Wine Tasting and Team Building

team building Bottles

Wine tasting and team building are seldom included in the same discussion.  The idea of corporate team building generally conjures images of a weekend retreat to boot camp, complete with obstacle courses, high elements, and water hazards   But, I recently had an interesting request that posed a bit of a challenge.

A client asked me to plan a wine tasting for a select group of executives from his company and partner companies.  This part would be easy – sniff, slurp, discuss.  The challenge was that  the client also requested that I incorporate an element  into my presentation that would encourage cooperation and team building within the groups.

My audience consisted of casual wine aficionados and a few gentlemen that by their own admission preferred a good Bourbon or Scotch to a glass of wine.   Based on the allotted time (about 1 hour and 15 minutes), my client and I agreed that we would taste six wines.  The presentation would culminate with a blind tasting of the same six wines.  The audience would separate into predetermined groups and work together to reach their conclusions.

Knowing my audience would have little experience with blind tasting, I purposely selected wines that would have distinct characteristics, drawing examples from important wine regions around the world.  For instructive purposes, I incorporated wines that would illustrate the differences in Old World and New World expressions of the same varietal or a similar blend.  I provided tasting notes and an outline of relevant information that I would discuss regarding each wine.

The wine selections in order of tasting were:

  1. Retour Pinot Noir 2009, Williamette Valley Oregon 90 Points
  2. Claude Dugat, Couer du Roy 2008, Gevrey Chambertin, France
  3. Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino 2006 Tuscany, Italy
  4. Domaine du Pegau 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape, France
  5. Chateau Batailley 2009 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
  6. Roy Estate Proprietary Red 2008 Napa, California

After a brief introduction, I informed the group that they would be tasked to identify the wines they were tasting “blind” immediately after the initial presentation.  I spoke briefly on tasting techniques and sensory perception.  The goal was get the group focused on things that would assist them in the upcoming challenge.   As we tasted each wine, I discussed relevant information and interesting facts regarding the wine, producers, and place of origin.  I also illustrated characteristics of each wine that would assist in blind identification.

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After the initial presentation, the guests adjourned briefly while I poured to equalize the levels in the glasses.  I switched wines #2 (Dugat Gevrey Chambertin) and #5 (Chateau Batailley),  I left the most distinct and easily identifiable wines in their original places #1 (Retour Pinot Noir – The palest in color) and #4 (Pegau CDP – A three ring circus of smoke, herbs, meat, fruitcake…etc on the nose.)

In the style of a “semi blind” tasting, I provided an “answer sheet” with the names of the wines present in the flight. Numbers 1-6 were left blank for the groups to fill in their answers.  To up the ante, I announced that each member of the winning group would get to choose a bottle from the tasting as their prize.  Smiles changed to game faces.

Discussion Cropped

Minutes into the completion, it was obvious the participants were taking the challenge very seriously.  There was spirited discussion within each group. But, all talk was whispered.  I heard mention of numbers and an occasional “this or that one”, but not a word that might tip the other groups off.  In the end, one group got all six wines correct.  There were high fives and celebration.  My client later informed me that the winning group consisted of his boss and the CEO of his company.  It couldn’t have worked out better.

During my initial presentation, I talked about spitting.  However, after tasting six wines, there wasn’t a drop in anyone’s cup – mine included.  The wines were too good to waste.  The guests kept their wines on the numbered placemats with dinner.  The conversations continued.

The host was smiling.

Mission accomplished.