How to organise and run a Trade & Press Wine tasting event

30th January 2018

Champagne tasting events london

We have just recently run our fifth Champagne and Sparkling Wine trade & press tasting event and I thought it was about time that I shared our experiences with our readers along with some tips and words of advice to include looking back at errors we made and learnt from so to those who are looking at running their own tastings.

Many in the wine industry will know that there are countless wine tasting events in the UK each and every week with London hosting the majority of them, from small tastings to the big ones, evening master classes to the recent growth of consumer fizz tastings. There is so much choice and for any wine professional and especially those which are fairly well known with sizeable audiences your email in-box never fails to see at least half a dozen invites to tastings weekly. This really sums up trade and press tastings events and what you need to look at doing: There are many to choose from so why should anyone come to yours?

Trade and press tasting are usually put on by either PR / Media agencies on behalf of their clients, respected wine industry news channels (ie Glass of Bubbly, Harpers, Imbibe), regional wine authorities (ie Comité Champagne or Wines of Australia) and by the wine labels themselves. I have been to some tastings where you have to breathe in so you can squeeze your way around the room and each stand has countless people waiting to taste the wines to some where you can hear a pin drop, have half a dozen people tasting and yet 40 stands on show (I can remember turning up late at one tasting and when I visited the stand I was the first person to taste their sparkling wine that day). So there are successful tasting events and there are not so successful ones – People in the wine industry realise quickly which are the better tastings and the ones where it is worth their efforts to attend in order to taste a good selection of wines and the organisation / location is to their liking.

The following points, some may not be in order, are what you need to consider and think about when you are about to take on launching a trade and press wine tasting event:

When should I run my tasting? It is important to think about many potential conflicts here rather than solely picking a date that suits yourself. I would start by looking at what is already happening on the dates you are proposing such as: Does it conflict with a national holiday / school holiday? Are there major events that day that could cause travel issues ie sporting events, carnivals etc? Does the date conflict with another major wine tasting event (check the likes of the WSTA App).

How to attract exhibitors. The art of this is down to ‘hard work’. You need to look at starting your marketing six month previous ideally and make sure you use all available channels such as your website, your emails, social media and face to face networking to let people know your event is taking place. Make sure you add your event to our ‘wine event’ website and Apps such as the one from WSTA which many wine professionals use.

Secure your venue and let people know the location, date and timings the show is on so people can plan.

If you have held events before then showcase this to give people confidence in booking with you.

Contact wine industry bodies to let them know your event is on, send out a press release to all other wine industry news channels (though you will find that many will not share your content as they carry out their own tastings).

What venue should I choose? The venue is an important part of the tasting in so many ways. I can remember our first ever tasting was in a corner of a country pub that was well known in the region for fine foods and wines so we knew it would potentially attract not only footfall from our marketing endeavours, but also footfall from the venue itself.

A quality or different location is always a good thing to run with – We have done ours at old libraries, on board a boat docked at the River Thames and at a luxury at our 5-star hotel. We are looking for a quality yet memorable location and importantly something that befits the exhibition of Champagne & Sparkling Wine which for many is part of an aspiration lifestyle. There are many ‘usual locations’ used in the wine tasting world which is great as people know them and where they are located, but sometimes a clever bit of thinking and somewhere different adds to the tasting environment.

Does the venue offer everything I need? Do please think about your venue and if it will accommodate all your needs. Think not only room space for exhibitors, but also an area to book people in, to take jackets / bags, does it offer disabled access, toilets for gents and ladies, a kitchen area for emptying of spittoons and water from ice buckets, a place to store rubbish / empty bottles, a place to provide food / tea / coffee for exhibitors.

What time will they allow you to enter the premises to set up and what time do they give you to leave (with all your items put away and boxed). Will they allow your items to be collected the following day or will there be a charge?

How much should I pay for my venue? Another area that will be a varying answer for many. We now pay just under £10,000 for hiring of our venue though experience and a good relationship with the hotel group we use I know that we not only get the venue, we also get a few free members of staff to help with room maintenance during the day, we get security, they enable us to have our wines delivered for the event a few days before and store them securely, they allow all our items from the show to be collected the morning after the event. They provide the ice, the water, the wine glasses, the tables, tablecloths and much more.

Should I use a Service Company? A service company is one that will generally cater for all your needs for a tasting such as receiving and storing wines prior to the event, delivery of wines to the venue, hire you the table, spittoons, staff and more. They are now a few companies that offer this service, some main ones and other smaller ones – Sensible Wine Services are for me probably the biggest name in the business and certainly I see them nearly every week supplying a wine event – These type of companies will cost you decent money to use their services, but will know the industry inside out so will take care of all your needs before, during and after your tasting event. This really is a decision on economy for you – At Glass of Bubbly we usually manage our own events as myself and Editorial Director, Eve, prefer to be hands on and that the hotel we use provides some items / services and we have our own items such as ice buckets, spittoons, stands etc.

What should I be checking once I have confirmed my date? You may have booked your event, but do not rest on your laurels as such. Are there proposed disruptions to travel / strikes planned that you will then need to send travel advice to attendees? Has another wine event also since booked on that day that you will then have to work harder to make sure the right people are still attending your event?

How to obtain attendees. Ideally, you will have your own database of wine professionals and buyers such as sommeliers, hotel owners, wine writers, press, chefs and more that you can initially invite. You will also be active on social media to let your audiences (assuming they are target to the wine industry) know about your forthcoming tasting and engage with any questions. Use a site website like Eventbrite to send people to in order to secure tickets – Eventbrite will also help you get attendees as many people register with them and get told about forthcoming events relevant to their preferences. If you can, find emails of respected professionals that you would like to invite and send them personal invitations – If they have not attended one of your events before, give them reasons to attend maybe by sharing the list of wines which will be on show or set them up one to one tastings so to reduce their time spent waiting around.

Is it all about numbers through the door? A busy room always looks good rather than a quiet one for sure, but you must remember that many exhibitors who showcase wines will have done many before and will recognise if you have simply invited everyone and anyone to attend a tasting – Some people visit tasting events as a full time hobby, it is a way to get free drinks and make themselves feel important, they will not offer the exhibitors any value whatsoever in tasting their wines. It is important you know who these people are that should not be at your tasting events so build yourself a ‘banned list’ and make sure their names / emails are not on your attendee list and you will also find that latecomers to tasting events will be about looking to nip in for free drinks (it happens even at our tastings still) so it is important to rid of them as soon as you can.

Exhibitors want quality over quantity. It costs them to serve their wines and they do not always want a busy stand mostly of time wasters especially if it causes them to miss an opportunity from a serious wine taster / buyer who may simply pass their stand by…

What should I provide my exhibitors with on the day? Exhibitors will be in varied frame of minds during the tasting, some experienced and working for a major company and others have invested their own money in order to exhibit and their expectations will be high and you will have them on your back straight away if you are not fully prepared for them. Makes sure that their place is easy for them to find, that ice is available for them and if they have had their wines sent to you, that you have taken the time to place them on ice.

Providing of food / tea / coffee is something you can consider depending on your budgets – We have not yet done this ourselves as we try and reduce stand costs as much as possible for our exhibitors. We though make sure that the venue goes round to each stand early on to take orders for food / drinks in the morning and highlight where they can go to eat / drink (make sure if you provide foods that they are not too smelly so sandwiches are fine, curries / garlic dishes etc not so good)!

Preparation work is required for each exhibitor so that on the day you know to provide them with name badges, ice buckets, ice, chairs, drinks/food etc.

What should I provide my attendees with on the day? Make sure you have your attendee list on the door so you can check people off as they attend. Make sure you have name badges and it holds the attendees’ full name, company and position at company – If you can, colour code people from the press and those from the trade.

If your budgets permits have lunch provided and tea / coffee available (make sure smells do not travel over to where the wines are being tasted to put people off).

Provide a place for people to store their jackets / hats and also bags (state that they are left at their own risk as things can go astray or people take home the wrong umbrella / bag accidentally etc).

Provide a tasting booklet that includes a layout and easy to understand numbering for stands and wines. Leave enough space in the booklet that allows for tasting notes. Place the contact details of each exhibitor to include telephone number and email etc.

Be social – Think about social media and enticing attendees to share the likes of a hashtag ie #ProseccoTastingMarriott – Think about getting a selfie frame to encourage a good and social atmosphere and get people to follow your accounts on Twitter / Facebook and sharing images.

Who to invite and who not to invite. You should really have your own email database to invite to your tastings plus I suggest that you do as we do and rely on the likes of Eventbrite so that attendees can easily book online (or of course build a dedicated part of your website for easy data capture).

We usually set out the questions for each attendee to be: First Name, Last Name, Email, Company they work for, position at their company. This will enable us to see that the person in question is worthy to attend our tasting event – We do say no to many people and do not see this as bad practice as you are simply protecting your exhibitors from having to deal with time wasters.

Another element I would like to highlight is that our tasting events, and so should yours be too, is open to everyone that is within the trade and press. Our last tasting in Westminster we had an acceptance to attend from Nigel Farage who for many will be seen as a divisive personality and especially between opposing political parties and people’s beliefs. It is important to remain impartial as though some may not like him attending, others will be happy (on the day some people were excited to get selfies, to ask him questions re Brexit and others were not too bothered). We also invited other MEP’s and MP’s and any well know face (bearing in mind they have big media coverage – Nigel Farage has over a million followers on Twitter and has a chat show on LBC radio) would be welcome and we’d encourage the likes of May, Corbyn, Sturgeon to attend as we just want these people to fall in love with the wines on show and let their networks know. There is, of course, an obvious  limit to invites, ie we would not be inviting Jack the Ripper, but if it is a football player from Liverpool or Everton, a news reporter from BBC or FoxNews, the Daily Mail or Guardian, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here or Dragons Den – We want, and we hope our exhibitors want to, people who can spread positively the word about the wines on show.

Does my job finish once my tasting has taken place? It should not no. Once the show has taken place you should take it upon yourself to initially email the attendees to get their feedback and ask if any have questions about the wines which were on show. From there you should contact the exhibitors (put to them any questions you attendees may have for each) and find out what they felt, if they were happy, what could be improved, if anyone requires details of any specific attendee. I would not look to share with exhibitors your attendee list (we made that mistake once) as it is likely that each will send marketing emails to them all and some attendees will then get back to you with disappointment that you had shared their details.

Christopher Walkey

Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.