When you bring people together for a meeting or event, there is always a reason. You may want to educate, create raving fans, increase sales or network with colleagues and clients. Often, it’s a combination of these goals.

For over 8,000 years wine has played a central role in fostering connection, business and culture. It can enhance almost any event, contributing to depth, delight and significance that are fundamental to almost every program we curate. Wine can serve as a pathway to meaningful conversations, creating an environment conducive to achieving our goals—be it teaching people, strategizing, selling or simply connecting.

Thoughtful wine selections can elevate our programs. While we often meticulously plan the culinary experiences at our events, beverages, particularly wine, are frequently chosen from a generic banquet menu.

Wine is deeply intertwined with culture and history. By bringing people together from diverse backgrounds, wine can serve as a gateway to exploring different cultures, helping us to connect with our colleagues in more profound and meaningful ways.

The wine industry itself leads in many areas crucial to us as event professionals, including hospitality, sustainability, and fostering diversity and belonging.

Read More: California Wine Country: Crushing It

A well-thought-out wine program doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does need to be intentional. Consider the nature and location of the event, the menu, and the seasons. Having some basic knowledge about wine can also help in having meaningful conversations with your convention services manager or beverage director when planning your event.

One challenge with many hotels is their limited banquet wine lists, which often do not include high-quality wines due to distribution channels, cost and lack of demand. However, with sufficient planning and the right discussions with the hotel, you can often secure great selections without exceeding your budget. Alternatively, a wine professional can help you source excellent wines that, even with corkage fees, can be more cost-effective and infinitely better than standard menu options.

When selecting your wine program, consider these important and universal guidelines:

  1. Plan in advance. This gives the hotel to have ample time to obtain the wines that you’d wish to serve.
  2. Know who to talk to. Often, the Conference Services Manager may not have the necessary knowledge to guide you through the wine options. Request to meet with the beverage director or sommelier.
  3. Taste the wines. This may seem obvious, but many people order a package without tasting the wines. While the package approach works well for bar brands and beer, it is different for wine due to the vast number of producers, varieties and styles. During menu tastings, ask to taste the wines to assess how they complement the food.

Side note: When tasting wines, don’t feel compelled to finish them. A dump bucket should be available for wine you no longer want. If requested, the hotel can provide a vessel for spitting wine, allowing you to taste without consuming alcohol.

While the specific wine styles and choices will vary, here are a few general guidelines.

  • Two reds, two whites, one sparkling.
    • For reds, choose a deeper, richer wine like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot and a lighter option like Pinot Noir or Grenache.
    • For whites, include a Chardonnay (ensure it is not overly oaky if it is the only white) and a contrasting style like Sauvignon Blanc or Albariño.
    • For sparkling wine, choose one in the ‘Brut’ category for a dry style that suits most palates. Champagne is always fabulous but often outside the budget, so consider non-Champagne options like a dry American sparkling wine, Crémant, Cava or Prosecco.
  • In warmer seasons, add a dry rosé.
  • Don’t forget about blends, which can be beautiful wines.

Investing even a fraction of the time you spend planning your menu into your beverage selections can significantly enhance your event. It will elevate your program and contribute to the overall success of your event, making thought beverage selection a vital part of every event strategy.

woman wearing blue shirt smilingGigi Gleason, CMP, is the chief experience officer at Cork Collective, focusing on elevating events through exceptional wine and beverage experiences. With over 30 years in the events industry, she has designed and executed hundreds of events and created multiple award-winning corporate event programs.

Gigi’s expertise includes a degree in computer science, studies in hotel and restaurant management, and advanced wine studies such as WSET Level 3, French Wine Scholar, and California Appellation Specialist. She has studied at prestigious institutions including Napa Valley Wine Academy, San Francisco Wine School, École du Vins de Bourgogne, and École du Vins de Bordeaux.

Passionate about the transformative power of wine, Gigi believes it blends art and science to enhance occasions with meaning and beauty. Her mission is to foster connection and purpose through curated wine experiences, making each event not just memorable, but truly magical.