by Linda Hayes | February 01, 2017

Swirling and sipping may not be common terms in the lexicon of board meetings and executive retreats, but applied in the right context, wineries and their related tastings, events and classes can add some tasteful—and purposeful—options to association agendas. From organizing visits at specialty wine venues to taking advantage of sommelier-led hotel wine programs to searching out top options at local wine bars, elevating the attendee experience is as simple as raising a glass.

The nation’s top wine regions are, naturally, fertile spots for groups interested in pleasing their palates and taking their wine knowledge to a new level. In California’s Napa Valley, for instance, opportunities abound at V Wine Cellar, located within the V Marketplace in Yountville. The venue features more than 4,000 square feet of lounge, private dining and tasting space, an outdoor cigar patio and the V Wine Shop, with 3,000 different bottles from around the world.

Formal private wine dinners may be held in a brick-walled, 50-seat wine cellar while more casual gatherings of up to 150 people can be held on the patio. Whatever the occasion, a custom-designed culinary menu from the kitchens of V Marketplace is available and can be paired with selected wines.

Additional private wine-tasting experiences might include the expertise of a V Wine Cellar sommelier. Choices include “The Essence of California Wines-The Greatest Among the Best,” featuring six select wines; “Cult Wines & Rising Stars,” with an emphasis on Napa Cabernets; and Champagne Sabering, the art of opening a bottle of bubbly with a saber, which dates back more than 200 years to Napoleon Bonaparte. For groups of up to 100, the V Wine Shop may also arrange for wine seminars to be held at meeting rooms in local hotels and customized dinners may be added on as well.

Those headed to association functions in New York City will have the chance to enrich their knowledge of Italian wine, food and culture at the Italian Wine Merchants’ Studio del Gusto, a wine-tasting facility and learning laboratory in Union Square. The IWM’s director of events will work with groups to customize evenings comprising both wine and food selections based on preferences and budget. During the event, the culinary team and lead sommelier will briefly discuss the history and preparation of the various Italian food courses, the origin and characteristics of the wines and the nature of each pairing.

Studio del Gusto can accommodate between 20 and 120 people for tasting events, though the maximum for seated events is 60. Larger events, for 75 to 120 guests, typically utilize the IWM’s showroom space, which is decorated with wine displays and features an old-world ambiance. Formal seated meals include up to fives courses, premium wine-tasting menus and white-tablecloth service, while a relaxed “walk-around” format features courses presented on large platters.

A high-end Aspen property that puts specialized food and beverage professionals at the disposition of visiting groups is the St. Regis Aspen Resort. One of the ways it enhances on-site experiences is “Wine Wednesdays,” complimentary wine-education classes led by Level II-certified sommelier Ericka Briscoe every week in the hotel’s Portal restaurant (formerly known as Trecento Quindici Decano). Each hour-long class includes a tasting flight of relevant varietals, as well as small bites from the restaurant. Groups of up to 18 may book the entire table with advance notice. As an added bonus, before the class, groups have a chance to attend the resort’s sunset sabering tradition, which includes a complimentary glass of champagne.

At the seaside Ocean House on the bluffs of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, oenophiles will enjoy the newly created, Old World–style Center for Wine & Culinary Arts, a 3,000-square-foot education and entertainment space. A pair of wine cellars showcase an 8,000-bottle Wine Spectator award-winning collection, while its Wine Education Program offers a comprehensive hands-on experience that is both approachable and unpretentious for the casual wine drinker and the connoisseur alike.

A monthly calendar of daily a la carte events includes classes in the wine cellar that range from the more introductory “Wine 101” to the more advanced “Food & Wine Pairing Like a Pro” with a hotel sommelier. Rounding out the offerings, the center is available for receptions, customized private wine dinners and more.

With the wine-bar concept flourishing from coast to coast, planners are guaranteed to find a casual spot where groups can discover and try new and different wines, along with everything from wine-pairing fare to live music. Many venues offer special themed event space as well, often with customized wine tastings and sommeliers to ensure proper pours.

One example is the Southeast Wine Collective in Portland, Oregon, an urban winery, wine bar and event space offering their own artisan wines, plus those from producers around the world. The Kazimierz World Wine Bar in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona, offers 2,000 different wines from around the globe, including some quite rare, by the glass, flight or bottle, as well as wine pairings, dinners, progressive group dine-arounds and live music, all in a European wine-cave setting. In Dallas, the Veritas Wine Room in the Henderson Entertainment District is a comfortable place to taste an ever-changing selection of around 400 international wines as well as fine charcuterie, cheeses and chocolates (and different beer choices for attendees who prefer it to wine). Up in Chicago, the Rootstock Wine & Beer Bar is also accommodating to varied tastes; its supply focuses on small-production wine, beer and ciders with an emphasis on organic and biodynamic farming practices. Guests can pair their choices with a seasonal food menu featuring local products.

Whether meeting at a high-end wine cellar or a more casual winery, association groups are being treated to unique experiences that cater to every palette.