Wine Militia

Looking to put the “fun” back in “function”? Wine-themed team-building can add a refined, celebratory feel to any event. The team enjoys sampling wines, and the experience is made all the better by learning a thing or two. However, it is important to keep meeting goals front-and-center. We asked experts for tips on right and wrong ways to add vino to an event.

Mission Critical Enjoyment

Lamar Engel, founder of The Wine Militia in Napa, understands the realities of venue logistics, including F&B minimums. That is why he designed a series of self-contained experiences that are easy to program into an agenda, while being customizable enough that they dovetail with the culture and goals of the meeting. Wine-tasting education sessions are designed to boost morale and help people feel engaged. “People learn more when they are having fun,” he says.

One of his most popular team-building experiences is a wine-blending competition. Groups break into teams tasked with coming up with a blended product that is relevant for a defined market. This requires tasting an array of wines, debating the merits of each and the benefits of blending in different configurations. Participants can even be encouraged to dress the part and come up with team names. This exercises communication and collaboration skills—the wine can’t be “released” until everyone has given input. The final product is judged in a blind tasting. The winning team takes home a bottle with a custom label, including the company logo and the names of all the amateur vintners. The other take-home is a reminder long afterwards that great things can be gained by working together.

“It is important that any activities are relevant and aligned with the company’s goals,” Engel says. In other words, there must be a lesson that goes beyond drinking wine. Even if it is a meet-and-greet, adding the educational component can make the time more memorable and meaningful.

Educated Guess

Roxanne Langer, director of sales and marketing and winery sommelier at Moraga Estate in Bel Air, California, stresses the importance of educating without intimidating. She pairs information about wine varietals—where they come from, where they are currently grown, their flavor profiles—with a cheat sheet on wine vocabulary guests can take home with them. Then she walks through the steps of how to taste and describe a wine. Teams work together to determine which varietals are in each glass. How can a team not bond when they are swirling, sloshing and spitting together? She stresses the importance of offering activities for people who do not drink wine, as well as a food component, such as cheese to be paired with each varietal.

“Wine can be intimidating enough on its own.  Be careful when responding to questions to encourage guests. Affirm them rather than telling them everything you know about wine,” she says.

Location Specific

Janet Rudolph, founder of Team Building Unlimited in the San Francisco Bay Area, offers wine-themed team-building to help people capture the sense of place when they hold meetings in the wine regions springing up all over the country. One of the programs she offers is a Winery Mystery Party called Fatal Fermentation. The interactive murder mystery format includes guests, wine jargon and the meeting theme in the plot. “Your group’s raison d’etre is reinforced with the added excitement and vitality of interactive theater!” she enthuses in her description.