How a “Deal Breaker” Company Policy Turned Out to Be the Makings of a Killer Event

Photo Credit: RecycleNation.com

Photo Credit: RecycleNation.com

Have you ever been tasked with the seeming impossible?

“Hi, I’m the Event Director for our company and we are looking to host a wine tasting reception at our office – an event that will really blow the socks off of our guests. Our space is amazing, and we want to show it off. The thing is… we have a No Red Wine policy.”

If you can’t imagine a wine tasting event without red wine, you’re really, really, not alone. In fact, when that call came in, with that restriction, we thought – well, that’s one way to help us narrow the wine-flight-selection playing field!

Just because we hadn’t done it yet, didn’t mean we shouldn’t.

You couldn't help but pause. We’d never hosted an event without a key category represented. (Our clients would have thought we were nuts to suggest it!)

But just because we hadn’t done it yet, didn’t mean we shouldn’t. The event was definitely doable from a ‘diversity of selections’ standpoint. There is a huge breadth of white wine styles out there – more so than even white wine fans tend to explore.

And such a seeming omission certainly would set the stage for an unconventional, memorable event experience. It would also allow us to do what we do best: get people talking – connecting over a truly unique, shared experience.

This restriction was the kind of thing that was unexpected in its own right – and that could be the makings of a truly amazing event. Certainly, from complication comes creativity and the thing we all strive for in planning a memorable event – innovation.

Curiosity bred a higher level of interest and set the event apart from others in a way no one could predict.

The event allowed us to shine the spotlight on white and sparkling wines many hadn’t heard of, let alone tasted. This leveled the playing field among wine novices and more seasoned guests alike. Interestingly, too, not a single attendee “complained” that there weren’t reds on offer.

Attendees reveled in the chance to operate outside their comfort zone – and were in it together as they did. The seeming omission offered an immediate launch point to conversation, not to mention a more personal connection opportunity; curiosity bred a higher level of interest and set the event apart from others in a way no one could predict.

Planning an event, we all want to push the envelope. And no doubt, every time we set to it, something always comes up – there’s always a complication. The trick is to navigate these nuances, without compromising your endgame. Our team respected this planner for not allowing a challenging policy to put a wrench in the works from the get-go. She was willing to explore options, and leverage a seeming “deal breaker” restriction to innovate.

The result was one of our all time favorite events. So lesson learned! Don’t just embrace the unexpected, let it inspire you.

3 Reasons Why We Drink White Wine – in Winter

Few think of white wines as a winning choice any time of year, let alone now in the heart of winter here in New England. Red wine somehow seems the natural way to soothe the impact of the cold, dark days we experience.

In fact, once we shed our own similar inclinations, we discovered a surprisingly wonderful coping mechanism.

Here’s why adding white wine to your repertoire right now will help assuage your winter woes:
 

1.   Dry Air Begs for a Palate Pick-Me-Up

If you’re like us, you’re heading for the water cooler on the regular. Nothing seems to quench your thirst. Guess what? Many white wines can. Add a little zip to your regularly scheduled wine-down and you can refresh your taste buds (and your spirits) with the natural burst of mouthwatering acidity whites are best known.

 

2.    Hearty Fare Hearts Robust Wines

The importance of texture should not be underestimated either. Just as you reach for that soft, cozy blanket to wrap yourself up in, many white wine styles offer the same satisfaction. Here we're talking about wines that have a touch of heft, and can be deemed oily, or fleshy.

Why?

Robust whites complement the weight of heartier fare. Think Chowder or thicker soups like pumpkin, cauliflower, butternut squash, etc. Gratin potatoes. A tangy, goat-cheese quiche. Monkfish or Swordfish. Chicken casserole. Even an old-school (or re-imagined, newer school) Mac & Cheese.

You get the idea. Just be sure the weightier wine you select also has that essential acidity we talked about above, too. You’ll need that element to cut through the fat of such bold dishes.

 

3.   Winter Helps Ensure Whites are Enjoyed at the Right Temp

One guest at an event we hosted said oh-so-sagely, he feels “whites have to work harder to woo” him. When he tasted the white wine flight we had curated, he mused at how much more depth the wines had – he could taste their nuance.

So often whites are served way too cold. Whites show more layers of aromas and flavors when they are served at the ideal 50ish degrees Fahrenheit. And in New England many of us are blessed with enclosed vestibules or unfinished cellars that naturally ensure wines are stored, and then easily served, at the right temp. You don’t have to fuss with the fridge. Nature works to your logistical advantage. Meanwhile you’re able to discover what so many whites really have to offer.

 

Certainly white wine is a huge category, just as red wine is. The winter simply proves an unsuspecting time to explore the possibilities.

Satiate your cravings for comfort food, resuscitate your senses and otherwise bring life back to your body and soul by giving whites the chance they deserve this winter!

No-Brainer Holiday Wine Ideas: from What to Pour, to Boss & Co-Worker Gifts

Wine is both an entirely festive way to celebrate the holiday season and a winning approach for gift-giving. The trouble is knowing what to pour - when - and what to gift - to whom. Are we right?

This holiday season we're giving the gift that keeps on giving - easy answers. Below, you'll find wine solutions for your party planning conundrums as well as ideas for gift giving - from stemware to great reads.

Remember, there's naturally some overlap - often wine itself is a wonderful solution in and of itself. So take these ideas and run with them. You're sure to hit the nail on the head with a touch of your own personalization.

Sparkling Wines

From hosting to gifting, sparkling wine is a foolproof way to bring a natural, festive flare to bear. If you don't know your recipient (or his/her tastes) well, they are also a great answer to The Personalization Problem. No matter what, they add levity - and New Year's is a built-in opportunity to open and enjoy.

Here is our own Guide for Selecting the Right Sparkling Wine for the Occasion.



Need specific ideas?  Some of our favorite sparkling wines this year can be found below, beginning with the most affordable styles (e.g. Prosecco + Cava) to the most baller (Champagne). (Note: These specific wines are available to those of us shopping in the Greater Boston area. You can ask your local retailer to order any wine they don't stock.)
 

Marsuret Prosecco  |  Veneto, Italy (Valdobbiane)
Deliciously quaffable and festive, Prosecco wines have taken the world by storm. Here the Marsura family stays true to their 80-year tradition to produce a particularly winning option: zesty, delicately pear-nuanced with a touch more pizzazz than its counterparts.

When/For Whom? Cost-effective, basic bubbly that delivers a festive element/gesture. Ideal for any and everyday - from a holiday brunch to topping-off a "champagne" cocktail.


Dibon Cava  |  Penedes, Spain
Cava drinkers have gotten the memo for a footloose and fancy free sparkling beverage that’s closer to proper Champagne for its toasty notes and fleshier texture – at a fraction of the price. Frothy and fruit forward, Dibon delivers memorable peach and orange notes, backed by hazelnuts and citrus zest.

When/For Whom? Casually festive and versatile, but with a bit more to it. Appropriate to serve during cocktail hour, offer for a festive toast, or even segway into the first course. An affordable way to thank/appreciate colleagues, or supply a casual host/ess gift.


Cave de Saumur Crémant de Loire "49M"   |  Loire, France
Crémant wines come from elite regions of France - outside of Champagne - and are goldmines for exceptional sparklers. This hidden gem from one of our favorite CO-Ops is both charming and dry - and bursting with familiar fruit nuance. You can't go wrong with 49 Million, tiny, crowd-pleasing bubbles!

When/For Whom? Crémant wines are our Go-Tos because they are perfect for dialing things up a notch, without anyone knowing how much you spent. You'll be winning with a ~$20 budget.

 

Taittinger 2008 Brut Champagne  |  Champagne, France
This is the real deal, and then some. Featuring the 2008 vintage alone, this blend of all 3 legally-permitted Champagne grapes delivers tell-tale orchard fruits, a hint of stone fruits and mouthwatering citrus. Better still, its decadent brioche side makes you wonder if you just stepped into a Parisian bakery. . .

When/For Whom? To make an impression - this is brilliant, baller bubbly! Gift to your boss or open with really, really good friends.


Westport Rivers "RJR" Brut Sparkling Wine   |  Westport, Massachusetts
Massachusetts' own Westport Rivers Winery kills it when it comes to sparkling wine. And the RJR is their flagship - separating itself with a frothy, creamy mousse and giving you flashbacks to an autumnal New England picnic. (Bonus - this wine has been on the White House's go-to list!)

When/For Whom? Whenever you need a secret weapon or a local treat to gift/serve. Typically c. $37/bottle, we saw it recently for just c. $20!


choosing wines: Gifting + Celebrating

1.    Looking to make a BIG splash? Whether throwing a party or looking to impress your gift-recipient, this trick never fails.
 

2.    You can also boost your party vibe with a creative approach to wine selection that mitigates fussiness for you - and ensures guests stay engaged in the fun otherwise. Here's How.
 


beyond the bottle: the Essentials


STEMWARE.   There's no need to geek-out on this one. Simply give a great glass that works perfectly well for wines of ALL colors. Our pick is the Vinum Riedel Extreme Series. We use the (white) Sauvignon Blanc option for ALL of the wines we taste/evaluate - red, white or pink. We love the sleekness of the glass as much as its versatility. (If you specifically know your recipient is a red wine fan, you could opt for their Bordeaux/Cabernet/Merlot glass instead. Don't overthink it beyond that!)
 

DECANTER.   Did you know, there are 5 Good Reasons to Use a Decanter Everyday? And this essential tool isn't in everyone's at-home wine supplies repertoire - yet. You can use the holidays to change that with a lovely gift.

Here's one suggestion - a half bottle size. It won't break the bank - and offers a sweet alternative to decanting an entire bottle (not to mention delivering a user-friendly nudge toward that ideal everyday use).
 

GREAT READS, BY INTEREST. 

for Fans of History, Villains + Heroes, or Fiction/Non-Fiction Crossover Reads:  American Wine: A Coming of Age Story

Why Your Next Event Needs a “House Wine” + How to Choose

When was the last time you were at an event and you walked away from the bar talking about the wine? It’s hard to get excited about the same old selection you see ubiquitously at every one of “these things,” right?

If you’re like the corporate planners we polled this summer, the last thing you want is for guests to consider your event run of the mill. In fact, if you’re like them, you want your event to be memorable for the right reasons – with guests actively participating, having fun and connecting with each other.

You want your event to be fresh and add value.


Did you know wine selection is a key tool for making your event a success?

If you’re like the corporate planners we polled this summer, the last thing you want is for guests to consider your event run of the mill.

Let’s take one of our venue partners for example, a top-notch, full-service operation that must create stand-out events time and again to be successful.

They rightfully pride themselves not only on their immaculate space and thoughtful approach in planning, but also the farm-to-fork food experience they deliver. Their wine list needed to follow suit.

Called upon to help, we saw a unique opportunity to set them up for success – not only in working with their clients, but also by ensuring their wine list would pay itself forward to guests’ event experiences.
 

Why? Analysis Paralysis is an Event Killer. 
 

A key networking and guest-engagement opportunity is lost.

People (guests) who find themselves in unfamiliar territory are overwhelmed by too much choice. And people who consider themselves in the know become distracted by too many options (whether good ones, or more often, stuck determining the ‘best of the worst’). At an event, while the bar line grows and grows, conversation among party-goers becomes awkward as people fight their decision demons. Guests become stressed and just want to get back to the people they already know and the larger festivities. A key networking and guest-engagement opportunity is lost.

So we retooled their custom list aiming to:

a)  Streamline offerings, which even novice clients (like many guests) could comfortably choose from;

b)  Offer wine options that would stir the interest and enthusiasm of guests when they saddled up to the bar – and as they headed back to the festivities;

c)  Creatively reflect their brand.

From here our partner was ready and able to work with their own clientele to create a winning guest experience. In effect, their custom wine list became their secret weapon.

In effect, their custom wine list became their secret weapon.

As in the example above, you can – and should – use your wine selection to bring additional creativity to bear, get people engaging (in and outside of the bar line) and underscore your brand or event in a fresh, subtle way.
 


How do you go about it?
 

Streamline Selections, aka Operate in Technicolor.   While guests may not know the ins and outs of wine, they do know which color they prefer. Offer just one of each style: a white and a red, with one festive sparkling wine for good measure. That’s your flight of what we call “House Wines” – Analysis Paralysis abated.
 

Pique Curiosity.   Skip the Italian Pinot Grigio, California Chardonnay or Pinot Noir and the Argentine Malbec. You get the idea – these are the predictable options. Offer choices that have familiar nuances, but that guests might not ordinarily come across. Guests who consider themselves in the know try something new (or are excited to enjoy something they recognize isn’t often an option) while novices just enjoy for the sake of enjoyment.

Hint: Blends from France, Spain and Italy are often a wonderful starting point, or seek out wines from lesser-known countries like Austria (whites) or Lebanon (reds). Don’t hesitate to ask for guidance, or get outside help. Your local wine shop is a great resource to solicit input on lesser known crowd-pleasers.
 

. . . make things less fussy – and more fun – for guests.

Unleash Your Creativity.   Once you’ve decided on the wines, facilitate fun organically by renaming each selection in a spirited or meaningful way that will get folks engaging in line – and afterwards, with their choice in hand. Try playing-off of branding or corporate culture elements. Or use the excuse to celebrate (or roast?) particular staff members or departments. Want to detach a bit from work? Give the selections personas – like “Nuanced & Daring – Red” and “Lively & Luxe – Bubbly” for the sparkling wine.

ProTipWineFlight.png


Bottom Line: Wine naturally adds levity – and a traditional bar set-up offers an opportunity for guests from all corners to connect as they make their way to your Libation Station. By being both more deliberate in choosing a focused selection of your own House Wines and more playful in how you present them, you make things less fussy – and more fun – for guests.

Are You Maximizing Your Event’s Impact? Tricks to Turning Things Inside - OUT

image c/o LinetLinen.com

Whoops! You’ve just pulled your favorite top out of the delicate cycle and it’s inside out – fresh and loveable, but not quite ready to turn heads. With one quick adjustment you’re all set.

Culture becomes real, such that employees often will share their company experience with others – hint: your (potential) customers.

We've discovered companies that develop and reinforce a collaborative, fit culture from within are better positioned to pay it forward. Their approach internally allows them to turn what they do inside out, too, to reach customers—engaging them more memorably—because it is rather effortless to do so.

Aligning events with your values and the type of culture you have (or would like to have) means employees leave proud of what they do, who they do it with, and what they do it for. Values become more than a quip on a mug. Culture becomes real, such that employees often will share their company experience with others – hint: your (potential) customers.

Internal events then are also external, whether intrinsically or more deliberately (in terms of your guest list).
 

Let’s take a growing tech company in Boston for example.

Despite finding an exciting new space to relocate their operations, the custom buildout was faced with myriad challenges. What was set to be a late spring move-in became an autumnal hope. The leadership team tasked their support staff with reimagining their holiday party. Rather than taking things off-site to a well-vetted (aka trusted, surprise-free) venue, they embraced their core values of innovation and experimentation:

1.   The event would be hosted in-house, no matter how finished, in the new space.

2.   Rather than keeping their invite list internal, the company leveraged the event as an Open House celebration that included customers, prospects and partners as well as employees.

3.   They embraced the (on-going) element of surprise, making that core to the event. Invited to help, we proposed curating a truly unique, experimentation-rich wine tasting experience that not only underscored their event goals, but showcased their culture in a hands-on, unforgettable way. [Ask us how.]


How can you dial things so that your event can’t help but WOW?
 

Be Deliberate.  
Just like an architect builds from the ground up, so should your event. If your employees are sharing their day-to-day worklife experience, make your event a reflection of that experience, too.
 

Be Subtle.  
Events that maximize the opportunity to pay themselves forward, are authentic – culture-infused and value-based, but not overworked. Don’t be creative for creativity’s sake. Find natural ways to reinforce your culture through your event. In our experience, less is often more.
 

Get Personal.  
Creating an experience that can be personalized is a technique we use to help folks engage on a meaningful level. An attendee's event experience should be organic and seamless, or about them. Customers or prospects included in your events shouldn’t feel like they are being sold – whether a specific product, or your brand as a whole. And if it’s an employee event innately (not necessarily directly) celebrate your team first, their work and their accomplishments. This is not a time to promote the company.

... folks invest in you/your brand because it feels natural; employees offer their best because they want to.

All those who participate are simply along for the ride, and it should feel that way. Later, folks (continue to) invest in you/your brand because it feels natural; employees offer their best because they want to.

In other words, shared experiences are a wonderful way to dial things in personally, and leave a winning impression.

 

Certainly events are a wonderful way to celebrate, boost company culture, and reinforce camaraderie – and there is value in this alone. But why have the value end there or the impact expire with the evening? Let what you stand for become your muse, your WOW factor. Then invite folks in to experience organically why your company is unique.
 

Remember, attendees should leave the event feeling connected to the experience – and your team and your brand – in their own way. By setting the tone with subtle reflections of your culture, you can then create organic opportunities for people to connect. In so doing, your event will go from a single time, day and place on your guests’ calendar, to a memorable experience that leaves them wanting to participate and engage again and again.

How to Pair Wine + Cheese – 3 Easy Methods

Photo Credit: Shane Godfrey Photography

Photo Credit: Shane Godfrey Photography

It's a given that wine and cheese go well together. But that doesn't mean that every wine pairs well with every cheese - or vice versa.

How do you 'try before you buy'? Well, if you can't, use one (or more) of these 3 methods!
 

1.    PAIR TO COMPARE.

INTENSITY  of flavor is a wonderful starting point. Wine takes-on more memorable nuance with age, just as cheese does. Young fresh wines tend to be bright and quaffable. Wines become nuttier (oxidized), or perhaps you’ve noticed dried fruit flavors or aromas when tasting a truly aged wine. Just as a cheese “dries out” with aging, in a wine the fresh-fruit-factor starts to play second fiddle to dried fruits (e.g. figs, apricots, even raisins) or other traits specific to the wine (grape’s) particular kind. Pair two young things or two time-tested cheeses and wines together and you have a match! 

PROTEIN  loves protein. Remember from your own larger life experience that fat is a wonderful flavor vehicle. And as cheese dries out, fat and protein become more concentrated (dare we say… intense?). In wine, tannin – or the uber-dry feeling left on your tongue after you swallow – is a form of protein. So a very dry (or tannic) wine is a good match for heartier cheeses.

TEXTURE  is a fun one. It’s not hard to imagine that fatty or creamy cheeses can sing with buttery, oaky, curvy wines. How does a wine come to give that impression? The grape’s natural characteristics are partly in play, and winemakers can dial up the impact when they use American oak (in particular, as opposed to French or Hungarian, stainless steel or the like) to age their wines (yes, the duration of time in oak matters, too – like a marinade).

 

 

2.    PAIR TO CONTRAST.

SALTY vs. SWEET  Another familiar piece of advice, right? Sweet and salty are opposites that attract, and so yes, there is a very good reason why fruit (fresh or dried) and nuts often adorn a cheese plate.


TEXTURE vs. TEXTURE  Wait, didn’t we already cover this one? Yep! Just as you can complement textures, you can also contrast them. Boisterous, palate-refreshing sparkling wines are a wonderful counter to richer, lingering cheeses.


 

3.    PAIR BY PLACE.

This is one of our favorites. As the adage says, “If it grows together, it goes together.” There’s a reason why foods and wines from a certain place are grown there, styles evolve, etc. Tradition stems from local success. So don’t fight it!


 

Certainly knowing what a particular wine tastes like (both the grape’s own characteristics and as these are massaged per local traditions) is a great advantage - and just as important as knowing what a particular cheese tastes like. That’s where things begin.

So, start with what you know, whether it is a particular wine favorite, or a particular cheese. Pair focused on just that one element, referencing our guiding principles to find matches that sing (there are often more than one). Soon you’ll be connecting the dots about why a pairing works – or doesn’t! – on instinct and gaining confidence to take the ball and run with it.

 

The Recipe for a Perfectly Wine-Infused Summer

What better way to celebrate the dog days of summer than curled up in your hammock or beach chair with a book you can’t put down, and a glass of something lip-smackingly delicious close at hand?

Summer reading is highly personal – some relish a good bit of mindless fluff while others use the time poolside to catch up on thought-provoking or hobby-enhancing reads.

Occasionally, oh-so-occasionally, a book will allow you to achieve multiple ends: you learn something while being thoroughly entertained. Characters (however real or fictional) come alive so much so they feel like part of your life. Dots connect in ways they hadn’t before, and more memorably, because the story itself is so tangible.

a page-turning summer read for fans of history, fans of wine, fans of villains and heroes alike. . .

In his book American Wine: A Coming of Age Story, Tom Acitelli delivers a page-turning summer read for fans of history, fans of wine, fans of villains and heroes alike that stretches like a perfect summer day into today's 20-teens. Acitelli’s captivating, appropriately detailed narrative transports you at once from Rouen, France where Julia Child was first introduced to the concept of wine at lunch (! - 1948), to a then fledgling mid-1970s New York City and its finger-crossing venture Windows on the World, to Miljenko "Mike" Grgich's post-WWII Croatia, back to College Park, Maryland and Robert Parker's first sniffs and tastes in the late 1960s, to the epic Judgement of Paris, Robert Mondavi’s pursuits -- and beyond!

situated in Boston in particular it can be quite easy to look further east to the Old World of wine, rather than west to the New. . .

Whether you are new to wine, 'simply' believe it one of the best party tricks for bringing people together, and/or are a long-time fan, certainly gaining a little perspective and new insight is always winning - no matter the genre. And, we admit, situated in Boston in particular it can be quite easy to look further east to the Old World of wine, rather than west to the New, to understand and perhaps appreciate wine even more.

Acitelli breaks this bubble, illuminating not "just" his title's thrust, but the global political, economic, technological and cultural influences, anecdotes and characters essential to understanding how far the American wine industry has come in such a short time – and how essential all of the players and factors worldwide have been to achieving such an end.

As we often say, like looking at a piece of art for the first time, whether you're inclined to like it, love it or hate it, fuller appreciation emerges when its story – its context – is revealed.

Here Acitelli paints a large, overdue, page-turning portrait of (American) wine that, in itself, is lip-smackingly good.

Champagne or Sparkling Wine? How to Select the Right Bubbles for the Occasion

If you’re confused about Champagne and Sparkling Wine you’re in good company. Questions come up at nearly every event we host, regardless if sparkling wine is even one of the wines we’re sharing.
 

  •    Can you call this Champagne?
  •    What is Cava?
  •    What about Prosecco?


Today we take things sip by sip, exploring Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Sekt, and Crèmant sparkling wines in turn – so you will not only know the differences between them, but also which style is best suited for the occasion at hand. Let's dive in!
 

Champagne | Champagne, France
 

ONLY sparkling wine from Champagne, France is Champagne, and can be called (or labeled) as such. The northern most region in France, this incredibly temperamental, cool-climate locale with its chalky soils ensures grapes with very high acidity – exactly what you’re after when it comes to producing exceptional bubbly.

There are also only 3 legally permitted grape types that can be grown and included in a Champagne wine: Chardonnay (white), Pinot Noir (red) and Pinot Meunier (red). These can be blended (most often) or fly solo.

In addition to the tricky, cool climate (i.e. while you want ripping, fresh acidity, you also need grapes to ripen enough to give the wine some balancing fruit-mojo), the technique employed in making Champagne (méthode champenoise) is incredibly labor and time intensive. Winemakers must induce a second fermentation inside the bottle which, suffice to say, takes many, many steps over an extended time including, at the end, freezing the neck of the bottle to later disgorge unwanted sediment (key for flavor development, but not desired in the final product). The result is a bright, complex, layered and toastier/creamier style of wine.

Often Champagne is Non-Vintage (NV). Winemakers prefer to blend fruit from different harvests to achieve the “House Style” for which they are known. Only in exceptional vintages will wine be dedicated to a vintage year bottling.

INSIDER TIP.   While most of the Champagne we drink is dry (Brut), there are sweeter styles available. Extra Dry is actually slightly sweeter than Brut, followed by demi-sec and then, rarely, doux.
 

Cava | Penedès, Spain
 

Cava is the Spanish term for their own style of sparkling wine, and named after the cave cellars where the wine was aged.

It came into being in 1872 when Don José Raventos found himself tromping through Champagne, France and encountered their specialty. He was rightfully fascinated. Soon enough he had decided to employ the traditional French méthode champenoise technique at home, but wanted to put a uniquely Spanish spin on it.

First up, he used local, indigenous varietals: Macabeu (the dominant grape), Parellada and Xarel·lo – all white grapes – contribute their own unique characteristics to the blend and create a uniquely Spanish sparkler. (Producers today are also permitted to use Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Garnacha and Monastrell in the blend.)

Next was his approach to aging: Cava is aged for only 9 months on the lees (this technique helps give Champagne its famous toasty character).

The differences go on, but the important thing is the result: Cava is a cheery, slightly less robust, citrusy/fruity, sometimes slightly nutty alternative to Champagne.

INSIDER TIP.   Wander off the ubiquitous Cristalino or Friexenet paths and you’ll often find even more value, while supporting smaller producers.
 

Prosecco | Veneto, Italy
 

Venetians, for their part, turn to Prosecco – aka Italian sparkling wine – daily. And whether you know Prosecco yet or not, you’ve probably noticed it is certainly an affordable bubbly option.

What makes it different than its counterparts? This wine is named for the largest proportion of grapes used to produce it, Prosecco. It is widely considered more straightforward, lemon-limey and leaner than traditional Champagne.

Why? It’s snappy flavor and texture result because it is made using a different approach than its French and Spanish cousins. The Charmat method ensures the secondary fermentation (necessary to “trap” the CO2 and create the bubbles) occurs in large, pressurized tanks rather than in the bottle. This means the wine is oxygenated and bottled “on demand,” without a long aging regiment. And, since the wine is made in batches if you will, rather than bottle by bottle, this helps keep the price low.

INSIDER TIP:    Gravitate toward Prosecco if a sparkling cocktail is on the menu, too. It’s perfect for both sipping solo and for adding a little unobtrusive sparkle to your cocktail recipe.
 

Sekt | Germany & Austria
 

Fun Fact:   Germans drink more Sparkling Wine per capita than any other country. They also produce the most variety of options, all under the larger umbrella term “Sekt”.

Their bubbly can be made with any method described already herein. Naturally, pricier selections are made in the traditional méthode champenoise while cheaper offerings are bottled with the Charmat method. Stylistically you will taste the characteristics that each of these respective approaches imparts – leaner for the latter and toastier and richer for the former.

They can also be made from a wide selection of grapes, with the grape-type used also helping to dictate the flavor experience in the final product. E.g. Riesling Sekt tend to be more zippy with trademark high acidity; Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris deliver a fuller-bodied, rounder experience; and Pinot Noir rosé styles deliver more tang and berry fruit, with pretty aromatics.

While less widely known/imported, a German (and Austrian) sparkling wine experience is quite diverse – and certainly worthy of your interest.

INSIDER TIP:   Use your wallet as your guide. Spend more than $15 to avoid the plonk.
 

Crèmant de [Fill-In-The-Blank] | Non-Champagne Regions, France
 

You didn’t think France was having all of the sparkling wine fun in just one of its wine growing regions, did you?

Truth be told, French Crèmant is perhaps our favorite alternative to Champagne. Most often made in the same traditional method, each region in France has go-to varietals. These same grapes are pressed into service for their sparkling wines. For example, the Loire Valley is known for their Chenin Blanc. So Crèmant de Loire tends to be made from Chenin. In Burgundy they are world-famous for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, so that’s what you should expect in bubbly forms.

INSIDER TIP:   Artisanal or small production winegrowers that decide to produce sparkling wine make a BIG commitment. They need the resources – economic and otherwise – to do so. If they are going down this path, they are doing it for a reason. In our experience, passion pays. Crèmant wines are an uber-affordable alternative to Champagne, with many exceptional selections falling in the $16-$22 range.

 

What’s the moral of the story?
No matter which country floats your boat, sparklers are not just for toasting and gifting; with the variety of styles available worldwide they can be for every day. And perhaps they should be! With their essential, naturally high acidity, sparkling wine pairs superbly with any cuisine. Plus, they’re just F-U-N.

Flower Power: Tips from a Pro to Make Your Next Event Pop

Like a beautifully plated dish, a little pop of color and splash of texture naturally create an extra note of polish – and memorability – for any occasion. Heck, these elements can make ‘nothing’ an occasion.

Over the last year in particular there has been a brewing desire for us to add floral design to our menu of à la carte offerings. Of course, we were only too happy to oblige!

After putting out the word to find a like-minded partner, we found our perfect match: LauraJean Pecci of L J Floral + Event Design.

Here’s a peek at why we're so excited to be working with LauraJean, and how you can take a page out of her book to make your next event pop, too.
 

On curation…

[Rebecca A. R. Schimmoeller]  I’ve heard you use the word curate to describe what you do – I’m a big fan.  Can you share more? Why does it best describe what you do?

[LauraJean Pecci]  Everything from conception to execution impacts the occasion. You’re reflecting someone else’s dream. So telling a story through natural elements – creating a mood specific to the client, the season and the occasion – ensures a fresh, vibrant, truly organic, one-of-a-kind experience. We believe capturing this story starts from the moment we pluck a single stem at the market. We don’t start a story without finishing it, and we write every chapter along the way.
 

On design…

With such a philosophy, it’s no surprise everything you do is custom. Can you give an example of an event that pushed you creatively to tie in elements, maybe to a corporate or branded event?

Sure thing! You know, there are some great logos with flashy colors that translate super well from a graphic design perspective. But from a natural perspective? That can be tricky. There’s one client of ours that really pushes us to get creative on how we can create a cohesive visual experience. We’ve had a lot of success using tonal colors, and also looking for plants that can accent or enhance their brand’s fluorescent color scheme. It’s a fun challenge!

 

Are there trends in floral design “the average wo/man” is getting excited about for good reason?

The natural look! The un-tameness, the wildness. Using foliage, different greens or all white for a clean look. Textures are also hugely popular… For me, I love the celebration of how things naturally exist, when the mechanics are free-flowing and loose. Just beautiful.
 

On budgets…

When clients have the luxury of a high budget allocated for an event, it can be good news/bad news, right? They want to maximize it. But we’re thoughtful in why we make the recommendations we do, so that we’ve designed the entire experience to hit the nail on the head – from flow, to energy, to the variety of wines on offer. Adding another wine tasting station, for example, could actually detract from their goals or the larger guest experience. We’d rather have them invest in other touches to get there. Can you relate?

Absolutely. We have been known to talk a client out of spreading flowers throughout the entire venue. From our perspective, it’s about creating an atmosphere that is noticeable. Often one-of-a-kind focal pieces do that better.  When they choose to work with us, they’re also inviting us to reign things in if needed. It’s a responsibility we’re happy to take-on!

 

Ok, let’s flip it. For someone on a budget, what are your “3 Essential Tricks to Floral Design”?

  1. Don’t underestimate greens. Celebrate the green moment, if you will. So buy a lot, and a lot of different ones.
     
  2. Focus on just 1 or 2 elements you want to showcase. For example, spend a little extra on just one peony or garden rose, then accent that.
     
  3. Think outside the box – but keep it clean! Herbs are a great example. Herbs are so healing – that fragrance? You just feel better.
     

Design continued...

Did you read my mind? (smiling) Food is such an important part of wine experience. I was just going to ask, what’s your take on using herbs, or vegetables like artichokes? Are there other ways you’ve had fun tying in “foodie” elements to a given event?

Hahaha – yes, I use them all the time. I’m obsessed with mint! For the holidays we were using rosemary. But MINT! The color, the texture – it just pops. Last week we actually used broccolini, too – with garden roses and mint. I loved the texture it added. And these elements have real staying power. We also work a lot with fruit. There’s a great range of color possibilities there, too.
 

Since we’re back on design, I’m curious, what’s the most clever vase you’ve ever seen? Have you been able to repurpose something you wouldn’t have expected, that a client wanted you to integrate to the design? Maybe that was connected to their brand?

Hanging arrangements – flowers coming out of planks or wired around in a freeform style, like a chandelier. Those are fun to create.

But yeah, one time I had a client that wanted me to use a boat.

Like the Island Creek Oyster catering boat?

Yes! Exactly like that. In the end I found a ceramic vessel that was in the shape of a boat. We used that. The arrangement became a succulent garden, with white tulips flowing up and over the edge. It was gorgeous.
 

 

If you’d like to see or hear more from LauraJean, check out her website and press page, or make a date to visit her at her brick and mortar shop and design studio, Observatory, outside of Huron Village in Cambridge, MA.

3 Killer Venues Perfect for Spring Meetings and Summer Outings

Getting out of dodge is often a necessary, savvy way to keep the workplace love – and the business itself – alive. Kind of like taking a vacation.

Here in Boston and the surrounding communities there is no shortage of restaurants, hotels, conference centers – and beyond – for offsite meetings and events. But especially for those who already enjoy an optimal work environment, the million dollar question is:

Can you find a space that delivers all of the amenities you’re used to, while delivering a refreshing spin on the familiar?

From our perspective, you can.

Here we spotlight 3 venues around Boston we want to be sure are on your radar: Babson’s Executive Conference Center (Metrowest); Willowdale Estate (North Shore) and the Battery Wharf Hotel (Boston’s North End).

Let’s take a peek at each:
 

BABSON EXECUTIVE CONFERENCE CENTER.    It goes without saying Babson College is a known quantity, certainly a leader in the business community and particularly well-regarded for its MBA program, which is rooted in entrepreneurship and values innovation.

Just this year, when the College expanded their presence in downtown Boston, President Kerry Healey touted the new facility and it’s “innovative convening space for networking, co-working and much more.” Certainly such an approach was grounded in valued experience. According to Sales Manager Nancy Lorusso, the Executive Conference Center on the main campus in Wellesley offers “many untraditional spaces that create a more relaxed setting to foster creativity and collaboration”.

One of our personal favorites is one we share with Nancy – their Woodside Living Room, which really is a living room. Nancy says that “clients looking for a warm, inviting area for a social gathering are immediately drawn here, and the attached walk-out patio is a huge draw for the additional flexibility it lends.” We argue the natural beauty doesn’t hurt either!

Meanwhile because of the school’s reputation, the Center “attracts companies and groups because it’s a place where accomplishment happens – there are no distractions.”

In truth, there are a few “distractions”. All good ones. The inherent energy in the place is one. The food is another. Having worked with their culinary team on wine dinners for clients, we can attest that their team is not only wonderful to work with behind the scenes, but our experience is equal to the feedback Nancy receives: guests regularly report how surprised and excited they were to find the food on-site is delicious.

With over 200 guest rooms, too, Babson’s Executive Conference Center lends itself naturally to an overnight company retreat. Certainly, there is no scarcity of amenities or possibilities in their almost 20,000 sq. ft. of space.

If you can see your coworker tucking into a casual nook to catch up on some work after a morning rich with discussion, or you can see a couple of teammates high-fiving a great idea during an afternoon ‘wine down’ reception in the courtyard, Babson is worth checking out.

Oh, and an impromptu game of soccer? That can happen too.

 

WILLOWDALE ESTATE.   While Babson may be a known quantity, Willowdale Estate is not only a greater Boston “hidden gem” but also a surprise to many familiar with the North Shore. And according to Sarah Boucher, Marketing Director, that’s part of its allure.

Located about 30 miles north of Boston in Topsfield, MA, the property is surrounded by hundreds of acres of state forest along the Ipswich River. (Care to add canoeing or lawn games to your summer outing?) When you wind up the long drive, it’s a wonderful surprise to find the gorgeous, fully renovated and restored property atop the gentle slope at the end. The giant, bright red door with green trim is the happiest of greetings – and behind it lies the friendliest, most capable staff around.

These guys are the real deal.

Whether your team is a bunch of foodies (or just likes to eat!) or you’re focused on the basics, like AV for your PowerPoint presentation, all of the bells and whistles of possibility are at your beck and call. Their full-service operation makes planning a snap. (Case in point: don’t miss this video of Land Rover’s product launch event!)

Their secret? Sarah says that “when your staff has the opportunity to pursue their passions, think creatively, and contribute their own unique strengths to the team you can only continue to improve on your work.” Cheers to that!

With so many of us cooped up throughout the workday (regardless how cool the space), perhaps what makes company meetings and events even more ripe with possibilities at Willowdale is “Tent Season”. Rightfully boasting a custom, handcrafted, Sperry Tent (yes, it breathes!) upheld by spruce center poles, a Willowdale experience is possible outdoors rain or shine. They can even heat the tent if El Niño threatens – and, ladies, there is a covered walk to the restrooms inside.  

Prefer to be under the stars and bistro lights? The Butterfly Garden offers additional possibilities. You can “just” host an intimate reception here or opt to follow it with a 4-course wine dinner that’s not only farm to fork, but curated to your specifications by the inventive, award-winning Chef Ben Lightbody.

Trust us, you’re in exceptionally capable hands here.

 

BATTERY WHARF HOTEL.    If your crowd could use a little Boston-culture infusion on top of stunning harbor views and modern amenities, consider what the Battery Wharf Hotel offers.

Located right on the waterfront in Boston’s North End, it’s hard not to add a scavenger hunt component to your company retreat when planning meetings and events at this boutique property. When the U.S. of A. was just getting its legs in the 17th Century, this was where the action was. The nearby Freedom Trail celebrates this past as it gets folks exploring key moments of the American Revolution, by foot, from the North End all the way to Boston Common.

Indeed, today the hustle and bustle of the city is at an arm’s length – easy to access by land and by sea (there’s even a water taxi to/from Logan Airport). And yet, according to Director of Sales & Marketing, Efren Aponte Cortes, the Battery Wharf is the Hub’s own “Urban Oasis”.  We couldn’t agree more.

Maybe your colleagues are the sort to hang their legs from the Battery Wharf’s private dock after a day of meetings. Or perhaps they’d prefer to stretch their legs meandering through the parks and past cafés along the Boston HarborWalk. Maybe neither. The thing is, here there’s something for everyone.

Inside the fully renovated property the feeling of ease transcends their partnership with Exhale Spa. The abundance of natural light throughout and the clever development of spaces certainly caught our attention – imagine segwaying from a modern meeting room (surrounded by glass) to a wine reception under the atrium.

Want to step outside?

Try one of their intimate patio spaces. Better yet, enjoy s’mores on the Terrace sitting around the Fire Pit. For those who appreciate a little wow-factor on top of wow-factor, we admit we’re taken with the exclusive Maritime Museum space – perfect for casual exploring while taking part in a sunset wine reception before dinner at Aragosta Bistro.

If you’re looking for something even more custom, that’s possible, too. We’ve witnessed Catering Sales Manager Carolina Villela work with Chef Adamo to come up with a cocktail-hour menu followed by a multi-course dinner that couldn’t help but impress. Their attention to detail starts the moment you begin working with them.

 

Surely you agree, discovering venues that not only offer those lovable workplace health “creature comforts” but also do so in their own unique ways is hard not to get excited about.

After all, any fully-loaded, flexible space surrounded by natural beauty that excels at satisfying our every craving is hard not to work-ate to - right?