When attending as a buyer, I like to arrive early and blast through the wines I have singled out ahead of time as interesting, taking brief notes as I go. Afterward, if time permits, I will do some networking with colleagues and friends in the trade.
When playing the host of a trade tasting, I have another focus entirely. Will the serious account buyers show up? Or will there be 2:1 entry-level staff who do not make the buying decisions? And will those staff bring their girlfriend who has never attended a tasting, does not use spit-buckets and is red-faced and too chatty just 30 minutes into the show? Will I be held hostage by the ever-present cheese and cracker spitter, who insists on talking to me even with his mouth full? (strangely there is one of these at every tasting).
And of course, what will be the return on my investment and cost for the show? Will I actually make sales that day or is it just an exercise in marketing? In my experience it is usually more the latter but there are exceptions, especially if a wine is limited and buyers are encouraged via a discount to place orders that day.
I am interested in differing perspectives/stories on trade tastings so I reached out to some other wine professionals for their feedback. I asked them what they dreaded or enjoyed about trade tastings, as well as whether they made purchasing decisions at tastings. Here is what they had to say:
"Of course, you are never 100% happy, you always want to do something different next time. Tastings do not lead to immediate sales but you hope the buyer remembers you later."
Owner, VinosUnicos Importer & Distributor
"- I dislike being surrounded by droves of people who tend to set up camp in front of a table and make it extremely frustrating for others to get in, taste and then out.
- The best trade tasting I ever attended was the Vie Vinum in Vienna, Austria. By far the most well organized tasting I've been to.
- I typically walk away from a trade tasting with a rough idea of a future game plan or strategy. I have, of course, found some "must have" wines that I found there way into our inventory."
Eric A. Story
K&L Wine Merchants
"While I wouldn't qualify the emotion as "dread", I'll say that I don't enjoy when there are 200 wines I've got to taste in 2 hours, nor missing work to do so. Man - And I don't always like running into some of the folks I exclusively see at trade tastings. It can be kind of a shit show of insecure wine buyers, trying desperately to understand what is in front of them & make a good impression on their peers. To me, I just want to taste a bunch of wines, not take super detailed notes, figure out what I really want, high-five a little with my friends, eat a little cheese, then get back to work.....
Yeah, I use trade tastings to know what to purchase. It's super helpful to have that kind of access. And when you get to taste comparatively, it's radical."
Baker & Banker restaurant
"trade tastings... I really don't think they are the best ways / conditions to taste wines (too many wines, too many people, most of the time with bad glassware, in a warm room, noisy...) And for most of them, they can easily be more a "network/connection" party than a wine tasting....
but i think they are necessary, because of they can allow you to compare in a very short amount of time many different wines you usually taste individually, and specifically for me, they allow me to discover or to have a kind of an intuition for a wine i will taste later in better condition"
Sommelier, Rouge Tomate NYC