Major wine consumer events have become a rite of spring. An embarrassment of food and wine event riches is upon us (see list below), and experienced event organizers have wise advice lest you be embarrassed at such events.
Jamie Peha gave birth to TASTE Washington—considered the mother of all Washington wine events—when she worked for the Washington Wine Commission from 1994 to 2005.
TASTE Washington was initially a wine-trade-only event. Peha, the marketing manager at the time, created the consumer event in 1998. It hosted about 50 wineries at The Paramount Theatre in downtown Seattle. Each winery poured a single wine and was paired with a restaurant, which prepared a dish. The event drew around 900 guests, according to Peha.
This year’s TASTE Washington will feature more than 200 wineries pouring a total of more than 10 times the wines than at the original TASTE. It is expected to draw thousands of guests.
“Growth was fast and furious and fabulous at the same time,” Peha said. “It happened very fast. It was exciting.”
The youthfully energetic (downright cheerleader-like) Peha and other event organizers share advice for consumers to maximize their experiences at the modern-day bacchanalia.
“Do your homework before you go,” said Peha. “It’s impossible to taste everything at an event like TASTE Washington. If you go with no plan, you end up tasting something in no order, so I don’t know if that gives you the best experience.”
Peha suggests focusing, for example, on wine brands or varietals you haven’t tried before.
“That way you walk away with someone new,” Peha said.
Peha is now an independent event planner and radio talk show host. She strives to bring consumers closer to celebrity chefs at the events she plans.
“People want something more than giving them food and giving them wine,” Peha explains. “If they have a chance to meet someone, they create that emotional connection. For the guest it’s that celebrity chef thing. They feel like they know the chef now. They are front and center with a celebrity chef.”
David LeClaire, who organizes Sexy Syrah (see events below), among dozens of wine events throughout the Puget Sound area, says meeting chefs, winemakers and producers is all good-and-nice for consumers. But he urges guests to be considerate of others who want to meet the same chefs, winemakers and producers, and guests who just want to drink more wine.
“One of the things that other people are not conscious about is that other people want to talk to the winemaker,” LeClaire said. “Make it easier for others to get to the winemaker to be served wine. It’s just courteous. If I am going to talk to a winemaker, I am going to slide over to the side so others can be served wine.”
Like Peha, LeClaire urges guests to prepare in advance. He suggests guests review the wineries to be featured at an event and come with a list of the wines they want to try. LeClaire comes prepared with his own spit cup and tooth brush.
LeClaire insists: yes, spit or at least use the cup to dump excess wine from your wine glass.
“There are so many people surrounding the table you can’t always get to the dump bucket,” LeClaire said. “Whether you are a spitter or not a spitter, you have something to empty your glass into.”
LeClaire brushes his teeth with a neutral toothpaste in the middle of wine events and at the end. He suggests brushing your teeth in the middle of wine parties to keep your palate as clean as possible. He said eating starch, such as crackers, or alternating to a neutral white wine are other alternatives to keeping palates clean.
And always brush your teeth at the end.
“Let’s say you’ve been spitting wine all day; it’s tough explaining to a cop that you are not drunk when your teeth are purple,” he said.
LeClaire also recommends eating in advance to help your body process alcohol. Most wine events will serve food. However, LeClaire prefers to arrive at the event fed in case the chow lines are long, the food runs out or to spend less time consuming food and more time enjoying wines.
LeClaire has a knack for organizing engaging and energetic parties.
“If you are like me, I get distracted talking to people, which means I don’t eat enough,” he said.
LeClaire, who was the wine director at the now-defunct Painted Table at the Alexis Hotel in downtown Seattle, strikes a fine balance and strives for a complete guest experience at the events he organizes. He now owns the wine retail warehouse Wine World in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood and Seattle Uncorked, a wine event company.
“You don’t want events to be too empty or too full. You don’t want to cram too many people in one place,” he reasons. “Each event has to have some kind of compelling theme. For example, Sexy Syrah, most people have fun at this event. It’s on the waterfront, it’s at a time of the year that there’s not a lot going on. It’s the beginning of spring. There’s plenty of food. There’s something about the energy that flows.”
LeClaire pays attention to the details, as well.
“At my events, there’s not one big annoying thing, like there’s not enough parking, it costs too much and there’s not enough food,” he said. “It’s all about paying attention to the minute intangibles to put together a complete experience.”
Keren Brown, the founder and organizer of Foodportunity, the semi-annual food industry and consumer networking events at Palace Ballroom in downtown Seattle, strives to provide social and professional connections for her guests and vendors. The next Foodportunity will be June 25.
“My events cater to a specific audience. The people come for the connections. The food is a bonus,” she said.
She prices tickets at a reasonable $30 ($25 for early bird tickets).
“I want it to be accessible to all food industry professionals," Brown said.
The weekend of March 30-April 1 alone is crammed with three major wine, beer and spirits events where you can try out these tips:
- Hop Scotch Spring Beer and Scotch Festival, a benefit for the Seattle International Film Festival at Fremont Studios in Seattle. March 30, 5 p.m.-midnight, and March 31, 1 p.m.-midnight.
- The mother of all Washington wine events, TASTE Washington, at Centurylink Field Event Center, is a two-day affair for the first time. March 31-April 1, 1 to 5 p.m.
- The Washington Cask Beer Festival at the Seattle Center Fisher Pavilion. March 31, noon-9:30 p.m.
And looking further ahead, here are some other upcoming food and wine events:
- April 5, 7:30 pm: Seattle Weekly’s Voracious Tasting and Food Awards at The Paramount Theatre.
- April 6, 5-8 p.m., First Friday Wine Walk in Issaquah. Enjoy live music, art happenings and wines from small, local boutique wineries poured in various designated tasting locations up and down Front Street. All ages welcome.
- April 11, 6-9 p.m.: The 11th Annual Sexy Syrah at Salty’s on Alki in West Seattle.
- April 21-22, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.:, the annual weekend wine-fest throughout Woodinville wineries. Tickets are on sale here.