Teams Blend and Bond

Retreats: Teams of the Vine

Teams Blend and Bond

By Jennifer Allen, Prosper Magazine

Running out of team-building ideas? Find out how a crush on the vine can turn into better communication, higher profits and plenty of fun.

Do your eyes roll when someone swirls a glass of wine, inhales the aroma deeply and after a long and obviously oh-so-thoughtful pause, proclaims: “Ah, this Pinot Noir’s bouquet is redolent of cherry and strawberry nicely balanced with a just a whiff of cinnamon.”

You sniff it and think, Hmm. I smell wine. Well, Barbara Drady, founder and Chief Wine Evangelist of Affairs of the Vine, is here to help.

A former school teacher turned wine sales rep turned trainer for sales teams in the wine industry, Drady creates wine education events for individuals and businesses. She and her husband John own Sonoma Coast Vineyards in Sebastopol.

“I got tired of sales, it became about fighting for price rather than quality,” says Drady. “My husband said, ‘find your passion,’ which is what’s in the bottle.”

Through Affairs of the Vine, she shares her passion, educating people about wine through programs designed to foster team communication, collaboration and leadership, sharpen negotiating skills, strengthen interpersonal relationships and develop new ways of thinking and interacting as a group, among other goals.

Oh, it’s also fun, and you get to take home your custom-blended bottle of wine.

One of her programs is wine aromatics, in which groups explore the characteristics of distinctive varietals, learning how to identify the wide range of aromas and flavors inherent to wine. This program helps groups develop the ability to taste the differences in wine and to communicate those differences to others.

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The wine-blending program turns teams into winemakers, negotiating over the mixing of selected varietals to come up with a favored wine blend. Asked about accommodating nondrinkers, Drady says, “We can do lemonade blending for those who don’t drink, because it’s actually roughly the same process. Everybody still gets to work together.”

Other programs include food and wine pairing, a wine appellation workshop and a “world tour” of varietal personalities. Each program is customized to meet the client’s needs and can be delivered as a workshop, a reception or even as part of a Wine Boot Camp, Drady’s creation and her “baby.”

Wine Boot Camp is an intensive daylong or multiday event in which recruits get hands-on experience, touring a winery and vineyard and perhaps participating in a crush or learning how to pick grapes, along with conducting several of the aforementioned programs. “Over the years, I had been to some team-building stuff like ropes course. Ick,” observes Drady. “As a wine-sales team trainer, I would bring groups to California to learn about wine and work a crush. They started calling it wine boot camp, and this merged with my team-building ideas.”

Drady says that she believes, Affairs of the Vine is unique in its focus on wine education events as a team-building tool. Her minimum fee is $1,500 and goes up on a per-person basis from there.

“A lot of the planning process is figuring out what the client really wants out of the experience. But we get results,” she says. Ninety-eight percent of the time, I can deliver what the corporation is looking for, whether it’s just fun, relations with vendors or internal team building.”

Business is good. She’s writing 30 proposals a week and closing 85 percent of them; the company has lots of repeat customers and a global client list that includes Amgen, Barclays Global Investors, BNP Paribas, Cisco Systems, Comcast and Johnson & Johnson.

“We try to do events that speak the language of the company,” says Drady. “For doctors, we might focus on red wines because they’re good for the heart. For accountants, we might focus on value, tasting wines you can count on. For software designers, we might focus on how all the small details of a wine come together to create the big picture, similar to pixels on a computer screen.”

“The difference between what we do and what others do is that everybody participates and everybody takes home the same bottle that they made together. The real fun for me is getting people turned on to wine without the snobbery,” says Drady. “Life’s too short not to have a good time.”

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