Greetings all! Just wanted to check in here and see if anybody had any experience with setting up a regularly meeting wine group.

What I envision: A group of people (4-8) who meet once a month or so, to open up good/very-good bottles of wine, with other people who would appreciate this type of thing. Probably revolve around a monthly grape-varietal theme, with established ground rules (bottles should be in the $25-50 range, and maybe have one person in the group each month bring something really special). Get togethers could be at peoples houses, restaurants (probably not super fine-dining...gonna try to keep it inclusive and relatively affordable), etc.

My problem is that my partner does not enjoy/appreciate wine like I do. In the past I've worked in fine-dining restaurants with like-minded folks, and have never lacked for good people to drink good wine with. But here I stand continuing to build a nice wine collection, with few people around me that I would want to open most of my bottles with.

If anybody out there has any experience with such a setup, or has any advice on how to maintain some sort of editorial control over who's invited in (gonna try to keep snooty d-bags out!), I'd love to hear it. Thanks in advance!
Original Post
quote:
Originally posted by Mimik:
MAybe advertise to your co-workers or friends about starting a wine group or even the local wine store-simple ad.

Obviously keep the venue public if inviting people you don't know. Start off with a theme at a BYOB restaurant, ie Bordeaux or Cali Cab or something and go from there.

The group will attract others and become quite large quicker than you'd think.

As far as censoring wine-lovers out, I'm not sure that a good idea in the beginning and quite difficult to do. That's not what wine tasting is supposed to be about.

Good luck.
My wife and I and one other couple started a "Fine Wine" dinner a few months ago and it started out quite organically. We happened to invite them over for dinner, they brought a couple of nice bottles that paired nicely with the evening's menu and I ended up opening two complimentary wines as well.

The next day, my friend and I both agreed what a fun time it was and suggested holding these more regularly. Now, we have them once a month, occasionally inviting another couple into the fold and alternating whose house we have it at – sometimes it’s just the four of us, sometimes it’s as many as eight. The party's host always sends out the complete menu to all guests at least a week in advance so we know what wines to bring and pair and every couple brings two bottles (essentially one bottle per person for an evening).

They are a lot of fun and not much pressure because we are all good friends. The wives don't know as much about the wines as the men do so my friend Greg and I are really the only two who take time into tracking our tasting notes, etc.

If you want to ensure a casual friendly environment with no pressure, then I think the key is to host them with good friends. I am always more comfortable that way. There are those that will argue that it can also be fun to branch out and meet total strangers that share a passion for wine. I could see how this could be fun but it could also be stressful as there may be a need to "one-up" the other. Check out the "offline events" section as you could probably find some helpful tips there on these types of events. But in my opinion, hosting it with close friends would be the way to go.
quote:
If anybody out there has any experience with such a setup, or has any advice on how to maintain some sort of editorial control over who's invited in (gonna try to keep snooty d-bags out!), I'd love to hear it. Thanks in advance!


Plenty of folks around here that have setup wine groups or regularly participate in wine groups. It sounds like you already have a pretty good plan in place. What else would you like to know?

Here's a few tidbits off the top of my head:

1. You take charge. One riot, one ranger. Set the date and theme every month with whatever input your group members give you from the previous month. Be prepared to make unilateral decisions as needed.
2. Collect email addresses of those in the group and handle everything that way. Trying to coordinate over the Internet is a royal pain in the butt.
3. If you want 4-8 per month to participate as you indicated be sure and collect 8-16 members. Some months you'll have 4, others all 16 will show. It's the nature of the beast.
4. Hold it every month like clockwork. Doesn't matter that there is only 4 this month. Roll with it. Next month it'll be 8. Trust me. There's always next month.
5. Keep it fresh. Change themes always. Get creative. Remember you don't have to do a varietal theme every month. Sometimes it's nice just to get together and somebody brings a Champagne, somebody a Chardonnay, etc...
6. Do it sometimes in a member home, sometimes in a restaurant. Sometimes on the weekend, sometime during the week. Sometimes blind, sometimes not.
A couple more:

1. Be sure and spell out the rules in advance. If you're going to add a 20% tip to a restaurant bill and split everything evenly (the only want to make it work in my opinion if you're doing this at a restaurant) make sure everybody knows right up front they're paying an equal share whether they order a salad or caviar.
2. ALWAYS have a bottle of Champagne at the table. Not only is it a great way to kick things off and prime the palate for the tasting to come it's a great palate cleanser while tasting.
quote:
or has any advice on how to maintain some sort of editorial control over who's invited in

Why not just don't invite people you don't want to come? Confused

Setting up a group with strangers is a tough way to go. What you have envisioned is a fairly casual thing, so I don't know why you don't ask a friend or two who like wine - you worked in restaurants, etc., and know people so maybe some of those old colleagues.

Or organize an offline or two somewhere and if there are a couple people you like out of those who attend, talk to them about it separately. Of course, if that's the format that works for you, just organize an offline every month and ask people to PM you. Then you can tell the people you want to exclude that they're too late but you'll surely put them on a waiting list. (Happens to me all the time.)

Good luck.
My .02:

I started up a small local tasting group in late 2008. We always taste blind, and rotate the theme every month (the previous WOTN bringer picks the next theme).

It's always hosted by a small local wine shop, who's owner I'm friends with. She sells good/simple bistro food, but there is no requirement that any of the wines come from her shop, but it's always appreciated.

The owner advertises the group in her news letters, but there's a core group of about 10 who make it most months, and a few others who drift in and out. Every month, there's a new person or two. Most months have 10-15 participants.

Early on, I'd wanted to have the wines come from price points in the $25-$75 range or so, and stipulated so in original event. But, I quickly found that more than a few people hit the local grocery on the way over for whatever's on sale for $10 or under. On occasion, a modest bottle from Trader Joe's ends up WOTN. All part of blind tasting.

Now, most bottles tend to be $5-$25 wines, occasionally $40 or $50, very rarely more or less. Blind tasting minimizes the "look at my label" snobs who just want to show off. Nothing like having a $50 bottle get crushed by an $8 one to make one humble.

Each month (last Thursday) I really look forward to the events, we have a great time. Decide what your sensibilities are, plan accordingly, but be loose in your vision/expectations for the group.

Good luck!
quote:
Originally posted by indybob:
Early on, I'd wanted to have the wines come from price points in the $25-$75 range or so, and stipulated so in original event. But, I quickly found that more than a few people hit the local grocery on the way over for whatever's on sale for $10 or under.

Which nicely sums up the downside of an open-to-anyone wine group. Just depends on what you're looking for in a wine group.
d
quote:
Originally posted by SD-Wineaux:
Which nicely sums up the downside of an open-to-anyone wine group. Just depends on what you're looking for in a wine group.


I hear you, but I've ultimately decided that for me, this isn't a downside. My monthly blind group doesn't get too wine-geeky, and we have great conversation about a host of things, only some of which is wine. Everyone, from the wine distributor to the white-zin-only novice brings something to the table, not just some excellent bottles.
quote:
Originally posted by SD-Wineaux:
quote:
Originally posted by indybob:
Early on, I'd wanted to have the wines come from price points in the $25-$75 range or so, and stipulated so in original event. But, I quickly found that more than a few people hit the local grocery on the way over for whatever's on sale for $10 or under.

Which nicely sums up the downside of an open-to-anyone wine group. Just depends on what you're looking for in a wine group.



Smile
quote:
Originally posted by ACellarAboveMyMeans:
Greetings all! Just wanted to check in here and see if anybody had any experience with setting up a regularly meeting wine group.

What I envision: A group of people (4-8) who meet once a month or so, to open up good/very-good bottles of wine, with other people who would appreciate this type of thing. Probably revolve around a monthly grape-varietal theme, with established ground rules (bottles should be in the $25-50 range, and maybe have one person in the group each month bring something really special). Get togethers could be at peoples houses, restaurants (probably not super fine-dining...gonna try to keep it inclusive and relatively affordable), etc.

My problem is that my partner does not enjoy/appreciate wine like I do. In the past I've worked in fine-dining restaurants with like-minded folks, and have never lacked for good people to drink good wine with. But here I stand continuing to build a nice wine collection, with few people around me that I would want to open most of my bottles with.

If anybody out there has any experience with such a setup, or has any advice on how to maintain some sort of editorial control over who's invited in (gonna try to keep snooty d-bags out!), I'd love to hear it. Thanks in advance!


I have done a few of these, 23 to be exact.

My wife does not drink, so our group meets in a restaurant. We have had a few regular places, and our current home now is at North Square in NY.

Send out feelers to all you know and set up an email chain when you have the list. If its the same night like a 'First Thursday Group', let them know and or get their input first. Take control early, set standards, and a base of friendly rules and run with it. You will have success if you stay impassioned and focused. I print booklets and have a place setting for peoples glasses and notes. I could send you copies of this if you like. All the cohesiveness will result in a great turnout.
Email me if you need, and check my blog for past dinners.

Cheers!

www.clonyc.com
quote:
My monthly blind group doesn't get too wine-geeky


But that may be the entire idea OTOH. BYO is fine and it's fun and I like those groups and participate in a few from time to time, but you have other options if you want to get more geeky, which is exactly why I wanted a tasting group in the first place. Otherwise it's more of a good time group and that's completely OK too, but it's different and far less pedagogical.

One idea is to have everyone kick in some fixed dollar amount at the beginning of the year and buy from that - reimbursing people who bring from their cellar at some reasonable rate - and the point isn't to offload their aged wine at top dollar. And then stick to a regular date. That way if someone can't make it, you already have the money and the group doesn't suffer. And then have one person take charge of the tasting. If you want to taste sangiovese for example, you can just do that, or you so something more interesting like can focus on a single vintage to see how the wine is at say, 10 years, or 15 or 20 years, or something along those lines. Or you can compare 2 or three vintages, regions, winemakers, etc. If you pick something like 1997 Chianti or some older vintage of Barolo, you won't have people stop off at the store on the way over. You either have the wines between you or you source them.

Even better, you don't get locked into one price range. I think it's valuable to blind taste a series of wines side by side from different price points - no reason not to have a sub $20 wine in the tasting with wines over $100 and that's exactly what I'm going to do next month in fact. I have one that was less than $10 that I'm putting in.

It's a lot of work though. One person usually has to handle everything - coordinating the wines people are contributing if any, and sourcing the rest. And then you pour them all at once, spend a couple hours evaluating and rating, and then you can unveil. Since you're not at a restaurant and you're not paying food and corkage, it's not actually all that expensive to buy a series of wines that may run over $100 sometimes.

I went out the other night and spent $100 for my food and also brought 3 wines. That was for an old friend and was worth it, but if that's OK, I figure I can also spend the same $200 - $300 on a more focused tasting and not worry about dinner plates, etc. You need a lot of glasses and you need space for everyone to have all of their glasses set in front of them however. That's one reason it's better to have a home vs a restaurant - I have sufficient glasses but if people have preferences, they can bring a set of their own and just leave them.

A lot of people really HATE that format and think wine should only be enjoyed with dinner or food. That's not the point though - the point in this case is to learn and the enjoyment comes from the learning as much as from drinking the wine. I wouldn't want to drink every wine in that way, but it is another option. On the other hand, I don't want to make a record of every wine I drink either, so I keep notes from tastings like that where the focus is only the wine and when I'm out with friends and wine, I don't play Parker at dinner.

Good luck!!
Lot's of good ideas for different kinds of groups and tastings. Discuss the options with your inner core and then put it out there. You can adjust as time goes by. Combining dinner and wine tasting can be a huge undertaking and takes the focus off of the wine.

I would advise to keep it simple so that the administrator, you, doesn't burn out. Meet the same day of the month, no matter what. Decide on the theme and price point at the previous meeting before you start drinking or soon after. I think price point is important for some kinds of tastings, that way everyone contributes the same general value each month. If people want to bring a surprise, say a great $10 bottle, to a $30 - $40 themed event, then they should bring it as an extra bonus bottle.

I think tasting blind is the way to go and having good stems is important too. People can bring their own if need be. Even if your group is more of a social thing, discussing the wines brings variety of conversation and keeps up the interest in the group. To that end, at the end of the night, some groups like to vote on their top three wines.

I've found it helpful to keep the emails brief and few. (monthly announcement and reminder announcement) Keeping a list of who volunteered to bring the cheese and who volunteered their living room keeps the group organized and aware of their responsibilities. Include this list at the bottom of each email. A little maintenance keeps harmony in the long run.

Ten people max keeps everyone, more or less sorta, together at the same table as well as each receives a decent pour.

Cheers!
Again - depends on how geeky you want to be. You can also assign a single person to do everything - organize and/or purchase/supply all the wines and arrange for bread and cheese. It's why it's a good idea to have a budget to which everyone has contributed at the beginning of the year, rather than rely on month to month volunteers. A couple groups I'm in have been going on for many years - everyone just knows what day and time and it's always at the same place, so there aren't any emails at all most of the time.

That relies on people having developed a bit of comfort w each other over the years and also similar commitment. Personally, I think it's best to pour all the wines at once so you can compare every one to every one and you should of course rate every one too, not just your favorites.

On the other hand, you can just have people show up with something they love and serve it non-blind. That's exactly what I did last night and it's an absolutely fine way to have wine with friends. It's the way you really want to drink most of your wine and unless you really want to be a bunch of geeks, it's probably a better way to get people together. Especially if people aren't in the business or professionals or super-dedicated amateurs, it's the way to go.

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