Time for Wine: Program Ideas That Deserve a Toast

By | February 7th, 2018

Philadelphia CC offers innovative wine-centric events that increase engagement, introduce new wines to the membership and boost a la carte business.

Successful club wine programs often begin with proper planning. They gain momentum with word-of-mouth marketing and end with wait lists, better wine lists and a more oenophilic membership.

No one knows this better than the food-and-beverage team at Philadelphia (Pa.) Country Club (PCC), where a series of wine programs over the past few years has sparked a cultural shift. PCC’s members are now more knowledgeable about wine and in response, vino events have become more upscale and unique.

“Two years ago, we wanted to create a cohesive wine series that could run throughout the year,” says Robert Colclaser, PCC’s Director of Food & Beverage. “At the time, our members were casual wine drinkers, but there wasn’t as much of a culture surrounding it.”

The club’s Beverage Manager at the time pitched an idea for an “Around the World in 80 Wines” tasting series. The program consisted of ten events, each featuring eight wines from a specific winemaking region of the world, including Southern Italy, California, Spain and South Africa.

“We brought in wine experts each month to highlight the wine-making region we were featuring,” says Colclaser. “Our Executive Chef, Friedrich Gitschner, CMC, AAC, prepared a one- to two-bite pairing for each wine that was similarly regional.”

Each member was provided with a “passport” in which they could keep their wine notes. After the tasting, the passport was stamped with the appropriate wine region, to keep track of each place that had been “visited.”

“There were only a handful of members who attended the first event,” says Colclaser. “But word spread fast, and the second event was significantly bigger.”

From the third month on, almost every event was sold out. To maintain the intimacy of the series, PCC capped attendance for each installment at 40 people. An added benefit of the tasting series was the increased a la carte revenue from members who would first attend the tasting, then move to the dining room for dinner.

“The success of that series sparked a new wine culture within the club,” says Colclaser. “So the next logical step this past year was to offer winemaker dinners.”

Over the past year, PCC invited wine reps and winemakers to the club for private, high-end dinners complete with pairings and wine education.

“The tastings were introductory, and the winemaker dinners are more advanced,” says Colclaser, who notes that the club recently hosted Juelle Fisher, Proprietor of Fisher Vineyards in Santa Rosa, Calif. “Our members have developed a deeper knowledge base about wine, and they enjoy it more than they did before we started with these programs.”

PCC’s wine sales are up considerably and the club’s wine list is now almost twice as large as it was a year earlier. The plan for 2018 is to continue offering winemaker dinners.

“These types of events give our members an exclusive and unique opportunity to have a winemaker offer them tastes of special wines that are paired with dishes prepared by our Certified Master Chef,” says Colclaser. “It has added tremendous value to their membership,  as well as greater prestige to the club.”

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