Wine and spirits retailers are boosting sales and improving customer loyalty by organizing multi-course dinner events at high-end restaurants, where they pair food with upscale wines, Champagnes, and spirits. Louisiana-based Martin Wine Cellar has held these dinners at various New Orleans restaurants since the mid 1980s; the events now represent a large part of the company’s business model. “Almost everyone who attends these events buys some wine,” says Marc Pelletier, wine and spirits consultant at Martin Wine Cellar. “It’s a good revenue generator. It keeps our customers happy and ensures they return.”
Martin Wine Cellar will host a 60-person sold-out Fête Du Bordeaux tasting dinner at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans on January 23. The five-course extravaganza ($260 a ticket) will feature 15 different wines, including the 2005 Henri Goutorbe Brut Special Club Champagne and the 2010 Château Suduiraut Sauternes. The event’s special guests are Jean-Charles Cazes of Château Lynch-Bages and Château Ormes de Pez; Damien Barton Sartorius of Château Léoville-Barton, Château Langoa-Barton, and Château Mauvesin-Barton; and Frédéric Faye of Château Figeac. “This is a group of Bordeaux winemakers who come to the U.S. every few years,” Pelletier says. “This is the second time in ten years that Martin Wine Cellar has hosted this event.”
Martin Wine Cellar also hosts tasting dinners at its in-store bistro, typically limited to 10-20 customers and ranging in price from $125-$200 a person. Communication, planning, and execution are essential in staging these events. “You have people who know about the wines joined by people who know about the foods they’re preparing,” Pelletier says. “When they’re together, they come up with an outstanding evening menu.”
For more than a decade, Kappy’s Fine Wine & Spirits has hosted complimentary tasting dinners in Massachusetts. Distributors, suppliers, and Kappy’s—which has eight stores in the Bay State—typically cover the costs. “The customer is treated to a night of great wine and food at no charge, as well as discounted wine prices, so they’re compelled to purchase,” says Greg Knowlton, wine specialist at Kappy’s. “Immediate sales are the measurable result, but it’s the immeasurable ones that are most important. We strive for attendees to become loyal, longtime customers.”
Kappy’s wine dinners typically feature 12 wines and four courses for about 25 customers. Securing a private room at the right restaurant is crucial to eliminate distractions. Champagne dinners have featured such brands as Bollinger, Ruinart, Krug, Louis Roederer, and Laurent-Perrier. Single malt Scotches like The Balvenie and Ardbeg, as well as French liqueur Grand Marnier, have also been showcased.
Moving forward, Kappy’s is looking to increase its number of tasting dinners. “I’d love to do six or seven this year, instead of four or five, and expand the number of attendees,” Knowlton says. “As distributors, suppliers, and wineries see the benefits of sales from these dinners, they’re more enthusiastic about being a part of them.” Martin Wine Cellar also hopes to hold more dinners in 2019, and will finalize its plans after Mardi Gras on March 5. “We’ve had great success with the dinners and we’re not ready to slow down by any means,” says Pelletier. “It all comes down to having access to some really stellar wines you want to showcase. That’s the impetus that leads to a dinner.”