woman who represents this firm needs some lessons in organization (not to mention sales).  I have suggested having a list of just the wines being offered for tasting with prices, but this would have been too much "work," so it was not done.

On the other hand, two recent tastings of well more than 50 wines at each featured tasting notes/price sheets which perfectly corresponded to the wines being offered.  This made tasting and evaluating the wines quite convenient and efficient.  Why is this such a difficult concept for some?

A tasting organized (if you want to call it that) by the Portuguese Trade Commission had tasting notebooks with a full page devoted to each wine brand being offered.
The wines were listed on the page haphazardly, as it did not occur to the organizers (if you want to call them that) to arrange the wines in the suggested order of service.

At a tasting of wines from a large wine importer and its California distributor, many of the wines listed featured two vintage dates.  Apparently nobody could actually be certain as to what wines they were going to be tasting and what vintage might be delivered.
This is not very professional.  Either leave the vintage off, so tasters can "fill in the blank" or figure out what you actually have to taste and sell.

BE CERTAIN TO HAVE ACCURATE PRICING INFORMATION AVAILABLE!

Some wineries, for example, don't have a staff person devoted to the actual sale and marketing of their products.  They may not know what the pricing structures are for the various wines, since they don't deal with the wholesale side of the business.

It's a good idea for the company hosting the tasting to have pricing information available for whomever is handling the chores pouring wines at a particular table.

At a recent tasting one winery rep had virtually no clue of their pricing.  "Well, we sell this for $18 in our tasting room." she said.
About one-third of the people pouring wine at this tasting had no idea of the cost of the wines they were showing! 

We had voiced concerns over being given only the "front line" pricing of wines at one tasting.  A big-wig with the company explained that was in case some accounts brought their customers...the consumers would then not be privy to the real pricing of the wines.
If it's a "trade" tasting, why would you allow consumers to attend?




HOW ARE THE WINES PRESENTED?

It works best for everyone when the tasting sheet/price list matches the layout or "flow" of the tasting.

The most professionally-run tastings offer customers a tasting list with the wines listed in the suggested tasting order.

One firm routinely sets up the wines in a particular order.  It's sort of an "up the ladder" system, taking tasters from the lightest driest white wines to the bigger, oakier, more powerful whites.  Then they offer their lightest, fruitiest reds, working up to the more tannic, astringent, powerful red wines, finishing with dessert wines.

When you have a tasting staffed by winery representatives, they prefer (of course) to pour their set of wines exclusively.
These sorts of tastings require a bit more organization on the part of attendees.
We routinely grab a glass and tasting sheet and circle the room several times, tasting dry sparklers first.  Then we run through the assortment of white wines before finally getting a run through the reds.  When we're done with that "flight," we return to tables featuring sweet wines.

If you have a tasting set up in winery, importer, purveyor fashion, please decide upon organizing the line-up of tables somehow.

Alphabetical order is not a bad idea. 

Studies show even about 66% of wine retailers and 50% of restaurant staffers can follow this line of reasoning.

In addition to this method of organization, some firms actually assign a table "number" to each table to facilitate customers being able to find pricing information.

PLEASE INCLUDE MORE THAN JUST THE "FANTASY" (or "front-line) PRICE

Some firms arrange their price lists to accommodate those customers who only buy wine when they think they "getting something."

"Getting something" translates to "discount."

Some buyers are actually intelligent enough to figure out what a wine is "worth."  Others seem to respond only to the word "discount."
Some companies actually print a price list with the $300 front-line price and, for some unknown reason, "forget" to note the wine costs $150 a case if an account buys two cases.  Are there really some idiots who would pay $300 for a $150/case wine?  I suppose there are!

One firm routinely prints a huge "book", spiral bound even.  But they list only their front-line, fantasy pricing!  When there's a 10%, 15% or some other discount on a 2 case or 5 case purchase of a wine, allowing your customer the opportunity to evaluate the wine AND KNOW what they might be able to sell it for would seem to most sensible people as a "good idea."
For some curious reason, some tasting organizers neglect to use this extra bit of "ammunition" in their battle to sell wine.

When a customer tastes a wine and is told it's $240 a case, they will have a more critical eye towards that wine than if they know the wine can be had for $200 or $180 per case.

Some companies offer special pricing for orders placed by those attending the tasting.
I don't think this is exactly legal, as they should offer the same promotional pricing to ALL CUSTOMERS placing an order within the specified promotional period.  Whether or not they attended the tasting.

One benefit of this, though, is eliciting orders immediately as a result of the tasting.
One possible side effect, though, is that customers may purchase their favorite wine finds ONLY once and not gain any traction or momentum with those products.
Savvy buyers also will stop buying anything from your portfolio a week or two before your tasting, knowing there are incentives to be had at the tasting.

I would suggest something like a 5% incentive for orders placed at the tasting and an easy attainable 2 or 3 case buy for orders placed after that to keep a product's sales rolling.



MUSIC AT TASTINGS
I don't attend tastings for entertainment, so this is quite unnecessary unless your wines really suck, in which case you probably want to hire a jazz ensemble to distract tasters from their task at hand.

Some firms have hired classical musicians to play at their events.  This is, frankly, not necessary.  Only the "amateurs" amongst your crowd will be interested in this, since they're probably attending the tasting more for a party than for serious wine scouting.

An importer of Italian wines recently held its annual trade tasting in San Francisco.  The venue was a social club's ballroom.  Someone thought playing Mexican Mariachi music was "exotic" and so this was blaring out of the loudspeakers.  Given some of the wines they import, sadly, this distraction may have made the wines "taste" better.  
Seriously, though: a professional trade tasting does not feature this sort of thing.
***
A large distributor hired a solo musician to play keyboards at their tasting recently.  He was parked off in a corner, playing jazz and singing the blues.
I thought this was really great, since many of the sales representatives we see these days are also singing the blues.
It further shows that, indeed, it DOES take a lot of singing and dancing to sell a bottle of wine.
***
One tasting during the 2005 "Tasting Season"  was held at a swanky golf and country club in Los Altos.  Signs were posted at many tables warning attendees to not use their cell phones.  There was a three piece group featuring a singer...totally out of place for a trade tasting, but a nice addition to a party!
***
At a 2013 trade tasting in a dark, poorly-lit bar & restaurant, someone thought having the juke box (yes, a real, vintage juke box!) playing loud, loud pop tunes was a good idea.
It was impossible to see the wines, the kitchen crew was humming along, busily prepping for that night's dinner service and creating somewhat aromatic foods and then we had loud music.
I could not give the wines my full attention and wrote off the event as a total waste of time.
***
A 2014 tasting in San Francisco was held in too small of a venue, so the room was uncomfortably hot.  Someone had the bright idea to play heavy metal tunes!  Given the quality of the wines being presented, we couldn't help but wonder if the tasting hosts knew what they were doing.
On the other hand, it could be why I did not find but one or two wines out of 150 to be worth considering for the shop.
****





HAVE THE WINES AVAILABLE AND HAVE SUFFICIENT QUANTITIES FOR TASTING

Figure on getting about 20-25 pours per bottle.  Calculate the number of tasters and be sure to have sufficient quantities available.

You can buy pouring "spouts" and pouring devices which restrict the flow of the wine to extend the usage of the bottles.

A firm sent out its tasting announcements a month or two ahead of their event.  The event was at a special place, requiring they reserve the room months in advance.
I got to the tasting, which was scheduled for 11:30 until 3:30, a bit after 1pm.  They had pages from their catalogue torn out and placed on the tables.  But there we no bottles of wine for about 30% of them.  This was curious.
For other wines, there were two bottles, while for other items, there was but a single sample.
Nobody was checking to see if the second bottle needed opening, since the first had been emptied.  This was poor.
Further, many of the bottles, of which there was but the one, lone sample bottle, were empty.
After running across about the fourth or fifth "empty" I asked one of the hosts of the event.  Their excuse was they were "waiting" for a truck to arrive.  It seems a shipment of samples had only been delivered to the area four business days ahead of the tasting and they had not been able to get the firm to deliver them.  Nor had they been able to go pick up those bottles themselves.
I finished tasting, arriving at a series of 375ml bottles of sweet wines.  Someone drained those before I got to them.  I departed.  When I returned to the shop, our sales rep from the distributorship told me they actually HAD another half bottle of those, but since nobody was monitoring the wines, these had not been opened until after my departure.
The whole performance was poor, needless to say.

One import company and its California distributor held a trade tasting from 2pm until 5pm.  At 3pm, some of the more pricy bottles had been totally emptied.  This is unfortunate for those of us (buyers) who came to taste the new vintages of these costly wines.  It was apparent there were many people who were not "buyers," but stock clerks for a particular retail chain.  
Further, with 30 minutes of tasting time remaining, I asked to taste the entry level bottle of a particular Italian producer's wine.  This bottle retails for $20.  The fellow behind the table declined to pour this wine, not wanting to open another bottle at this stage of the tasting.  I picked up the bottle and asked to taste this wine, but the fellow insisted I taste something else.

One Napa vintner was thrilled to have poured all of her wine by the half-way point of the tasting event.
I asked her how many bottles she'd brought...two bottles of each wine to show to a crowd of about 150 to 200 tasters!
Next time she should bring eye droppers to offer tasters a really small "sample".

Another company allows numerous posers to attend and then doesn't bring a sufficient quantity of wine to accommodate all of those they allow to attend.
Maybe if you're the busboy or hostess at a restaurant and simply there to learn and explore a bit, that's okay.
If I've taken an hour, or so, from my busy day to drive to and fro, with specific wines on my list of "possibilities," showing me an empty bottle is not helping your cause in trying to sell me a bottle of your wine.




POURING THE WINES

It's a good idea to pour enough wine in the glass for an attendee to be able to actually taste the wine.  I have seen miserly pourers squeeze their precious bottles so tightly, the wine all but evaporated in the glass when I swirled it!

Those pouring the wines should be attentive to those asking for a taste.  We frequently see pourers so engrossed in a conversation, they are totally oblivious to those standing around their table, arms extended with an empty glass in front of them.  Sometimes they're busy explaining every little detail about their wine and its history.  Other times they're engaged in idle chatter about last night's dining experience, their tennis game or the purchase of a new car.

PLEASE REMIND PEOPLE WHO ARE OPENING BOTTLES AND POURING TO CHECK BOTTLES FOR "CORKED" OR FLAWED SAMPLES.

I've attended numerous tastings and found a "corked" bottle which was about 2/3s emptied.  Nobody had said a word, but they'd poured probably 10-20 tastes, showing prospective customers wine from a "bad bottle."
PLEASE CHECK EVERY BOTTLE!!!


I have a limited amount of time and, frequently, the "meter is running."  I'm either paying for a parking space or for an extra staffer to cover the shop in my absence, so I'm not interested in over-hearing the banter about their vacation in Hawaii.

Our colleague, the late Bob Gorman, attended a tasting and was working his way through a producer's wines.  The tasting was to conclude in about 30 minutes, but the producer was more interested in making tracks back home.  Instead of leaving the bottles on the table, this vintner actually packed up a half a dozen, or so, partially-filled bottles and dragged them home, leaving Bob with a rather bitter taste in his mouth.  And it wasn't from their tannic Cabernet!

SHOW THE BOTTLE AT SOME POINT, BEFORE POURING IT (to verify it's the correct wine) OR AFTER SO THE TASTER CAN TRY TO REMEMBER THE NAME OF THE WINE, THE LABEL AND THE VINTAGE.
I've noticed at many tasting events in 2014 that those pouring the wines are unclear they're there to try to sell wine.
Some merely say "wine number 3 for you...", pour the wine and set the bottle back down so the taster never sees it.
This means its incumbent upon the taster to be sure what they're tasting is the wine they requested.
Perhaps the tasting sheet or book says it's a 2010 Cabernet, but maybe the wine being poured is from 2011.  
The taster may think they're tasting the entry level Pinot Noir, but maybe the wine poured was a single vineyard bottle.




BOTTLES FOR SPECIAL TASTERS
Being somewhat well-known in the area, I'm often invited to taste something that's "under the table" since it's a special or rare wine.  While this is somewhat of an honor, I realize, it also embarrasses those people in the vicinity, watching, who may NOT be asked to taste this bottle.

I have also been asked by a sales rep who's hoping I might buy their wines, if I tasted the "Acme Winery" Private Reserve at their tasting.  If I don't already know the Acme rep or the Acme rep has no clue as to who I am, how is this likely to happen when the bottle is stashed out of view below the table?

At a recent tasting, our sales rep asked if I'd tasted the Pinot Noir of a particular winery.  I had not seen this wine because, well, it was "under the table."  I did not return to the table to ask for a taste (I find it uncomfortable to 'beg' for wine, for one thing).  This particular tasting was not well-attended, either, so I wonder if they poured even a half a bottle of their precious Pinot.
What's the point?



DON'T FORGET TO HAVE PLENTY OF "SPIT BUCKETS!"

All professional wine people attending a tasting will be looking for a spit bucket.  Sometimes these things are hard to locate, while they should be plentiful!

If you'll have a fairly active tasting and numerous people standing in front of a table, please have a receptacle at both ends of the table.  It is cumbersome to have to "dance" so much with other tasters when everyone is attempting to have a taste and then spit out the wines.

When VinItaly was in its early days, spitting out the wines was nearly unheard of.  Yes!  In the dark days before Riedel glasses (and other fancy makes) were commonplace, most vintners are VinItaly viewed the event as a big party, featuring much drinking and frivolity.  I used to always pack a 12 ounce plastic tumbler which I carried, concealed, in my jacket pocket.  At each stand, I would place this on the table and I heard numerous comments as a result.  But in those days, many tasters, especially the locals from Italy, rarely spit out the wines they were tasting.  In fact, they weren't really "tasting" as much as "drinking."

If you're conducting an event, does your company want to be on the hook for intoxicating attendees?

Some firms, in addition to having "community" spit buckets placed around the room, also have been offering small plastic "beer cups" so tasters can have their own, person, individual spit bucket.  Of course, only a few people attending a tasting have three or four hands to carry around a wine glass, pencil, tasting sheet and spit cup.

I attended a tasting of biodynamically-farmed wines in Europe.  The tasting was well-attended but the organizers didn't have a crew regularly patrolling the tasting tables.  The spit buckets were full!
In an attempt to help, I took the liberty of taking a Champagne bucket off one table (set there to hold ice and a few bottles of wine) which was empty and dumped several smaller spit buckets into it.  The nearby French vigneronnes looked at me in a horrified manner, finding this to be totally offensive and not only rude, but crude.
I carried off the now-filled Champagne bucket to the "kitchen" and dumped it out, rinsing it thoroughly and returning it, cleaned, back to its original location at the table of a famous winery from Alsace.

The woman behind the table quickly grabbed the bucket and placed several bottles in it (ice was nowhere to be found, the ricetta not being common in Italia) so as to preclude any other ill-mannered person from using the bucket as a spit receptacle!


FOOD and/or PALATE CLEANSERS

I don't attend tastings for food.  I see many people who do, however.

A professional taster knows (as do, I suppose the unprofessional ones) that you "buy on apples and sell on cheese."  This means, for example, simple palate cleansers such as tart, crisp apple slices allow the palate to be refreshed and ready for the next wine.  A piece of cheese can enhance the flavor of a wine by "clouding" the palate somewhat.

Some items are even "better" for not allowing the taster the clarity of being able to taste the wine without other influences.  One of the large liquor distributors, intent more upon hosting a "party," often has had a chef sauting garlic and onions or deep-frying seafood or mushrooms.  This makes it nearly impossible for tasters to have a clear and accurate "look" at the wines.

Another firm hired a fishmonger to come and display fresh oysters, shucking them to order.  Of course, the wineries whose wines were being poured in the vicinity of this lovely presentation all had wines with a bouquet redolent of Malpeques or Kumamotos!

At the very least, do offer some sort of French bread.

We will avail ourselves of a palate-cleansing piece of bread during a tasting.  But we won't be seen "grazing" at the buffet table until after we've tasted all the wines we needed to taste!

I was thinking that any sorts of "food" aside from palate-cleansing bread, ought not even be brought out to the table until an hour into the tasting event.  This would force those who come merely to eat to actually have to pay a little bit of attention to the wines before having some sort of "reward" of food.  A colleague reported that a woman stationed herself by the food table at a recent event, collect four crab cakes and stood in the corner, "chowing down."  She then returned to the table to have another go at these.  The owner of the distribution firm saw this and admonished this amateur that she'd had enough already!!  How embarrassing!  

One Italian specialist often has wonderful slices of savory salami and prosciutto.  These are a terrific snack or spuntino, but AFTER we've tasted.  
I am always amused when I see people asking for a pour of some wine, glass in one hand and a small place loaded with food in the other.  Those are, typically, the amateurs.


The Napa Valley Vintners Association held its annual San Francisco tasting at the Fairmont Hotel in 2004.  In a room filled with dozens of shockingly expensive young Cabernets, the palate cleansers offered were copious quantities of sliced pineapple, watermelon and unripe cantaloupe!



FLORAL DISPLAYS ARE NOT NECESSARY!

In fact, they can be totally inappropriate for a professional wine tasting.

At the annual trade tasting of one large distributor, some brilliant sales manager brought a wonderful arrangement of flowers and placed it on one end of her table.  Never mind that some people might be allergic to these, but the fragrance was so overwhelming, it was impossible to actually have a sniff of her wines.


CAN THE WINES BE SERVED AT A TEMPERATURE WHICH SHOWS THEM OFF WELL?

Many important trade tastings are held in the San Francisco Bay Area during September and October.   We often experience a number of warm summer days during this period.  You'll need to plan for this, no matter what time of year your tasting event is scheduled.  High alcohol red wines served at 80+ degrees Fahrenheit simply are not going to show well to any taster, save those who like their Cabernets or Zinfandels to resemble Cognac.

Offering your associates the opportunity to cool off their red wines, as well as chilling down their whites and sparklers is most sensible.  This is especially the case if you're hoping to actually "sell" or take orders for wines.

At a June tasting event in Austria, a small crew of tasting coordinators spent their day replenishing the plastic "rapid ice" inserts in these sort of devices:

This allowed every winery (and there were 500 of them in attendance!) to show their wines at proper "cellar temperature."
But even providing your partners-in-wine with a large bucket or tray to cool off their bottles is a good idea.




FOLLOW UP AND ASK FOR AN ORDER !!!

As I write this, I had attended a trade tasting precisely two (three, four, five) weeks ago.  Though the firm hosting that tasting has a sales representative in the territory, we have not heard a word from them since the tasting.  We have, in the meantime, attended a couple of other tastings of similar wines and have ordered wines from those firms which we found to be just as exciting and price-worthy.


If your sales reps are too busy to take an order or do something as simple as follow up with a potential customer, then there's a problem!

I was amused to notice a certain sales rep scheduled a vacation a few days following the company's annual trade tasting.  The rep indicated they would stop by immediately after the event (and I was ready to order a couple of things).  But, apparently the vacation plans got in the way and more than 12 days following the tasting, no follow-up work has been done to sell some wine (they have a Cabernet for $480 a case which we need and one for $560 that is also on my list of things to order).

We attended a trade tasting where the importer was asking for "pre-arrival" orders.  Special pricing was being offered for customers placing an order for wines to arrive in a few months.  While we'd found a few wines of interest, the sales rep did not follow up for several weeks.  In the meantime, a rival importer, featuring a similarly good portfolio, had its tasting.  I found a stellar example of a wine from the second company and they had the wine "in stock" and ready for immediate shipment.  We purchased 6 cases of their wine BEFORE the first company's rep followed up with a visit.
Oh well.

I attended a fantastic showing of Australian wines.  Seriously good wines.  Small production wines which are a far cry from the mass-marketed crap Australia is famous for...a week after the event, nobody had asked if I wanted to order any wines.
Ten days after the event, the organizer came in, more to say hello and because he was having dinner in our neighborhood with a business colleague.
I asked if he was ever going to follow up with taking an order.
He was surprised, since he's sent our designated sales rep a note (twice!) asking him to follow up and take an order.

At a recent tasting, the lady who's our sales rep thanked me for attending as I stood in front of her to taste some wines.  I spent nearly three hours at this particular tasting.
Three weeks after the tasting, as I write this, she's not contacted us to see what wines she might bring in to show the staff.
Needless to say, we've ordered NOTHING.





TAKING NOTES

Some winery marketing people keep a notepad nearby to jot down information as to who has tasted their wines and with whom they might follow-up.  This is probably a good idea.  If some buyer is thrilled with your wines, you might want to be sure they have been contacted afterwards to see about placing an order.

If you're the vintner or sales rep for a particular winery and you've made good contact with a buyer or decision-maker, why not make note of this and follow up?
"Can I come show my wines to your staff?"
"Can I come to your restaurant and pour the wines for your staff?"
"Shall I ask your sales rep to follow up with you and take an order?"





HOW TO TASTE WINE AT A TRADE TASTING

Pick up a glass and a tasting sheet or list of the wines being offered for evaluation.

You might with to have a quick walk around the tasting room to scope out what's there, who's there and what wines are of particular interest.

I have noticed some tasters bring their own stemware to trade tastings in an effort to better taste the wines.  This is because at so many places the quality of the glasses is so poor.

We typically begin with sparkling wines, if there are any.  Then we circle the room(s) and taste white wines.  Following this, we may go on the "red run," tasting red wines next.  If there are any sweet wines, we usually taste those last.

Hold your glass near the bottle of wine you wish to have poured for you.  You can ask for the wine by name, though I notice many tasters simply grunt or mispronounce the names of various wines.  If you can, at the very least, ask for it by name, the person pouring the wine (whether it's the winemaker, winery marketing manager, sales rep or owner of the winery) will hold you in higher regard.  Being polite and professional is a good idea.
"May I please taste your Knucklehead Vineyard Pinot Noir, please?" is a proper way to solicit a taste, rather than "Gimme some of that one" or "Pour me some of this shit."

Be sure to hold your glass "still."  Don't shake it or move it until after the wine has been poured and the bottle set back in place.

Try to keep your glass clean.  As wine is poured, invariably there's some spilled down the side, so eventually you may develop "wine taster's hand."

Sometimes it's a good idea to give the glass a small rinse with a wine you're going to taste.  This is particularly true if you're tasting a lighter wine after a big, heavy bruiser.

Be sure to use the spit buckets!   There's no way you can professionally taste and evaluate wines if you're on your way to being drunk.

Taking notes is not a bad idea.  I try to write down a few key words about the wines I especially think are candidates for the shop.  I also may make some notation for hideous wines, too.

If you have a huge amount of wines to taste, don't bother putting wines in your mouth which smell bad.  Why bother?

You may wish to cleanser your palate periodically.  Some tastings do offer mineral water.  French bread that's plain  and bland is a good palate cleanser.

Don't be a knucklehead.
A knucklehead saunters up to the table and demands a big pour of some expensive or rare bottle.
More professional (not to mention polite) is to taste throughout the line-up of someone's portfolio.
I am amused to see a taster come up to a table and demand a more-than-normal pour of some deluxe Champagne, for example.  But I can tell you, the sales rep who is pouring that wine is not thrilled by those sorts of "tasters."

Remember, the idea of this sort of event is to have customers become acquainted with new products.  It is not a party or wine festival, though some people attend for "eating and drinking" purposes.

A fellow approached a vintner at a tasting and asked for a pour of "your Cabernet Sauvignon."  The winery proprietor politely explained "We make Chardonnay and we grow Pinot Noir and those are the only wines we make."
The taster stepped back a moment, surveyed the bottles and lunged forward saying "Well, then, give me a taste of your Sangiovese!"
That qualified the fellow as a knucklehead.


A sales rep for a big importer of Italian wines told us of her experience at a trade event: people paid no attention to the catalogue or roster of wines being poured.  These knuckleheads would come up to her table, totally oblivious to what wines were being shown and they'd ask "Give me a glass of your Chardonnay!" as though they were at a party or a bar.
Nice.






Additional Notes & Comments:

We recently attended an event held at a good, if trendy, San Francisco restaurant.  The portfolio of Italian wines being poured (by the winemakers, no less) was being shown at a restaurant which features southern Italian wines.  The restaurant has no Barolo or Chianti on its wine list, for example, nor do they want these wines.  Yet someone scheduled the tasting at a place which does not even consider these wines for its wine list.  I could see the look of disappointment on the face of one winemaker when he discovered this.
Oops.

 

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