Have YOU ever planned your own large gathering of
friends + wine + food?!?
It sure is easy… right?!? Haha… big pours in the glass.
Today, we will provide stress free tips, advice and suggestions from the pros on ‘How to host a successful wine lovers shindig’. An elegant, simple dinner that highlights the wines that are being poured and the people who attend.
Getting it right can be challenging… but oh sooo rewarding. Many people are intimidated by the prospect of entertaining a group.
YOU… can throw the party that people will be talking about all week. It’s all in the details. Plenty of pre-planning… doesn’t hurt either. Plan the party and the serving of food and wine so you are able to enjoy the event too.
I have also included photos from some of my favorite party planner extraordinaires in Sonoma County to give you an idea of how to do it… The Right Way. These Gurus can teach you or me a thing or two about how it is done. A fabulous gathering every time. My thanks go to Ziggy the Wine Gal, Laurel Glen Vineyard, Russian River Winegrowers, Iron Horse Vineyards and Jordan Winery for the invites over the years. Below is a photo gallery and snapshots from these events.
Your Party Planning Checklist
One of the most important (other than wine) aspects of hosting a memorable dinner party is the atmosphere. Think like a critic when viewing a space. Is seating adequate for the number of people? Is the size of the room right? Does it ‘flow’ well for guests to mingle and co-mingle in groups? What feelings does the interior decorating convey?
AMBIANCE IS IMPORTANT.
Form and function are interrelated when it comes to location and you need both to work with your party goals. Keep in mind the varying needs of your guests, from accessibility, to parking, to proximity. Whether you are planning a sit down dinner or a cocktail mixer, first impressions matter and the location has a lot to do with that moment.
Is there enough standing room between furniture? Where will guests park? If you have a service or kitchen staff, is there room for them to navigate around guests smoothly?
Don’t forget: Invitations should be sent out in advance of at least a few weeks so make sure that your location is available long before this and before you commit to a party date.
The venue can have a large impact on your overall guests enjoyment from parking to dining to mingling and enjoying oneself after the meal. Convenience can mean different things when it comes to a location for the dinner. Is it easily mapped and can the invitees reach the location within a reasonable amount of time or would a hotel suggestion be a good idea? If your house is not ideal, then consider renting a space or equipment to improve your yard or home for the occasion. Options are endless.
2.)The Decor & Theme
Ask yourself: WHY are you throwing a dinner party anyway? Are you mad?!? Haha. … It does seem like a lot of work. But, as I have stated throughout this article, it is completely worth it to host a party. Parties are fun. + involve WINE Shenanigans of the bestest kind.
– When considering themes, first decide if you are holding an event for a specific person, place, thing to celebrate or if you just like parties and can pick a theme from scratch.
**For example, if you are throwing a party during the last week of October, chances are high that costumes may be involved or to celebrate a wedding, you should bust out the bubbles or rice and the ball gown.
**On the other hand… if you are throwing a dinner party… “just because” then the sky’s the limit when choosing themes and perhaps a murder mystery dinner or a hawaiian luau or a winemaker dinner in the caves or even an outdoor meal in the vineyards would be ideal.
When comparing and tasting wines – include a white tablecloth, background, and plating if possible, this allows guests to compare the color of the wine in the glass which is an important aspect to tasting. Avoid tinted stemware as well and use clear glasses for all. Also use the appropriate glass for the wine. Flutes, burgundy style glasses and a white wine glass are all a good bet and handy to have around any day of the week. You never know which bottle might call to you from the cellar. It also makes a stunning presentation to line up these glasses on the table at the top of the plate. Good for those instagram bottle selfies too.
WINE: (important things come first)
A bottle of wine is about 24 ounces or approximately 4 glasses with party size pours. If it is a light affair or a luncheon, half a bottle per person may do the job… but realistically, because people tend to drink more than they realize when then eat, at least a bottle per person would be recommended. Open a bottle of great bubbly to start and remember to keep the pours light until the real food has been served. Don’t forget the strategically placed water pitchers, spit buckets and wine glass markers so that people can label their glass and remember which is their own as they mingle.
Make sure to also serve at the right temperature and try to present and pour the wines in a pleasing order. Sparkling wine, light whites, rich whites, rosés, light reds, bold reds, and then dessert wines to round it all out.
Recommended Temps: Most Whites 40-50 degrees,
Most Reds 55-65 degrees.
Now to the good stuff – The bottles! I always suggest wines that simply taste good with food. Keep it simple stupid as they say. No fussy bottles here. Of course, it is important to taste these wines beforehand and know more about the bottle to make sure you are serving something you can be proud of. You may have to sample a few bottles to accomplish this task…. of course only in the name of research… haha!
Try a new wine that is a trend along with some unknown or small batch bottles that people may not have heard of. Go local and perhaps overseas with your choices to please all the guests in the party. If you have a local wine merchant that you like and trust, you can also have them help find some food friendly wines that would be smashing popular at a party.
Don’t forget the beer, non-alcoholic beverages and a few cocktail selections for those guests that prefer something else. Be a good host. Coffee and something to finish.
First things first, Are you hosting a small or large group? When hosting a smaller group, you can create a more complex menu as opposed to a large gathering where keeping it simple on food choices can save a lot of headaches.
Second, consider the season of the year. Is it going to be hot or more of a cool climate on the day of your dinner party? Cool temperatures tend to make people crave comfort foods and hearty warm dishes for the obvious reasons. In turn, the hot summer months are perfect for seasonal veggies, fruits and chilled dishes to help folks beat the heat.
Next, think of a main dish and build your starters and side dishes from there. It is important to provide a variety and yet a balance of colors, textures, temperatures and flavors on the tablescape. For example… if your main dish is complicated, make the side dishes of a more simple variety and vice versa. At the end of the meal, keep in mind, that the goal is… balance. Vegetables, meats, dairy, starches, sugars, salts and the most important food group of course…. THE WINE!
Next, consider your budget. Adjust your menu if necessary. How simple or elaborate the menu will be can be determined by budget alone sometimes.
Next, Have you checked with your guests about allergies or food preferences. A good host would check when confirming the RSVP and keep a list of any guests special needs.
Personal Touches, Type up your menu and print it to lay on each plate. It is the little touches that can be the most memorable. Did you also create name tags to go with? You should. Just sayin’.
Final Prep, Who is going to cook? KEEP IN MIND: The goal is not for you to be slaving away all night over the heat of the stove, but to actually mingle and enjoy your guests.
5.)The Guest List
– Choose people that will be comfortable at a wine dinner and that you will be comfortable with as well as others. This goes without saying, but I said it anyways, so there. You don’t need to worry about your guests being perfectly paired, you can work on interaction and introductions once you are all together. Making sure to have a few good conversationalists around without making the entire guest list up of think tank style folks, helps to keep conversation flowing nicely and balance created. PRO Tip: More intimate groups encourage conversation.
– Also remember to think about the space. What number of people would the location comfortably fit while still leaving guests room to mingle, walk around and create ‘micro-groups’ and conversations in separate seating areas before the meal itself? Don’t invite too many and pack them in and also don’t invite too many and leave too much “white space” in the room. Think about the flow of the room.
3 Days Before…
– Write down ingredients from recipes you’ve chosen. Go shopping. Get home, unpack…. then go shopping again… you most likely forgot something
– Clean up if you are hosting at your home. Check in with location if your party is hosted elsewhere
– Check your stemware, utensils, etc for inventory
– Send a follow up reminder to guests
– Confirm your music list or live music talent and check equipment
1 Day Before…
– Touch up cleaning
– Decorate with themed items
– Set up the bar station and any wine that can be left out
– Choose a few more bottles of wine… (that’s my kinda party!) because you will probably need more anyways and wine sure does aid in conversation flow. Just sayin’
– Food prep of anything that can be done ahead of time
– Don’t feel overwhelmed. The day before and a shindig can seem daunting… that is the way that everyone feels, even veteran party planners get the jitters.
BUT also… Do you have enough wine?!? Haha.
Don’t forget to have FUN –
Remember, it’s a party!
LASTLY, A FINAL THOUGHT: The important thing…
… is all being together in the end.
Raising a glass to a fantastic dinner party for you and the lucky friends who receive an invitation.
JORDAN WINERY – at The Jordan Estate, Healdsburg
Some things I love about Jordan Winery Parties: Elegance abounds, Outstanding food items, Live music, Themed decor and entertainment, Gorgeous estate property and views, Fabulous ‘flow’ with many different inside/outside and seating areas to mingle, Plethora of food -drink- entertainment options, a higher end guest and winelover, private venues (invite only), afterparties are outrageously fun, and the whole event is always FUN- with all guests leaving happy, Style and finesse goes into each moment. and around each turn.
Ziggy The Wine Gal – at ZigTown, Geyserville (aka ‘home’)
Ziggy the Wine Gal:
Some things I love about Ziggy’s Home Parties: Signature cocktails made by the spirit professional host herself, Vintage stemware and dishes, Custom name tags, Celebrity Chef cooks, Fabulous winery pours with local or international bottles, Outdoor setting with vineyard and garden views with easy access to house and kitchen too, Small group of wine loving friends, Big pours in the glass, Ziggy’s fabulous interior design touches both indoors and out, Late into the evening shenanigans await…
Laurel Glen Vineyard – at The Tasting Room, Glen Ellen
Laurel Glen Wine:
Some things I love about Laurel Glen Vineyard Parties: High end Cabernet Sauvignon, Special pours from their vast library of wine dating back to early 80’s, same vineyard, Themed events and wine club exclusive parties, dinner with an educational aspect for true Cab lovers, Camaraderie of the guests each and every time (these are Cab people), Wine staff and service is on par and with uber knowledge of the area, grape and vineyards of Sonoma Mountain, quaint small village location.
Russian River Winegrowers – at Hop Kiln Estate, Windsor
Russian River Valley Growers:
Some things I love about a Russian River Wine Party: Fabulous group of Pinot Noir lovers, Focus on the wines and winemakers, Large format bottles galore, Locations are top notch and rotate, Live Music – Auctions, Large format bottles are always poured, Pinot Noir above all other Pinot Noirs, Cool climate wine focus, Local chefs and caterers every time, hospitality at its finest in Sonoma County wine world, Camaraderie like no other wine association in town shows in the peoples faces and conversations at the table.
Iron Horse Vineyards – at Iron Horse Estate, Sebastopol
Iron Horse Winery:
Some things I love about Iron Horse Parties: Views that can’t be beat, family owned estate property and historic home, caviar and bubbles start EVERY party here… unlimited fancy food stuffs- big pours and hospitality is the name of the game, Celebrity chefs- politicians- musicians and actor sightings galore at an Iron Horse event, All themed events and celebration parties hosted throughout the year, Bubbles and bubbles and more bubbles… Plus a little Pinot Noir too, Fabulous family for hosts, the Sterlings are iconic, philanthropic and a Sonoma County gems in the world of wine and agriculture.