UGC/LA: How not to run a large public tasting (long)

So I attended the UGC tasting in Los Angeles last night. While there were many interesting wines to taste, I was appalled by how badly organized the event itself was. Several people I knew separately came up to me and commented on what a clusterf**k it was. Here’s a summary of some of the more obvious mistakes:

  1. Sign-in/lineup procedure was wrong. When I arrived for the 7pm main tasting, there were three check-in tables across the main entrance, by alphabetical group. However, they initially said that they would NOT start checking people in until 7pm. That means that at 7pm, when the tasting is supposed to start, they wouldn’t really be letting people in because they would only start checking them in. Luckily, someone figured out that waiting until 7pm was absurd, so they starting check-in before 7pm, and putting wristbands on people.

However, once you checked in and got your wristband, there was no separate line to stand in for entrance to the tasting. Instead, the entire group of people just huddled in front of the tables. When they let people in, the entire group pushed forward, and people just squeezed through the relatively small gaps between the tables to go inside. Luckily, there were no accidents, but it could just have easily turned into a bad crowd reaction/panic as people are trying to squeeze between tables. Unbelievable.

  1. No pourers. When we finally got in, there was only a small handful of staff pouring wine. The vast majority of the table spots just had a few bottles upright (some open, some not). I’ve heard different explanations–the earlier trade tasting was in a different part of town, the winery reps. were downstairs having dinner, etc. It makes no difference–if you have a public tasting that starts at 7pm, have the winery reps. or pouring staff there on time to pour wine. Most of the stations were empty at 7pm.

Since most stations didn’t have pourers, people just started helping themselves to pours. So you can imagine how well that turned out. A lot of people who don’t know how to pour tasting-sized pours quickly draining bottles. Thus, after a relatively short period of time, some stations were out of wine, at least until the winery reps. showed up later and then opened up more wine.

  1. Lack of signage/bad signage/table organization. Someone made the decision that rather than organize the room alphabetically, the room would be organized by commune–Pauillac here, Margaux there, etc. But NOT ONE bothered to tell the guests that that was how the room was organized. There was no announcement, and there was not chart on an easel to show people how the room was organized. Basically, you had to figure that one out yourself. In addition, there weren’t even large signs to show people here’s where Pauillac was pouring, here’s where Margaux was pouring, etc. So, once you realized they were pouring by commune, you still had to try to figure out where the commune was.

But then it gets even more absurd. The only signage for individual chateaux was a small sign on the pouring table itself. Now, if no one was in the room, you could see those small signs on the pouring tables. But once the room was busy, those signs were invisible UNTIL you got up right in front of the table itself. So the process of finding a particular chateaux for tasting was an exercise in frustration after the room got busy 5-10 minutes into the tasting.

There were other organizational issues as well, but this was worse than pathetic. Wally’s has been hosting these UGC tastings for a number of years now–it’s not as if this was their first time putting on this event. And yet the organization and execution of the tasting came off as not even rising to the level of amateurish.

Bruce

Thanks for your input Bruce… We were really on the fence and pulled out at the last moment. It’s really interesting that after this many years as the host, Wally’s can’t make this a very successful and smoothly run event.

R–If it hadn’t been for the Bloom discounted tickets, I might not have gone. Once you got in and got to taste the wines, it was a useful experience. It was just WAY more cumbersome and frustrating than it needed to be.

Favorite bozo comment of the night: Someone was over at the Sauternes area, tasting one of the wines (I think it was Doisy-Daene). The guest was going on and on and on about how this Sauternes was “so linear.” Now, I have no idea what he thought “linear” meant, but I can’t imagine describing a young Sauternes as “linear.” I felt badly for the winery rep having to listen to such tripe and be polite…

Bruce

I agree, the wines should have been ready to pour by the owners at 7pm. But that was not anyone’s fault.

There was a UGC trade tasting in Santa Monica from 1p-5p. By the time the event concluded, 100 people needed to be packed into buses and moved to the next venue, which is not around the block. The Peterson was picked because the larger venues in Santa Monica were already booked. With over 1,500 guests, they needed a large venue. Back to the reason for the delay, with LA traffic, it took close to one hour to get everyone across town. Having been pouring wine all day, the owners actually wanted to eat some dinner before the 7-10pm tasting took place. That seems like a reasonable request. The restaurant could not serve all 100 people as quick as it was hoped. That is the reason for the delay. They

That being said, the event should have started on time. You paid for the ticket, you are right. I found it appalling that attendees did not wait the 15 minutes for the owners to arrive. The wines were already opened and people began pouring their own samples.

You cannot blame the UGC or Wallys for people pushing to get in. That is the fault of rude attendees. Maybe you’re right, there could have been signs. But as the all the communes were alphabetical, and each chateau was also situated alphabetically, if anyone wanted to find a specific property to taste, it was not that find the winery of your choice.

There were many things done right. The glasses were fine for the tasting. The wines were poured at good temperatures. Most importantly, the wines showed well. They were rich, sensuous, opulent Bordeaux wines that will offer serious pleasure.

At the end of the day, for the $60 price, you had the opportunity to taste close to 100 wines and in most cases talk to the owners or managers about the wines.

FWIW, “linear” as a wine descriptor means a wine that does not change in flavor. For example, the wine you asked about, Doisy Daene did not move from pineapple from apricot. Doisy Daene could be considered linear. It was not one of my favorite wines form the appellation. Coutet rocked it!

Crikey, sounds like a bun fight. pileon I suppose I should consider myself lucky I’ve never had to attend a public tasting. [wow.gif]

I didn’t go, and I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I think it could be argued that it was the fault of whoever scheduled two events without sufficient time in between them for people to travel and eat. Traffic should never be a surprise in LA…

+1
Jeff,
With respect, there is fault and it’s the fault of the organizers. You’re planning an event in the middle of L.A., you’ve got a trade tasting that is at least an hour by bus away from the public one. Add in the time it takes to get everyone out of the current location (no easy task), get them all on a bus, transport them in traffic across L.A., get them food, then have them ready for a 7pm start again.

So let’s recap, 100 people about an hour or so away from venue #2, 100 people need to be loaded onto a number of buses, 100 people need to be transported, 100 people need to be feed, and 100 people need to get off a bus and into a new venue and be ready to go. All that must be done in 2 hours. I wasn’t there, but that obviously was piss pour planning. A teenager could have figured out that wasn’t going to work, yet the organizers who’ve done this before couldn’t? [head-bang.gif]

You’ve got people who’ve paid good money to attend a tasting and it’s expected to start on time with the people there to pour.

Jeff–Congrats; you are well on your way to winning this year’s Wine Apologist Award. It’s early in the year, of course, so you may have more competition later on. [snort.gif]

Seriously, Wally’s took people’s money, and is responsible for, among other things (a) the safety of the guests, and (b) ensuring there are people there to pour the wine at the event. As for safety and crowds, of course crowds push. That’s why they’re called a “crowd.” Or perhaps the lesson of crowds, general admission, and the tragedy of The Who concert has faded. Luckily, no one was injured, but all it would have taken is someone to lose their footing–a woman catching her heels in the carpet or whatever–and that could have been the scene of a disaster. And there was no reason for it.

And under no circumstances do you let the general public into a tasting like that and let them pour the wine themselves. If there was some problem with a delay in getting the winery reps into the tasting, then Wally’s should have had other people in there pouring the wines UNTIL the winery reps could take over. Let me repeat–you never let the general public pour their own alcohol at an event like that. It’s probably illegal, it’s certainly unsafe, and it’s just incredibly stupid.

Bruce

Yep. The organizers dropped the ball. If a paid event is scheduled to start at 7:00 then it should. None of the problems should be a surprise. They can all be prepared for. I’ve participated in putting on large events (600+) and we never had these problems.

Blaming the attendees? Get a grip.

When we did wine events we were quite vigalant to prevent people from self-pouring. Very dfinitely illegel here in MD. At the end we had to very quickly pull the bottles from the tables to avoid this. You are correct, crowds have their own psychology.

I suppose the difference being, that when helping hands get sparse at trade events the attendees can be trusted not to go beserk (pun intended [wink.gif] ) and create some sort of ruckus in a desperate effort at getting a slug. [drinkers.gif]

You know, he has a point there. In Bordeaux today, $60 IS pretty good value for a clusterf**k.

And with attitudes like that from people ITB, we can be confident that future results will be “linear.”

Thanks for the warning, getting to the SF version early, though last time they did the trade and public tastings in the same venue, so hopefully won’t be that problem.

For those of you who follow global economic meltdowns, this explanation of “fault” seems rather like former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, also former Goldman Sachs CEO, explaining that the 2008 meltdown was NOT the fault of Wall Street, nor 30-to-1 leverage, nor trillions of toxic mortgage-backed securities, but rather, it was the fault of a bunch of poor people who took out big mortgages and then could not make the payments. You go, owners! You go, Wally’s!

Sounds like the organizers screwed up badly on logistics and timing - really a shame given all of the effort and cost of the producers to come over and do the events. If you know you are going to have hundreds and hundreds of people clamoring to get it at the start for an event that is short anyway given the time needed to taste even half the wines, you need to make sure there is plenty of buffer for things to go wrong.

Quite frankly, I am very surprised that they would ever consider switching venues - seems pretty obvious that moving like that at all let alone across town would do nothing but create problems. I am also quite surprised that in all of LA they couldn’t find a venue that could be used for both events. Do they move around like that in all of the cities? Never noticed it in Chicago but for the most part have only gone to the longer trade event.

Tell me Jeff,do you really believe the drivel that you are passing off for rationalizing Wally’s ineptitude?
Bruce nailed it:

Seriously, Wally’s took people’s money, and is responsible for, among other things (a) the safety of the guests, and (b) ensuring there are people there to pour the wine at the event. As for safety and crowds, of course crowds push. That’s why they’re called a “crowd.” Or perhaps the lesson of crowds, general admission, and the tragedy of The Who concert has faded. Luckily, no one was injured, but all it would have taken is someone to lose their footing–a woman catching her heels in the carpet or whatever–and that could have been the scene of a disaster. And there was no reason for it.

And under no circumstances do you let the general public into a tasting like that and let them pour the wine themselves. If there was some problem with a delay in getting the winery reps into the tasting, then Wally’s should have had other people in there pouring the wines UNTIL the winery reps could take over. Let me repeat–you never let the general public pour their own alcohol at an event like that. It’s probably illegal, it’s certainly unsafe, and it’s just incredibly stupid.

I agree - you either have to find people to pour (they must have known of the timing issue at least an hour in advance if not shortly after 5pm) or you don’t let people in and instead let every know that the start will be delayed by 20 min and that the end time would also be extended. If you let people in, it is natural for people to help themselves if the bottles are open and nobody is at the table - I don’t fault them for doing that, but only for abusing the pours and likely wasting the wine.

Jeff,

I think that is an unbelievably charitable view of what happened. In what world is this “not anyone’s fault.” As they do with every event they put on, Wally’s was willing to continue selling as many tickets as people would buy so as to maximize revenues. They did so with absolutely no regard for logistics and the results were predictably terrible.

The fact that it took an hour to get from Santa Monica to mid-Wilshire at rush hour on a Friday is not surprising to anyone who has lived in this city for any amount of time. As to the notion that venues were booked, if that is the case they should have booked earlier, found a closer location or started the event later. These are a not couple of wine lovers trying to put on an event for friends. Wallys is a business and they hold the event to make money. When people pay for tickets it’s not unreasonable to think that the event will start on time. We had frat parties in college that were better organized.

You can blame Wally’s for people pushing and people pouring themselves. They sold the tickets. They picked the venue. They failed to have an organized procedure for starting the event or getting people in the door. They opened the doors before the reps were at the tables.

Yes, you got to try a large number of wines for $60. Plus, you got the bonus buzz that resulted from the lack of spitting options. But this was the worst run version of that event I can imagine. The people I took had a terrible time, which is not surprising given the apparent willingness of middle aged men to knock young woman out of the way to get to the wine tables.

That is the last Wally’s event I attend.

Wow it gets worse. It seems a good spread of claret elicits the worst in some folk at a badly organised public tasting.

That’s OK. I’m willing to join you on the podium when you accept your whiner of the year award. neener

It took a whopping 15 minutes for every to get situated. It probably took you almost as long, if not longer to write your post.

Seriously, Wally’s took people’s money, and is responsible for, among other things (a) the safety of the guests,
Safety of the guests? Aren’t you exaggerating more than a bit? Or did you seriously feel that your life wasa at peril?

[ and (b) ensuring there are people there to pour the wine at the event. As for safety and crowds, of course crowds push. That’s why they’re called a “crowd.” Or perhaps the lesson of crowds, general admission, and the tragedy of The Who concert has faded. Luckily, no one was injured,

You are off your rocker. You are comparing some rude people going to a wine event and pouring their own wine to a concert where people died? Are you serious?

Like I said earlier, things were not perfect. Life is not perfect. You’re talking a 15 minute gap so the owners could grab a bite to eat. It would have been better if the moment you were there, everyone would have been ready. You are correct. An entire diatribe for a 15 minute delay… Sorry, I do not see it.