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What event planners drink

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You’ll have to forgive me for recurring to a theme I wrote about last week in my post, “Giving props to the broad market.” I concluded in that one, “What today’s post is, I guess, is a toast to the big wineries and inexpensive wines.” I might have left it at that, had I not given a talk at yesterday’s meeting of ISES, the International Special Events Society, which had asked me to speak at one of their annual get-togethers. I didn’t know much about ISES or their membership, so it was really interesting to get an up close and personal, behind the scenes look at what is actually a large, important but invisible part of our greater wine, food and entertainment community: the event planner.

Every year I’m peripherally involved in two of Wine Enthusiast’s big events, the winter Wine Star Awards Dinner in New York, and the springtime Toast of the Town-San Francisco event in City Hall. I say “peripherally involved” because I’m not one of the planners or organizers, but I always volunteer for stuff (or get drafted), so I’m aware of the blood, sweat and tears that goes on behind the scenes in trying to coordinate these fantastically intricate undertakings. So I was able to truthfully tell the ISES people how much I respect a team that can pull of a major public event flawlessly. No matter what goes on behind the scenes, the only thing that matters is that, when the guests come in, everything works the way it’s supposed to. That’s good event planning.

Anyhow, I took a loosey-goosey approach to the talk, and told people to please feel free to interrupt me anytime they  wanted and ask or say anything. And believe me, they did, providing me insight into the kinds of things event planners are concerned with when it comes to wine. One thing I learned is that they’re interested in exactly those broad market wines I wrote about last week: inexpensive, good quality and available in quantity.

I hadn’t known, when I walked in, what their particular level of interest would be, but it certainly wasn’t cult wines. I understood that in the first 5 minutes. These are people who want to get wine that’s good enough to serve at a big function (a museum or gallery opening, a corporate retreat, a fashion show, a fundraiser), but doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. After all, they, or their clients, have to make a profit, and you can’t be serving a $50 wine at these events and not go broke. So a lot of their questions to me were centered around things like the best values and varieties, or what did I think of boxed wines and other forms of innovative packaging, and some of them even got into the details of how Big Box chains like Costco are good places to shop because they drive prices down to rock bottom.

I’ve had a particularly interesting few days learning about this price segment of the market. Last week it was traveling with Joey Franzia (Bronco/Two Buck Chuck), from whom, in a single day, I learned more about the nuts and bolts of selling wine than during the last five years. Yesterday, at ISES, it was from the people who actually buy these wines.

I tried to elicit a chuckle or two and actually succeeded when a guy asked me about inexpensive wines and I said, “You know, I drank those kinds of wines before I was a well known wine writer, and someday when I’m not a wine writer anymore, I’ll probably be drinking those wines again.” They laughed, but it was nothing but the truth. Speaking of inexpensive wines, it happened again during my formal tasting back home yesterday. I rated a $12 Cabernet above some Cabs costing $80-$150. If you want to know the details, subscribe to Wine Enthusiast and see.

  1. What I find slightly ironic about the current state of less expensive wines is that the quality is so high. At a time when everything else seems to be devalued–from reduced-sizes in boxed brownie mixes to terrible customer service with most airlines–lots of wines seem to be delivering exceptional quality at reasonable prices.

  2. @ Lori, that’s what robust competition breeds. Including competition from imports. Wine is a ferociously competitive business, in some ways like consumer electronics, and this tends to drive prices down and margins out while at the same time delivering amazing values to the consumer.

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