Operations

How To Tap Wine Tours For Meetings And Group Events

Jim Luff
Posted on June 29, 2013
After five years, wineries know that visitors from our limousine buses produce sales and enrollment in their wine clubs, making us a valued business partner. Our clients are pictured here enjoying two Paso Robles wineries on the tour.

After five years, wineries know that visitors from our limousine buses produce sales and enrollment in their wine clubs, making us a valued business partner. Our clients are pictured here enjoying two Paso Robles wineries on the tour.

After five years, wineries know that visitors from our limousine buses produce sales and enrollment in their wine clubs, making us a valued business partner. Our clients are pictured here enjoying two Paso Robles wineries on the tour.
After five years, wineries know that visitors from our limousine buses produce sales and enrollment in their wine clubs, making us a valued business partner. Our clients are pictured here enjoying two Paso Robles wineries on the tour.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- As a provider for many corporate accounts, I know they are always seeking new ideas for group outings. The line between working group and meeting events and setting up actual leisure tours is a thin one indeed, given that many meetings and convention clients are looking for something special beyond the work event.

Operators can assemble the tools to make a memorable event, as I did when I set up an unforgettable wine tasting tour. I created a vision that would be easy to manage. It turned into a trip I could do over and over again with each company believing it was unique to them.

To begin, I selected four wineries in the Central California coast region. This is a two-hour drive from my base city, Bakersfield, Calif. I chose the wineries based on the quality of the wine, uniqueness of the facility and the willingness to work with us. Don’t get discouraged when the selected venues seem less than enthusiastic about your idea. You will have to prove the relationship before you will be in a better negotiating position. Like any relationship, it will grow and improve with time.

At first, I was bound by strict rules. No winery wanted us to come after 3 p.m., fearing the passengers would all be drunk. I had to send a check in advance to secure the date and time. Today, any of my host wineries will take any of my groups at any time, and we pay by invoice. They also will open the winery early or stay late and serve dinner in a cave where wine is aged in barrels. After five years, wineries know that visitors from our limousine buses produce sales and enrollment in their wine clubs, making us a valued business partner.

Once the wineries were selected, I asked all four tasting room managers to recommend a caterer. Three out of four referred me to Cahoots Catering Co. of Paso Robles, Calif. Upon calling the owner of Cahoot’s the first time, he wanted a minimum headcount of 30 people. He asked for a deposit with my order and payment in full one week before the event. Today, my chauffeurs deliver a check to him at the side of his BBQ rig when we arrive. We developed a pre-set lunch menu of “Santa Maria style tri-tip beef,” a cuisine style unique to Central California. Also included is chicken, a vegetable lasagna, Santa Maria style beans, garlic bread and a dessert bar. The price is based per-head, and I mark up the price $10 per person. So on a group of 25, I am making an extra $250 for a phone call to set up the date and time.

I chose the wineries based on the quality of the wine, uniqueness of the facility and the willingness to work with us.
I chose the wineries based on the quality of the wine, uniqueness of the facility and the willingness to work with us.

Our first stop of the day is at the first winery we see as we arrive in wine country. Its location is coincidental. The winery itself, Tobin James Cellars, is the top selling, most popular wine in the area and carried by every wine serving restaurant in our city. This tasting room plays a variety of music that is loud and creates a party atmosphere. This winery also serves as a back-up lunch spot where they feature outdoor wood-fired pizza ovens and serve gourmet pizza if requested.

We serve lunch at the second winery with Cahoots providing the classic red-and-white checkered tablecloths in a genuine hoe-down BBQ. It was selected because it has plenty of outdoor patio tables overlooking miles of vineyards. It also has a dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the same vineyards in case of inclement weather. The owners and winemaker always come to visit our group and explain the winemaking process while the group is dining. This creates a unique feeling about the visit. Tasting is done at the tables at the same time.

After calming our guests down from the party at Tobin James and filling their bellies, we head over to Eberle Winery. This winery has more of a library type atmosphere. In the beginning, the tasting room manager was seemingly cold to me. Our group was given no special treatment or attention. Over time, the relationship developed and we incorporated a complete tour of the winemaking facility beginning on the “crush pad” where grapes arrive and are crushed and placed in vats. The tour continues underground where oak barrels sit in cool caves aging to perfection. The tasting room manager recommended that for upscale events we have Cahoots serve a gourmet prime rib dinner in the cave before departing for the two-hour drive. That is a component that can be added.

Next, we pick up the fun again and visit Clautiere Vineyards. This small winery kicks things up a notch with tons of crazy hats, wigs, sunglasses, boas and other props that guests wear while tasting wine. Once again, in the beginning, I always felt that we were treated more as an inconvenience for bringing 25 guests in at a time. The manager here was a tough one to crack. We went from your basic visit to now having our own exclusive tasting room with cheese and chocolate pairing, which is not offered in the public tasting room.
 
All of the tasting rooms have tasting fees. But because we regularly bring so many guests, the fees are waived. We still pass through normal tasting fees to our guests to compensate us for setting up the extras. This produces another $500 in additional revenue. We also negotiate a 20% discount on all purchases for our guests to add value to their visit.  

We now arrange this particular event at least once a week and have done as many as three in a single week.

Related Topics: building your clientele, California operators, customer service, How To, Jim Luff, meetings and conventions, special events, wine tours

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
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