Ideas for organizing champagne tastings (English)

IMG_9212_512x768Here are some ideas I picked up during the last champagne week (2014 April and 2015 April). I’ve divided them into three big categories that go roughly from start to finish.

My intention is to help organizers improve on their work, not to criticize people. I loved the champagne weeks of 2014 and 2015, and I hope I can be there next years as well. Thanks for putting so much work in it!

Subscription procedure and entrance handling

1. Subscriber lists

Having an efficient procedureIMG_1709_800x533

  • Catch subscriptions with an online form so that you have first name and family name separately.
  • Be sure to send an email immediately after people subscribe, with clear wordings and practical guidelines. Send a second email a week before the tasting takes place.
  • Make one single list of subscriptions and order it alphabetically on family name.
  • If you decide to have badges, have them pre-made, be sure the letters are big enough, and order the badges alphabetically. Turn them to the guests and have them pick their own badge. Put this in front of the registration desk so that it is easier to tick guest names off by just reading their badge.
  • At the entrance, have a laptop with the subscription list so that you can search efficiently for names (excel: ctrl-f)
  • If it is impossible to have a computer ready, make two copies of the list. Use one to tick off people showing up and one to speed up the process of finding names.
  • In case of difficult foreign names, ask people to write their name down or show a business card.
  • No matter how well-organized the subscription procedure, there will always be differences between the list at the entrance and the people showing up. Leave space to write down the names of people showing up IMG_9062_1024x683unexpectedly and have blank badges and a thick pen ready.

2. Tasting guide

A tasting guide can be a valuable help for tasters. It helps them to concentrate their efforts on tasting the wines and making tasting notes.

  • Order the wineries in the tasting guide as they are located in the tasting room.
  • Provide some basic information about each winery.
    Have a list of all wines presented by the winery, in their preferred order of tasting.
  • Provide basic information (exact name of the cuvee, base year, composition, dosage) with each wine.
  • Leave plenty of space for tasting notes.
  • Have (branded) writing material ready for people who forgot their pen.
  • The booklets are to be used by people who are carrying a glass, a photo camera and other stuff, all while tasting complex wines, finding out information about it and writing down their experiences. Tell the graphics design bureau to keep that in mind.

3. Other stuff

  • Glass: expect people showing up to be professionals that know how to handle high-quality glass that really shows the qualities of the wines presented.
  • Alcohol tester: this is a nice gift for the way out, and it shows that you care about your reputation. Even if participants should be professional enough to use the spitoons all the time.
  • Cloak room: this frees people of stuff they need to carry, but that they don’t need at the tasting: coats, bags with all kinds of goods,…

Tasting room and logistics

1. Size and layout

The qualities of the tasting room have a big impact on the tasting ability of attendants.

  • When a tasting room is too small to cope with the number of attendants, people lose their concentration and their willingness to invest in the tasting. Make sure the room is big enough.
  • Temperature: when lots of people meet in a small room, temperature will rise. Make sure the airco is working and that someone will keep an eye on the room temperature, opening windows when appropriate.
  • Please make sure there is enough light. We need it not only to look at the colour and the effervescence of your carefully made champagnes, but also to read information in the tasting guide and to write notes. What is the point of having journalists taste your wines, when they can’t even reconstruct their tasting note back home?
  • Layout: Make sure there is plenty of space to get to the winemaker and to taste their wines.

2. Tables

  • Space: tasters need space to put down their glass and notebook. If the table is full of brochures, flowers, spitoons and other stuff, tasters lose concentration.
  • Spitoons: make sure there are lots of spitoons, preferably large ones, and more than one per table. If they need to be emptied, replace them with an empty spitoon before taking away the old one.
  • Ice buckets: the correct temperature of their wine is what wine makers care most about.
  • Have paper napkins ready to clean spilled wine

3. Other stuffIMG_9071_1024x683

  • As a producer, realize the importance of being there. Show up, and be present with your body, heart, and mind. It is tempting to think your product speaks for itself, but tasters sometimes need a little help to understand it.
  • Succesful wine makers focus on their priorities at a tasting. In this order: first, making sure people have wine in their glasses so they can taste and make tasting notes, second, provide tasters with information, third, networking.
  • Food: food serves three goals: first, to clean the palate from time to time, second, to prevent people leaving the tasting when they get hungry, and third, to invite people to take a small break that helps them to concentrate better afterwards. There is no need for a luxury banquet (however nice this is). Basic things like bread and cheese are fine.
  • Vin clair: tasting vin clair is the key to understanding champagne, but also energy consuming. A nice idea is to have the vins clairs in a seperate room where people can serve themselves. This also gains time at the tasting tables because there is no need to discuss whether to taste the vin clair or not. In any case, tasting vin clair – champagne – vin clair – champagne for 10 hours a day is tiring, even for experienced professionals. Don’t force people to do that.
  • Toilets: make sure it is easy to find out where they are without having to ask

Public relations and aftercare

1. Social mediaIMG_9229_1024x683

  • Have someone who has experience with social media figure out a social media strategy for the event, even if it is only a basic one. At least include Twitter and Facebook. Instagram is a close third.
  • There will be plenty of pictures taken, even when you don’t have an official photographer. Still, having someone around that takes pictures at every stand is a good idea. Have them upload these frequently so as not to lose momentum.
  • Provide people with a hash tag for your event (like, #Perle15) so that posts and tweets are bundled and the network grows.
  • Put up a page or group on Facebook where attendants can share their findings, photos and experiences.

2. Following up

  • Think about what happens after the tasting. Some people will blog about the event, others will write an article in the traditional press. Keeping a list of publications will help to get funding for a next tasting and provide you with feedback to stay put where everything was fine and improve where needed.
  • A follow-up email to attendants takes little effort but can have big effect. It reminds people to write about it, stimulates them to share their experience, and invites them for a next tasting.

3. Getting feedback and ideas for next tasting

  • Make sure to get feedback from all participants (tasters, organizers, wineries) so you can learn from it.
  • Organize feedback into “what was good” and “what could have been better”. This positively formulated statement encourages people to give real feedback, not only “all was good”.
  • Go through this feedback list when organizing a next tasting, don’t just rely on memory. And keep up the good work, we really enjoyed it and hope to take part next time!

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