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How this hotel’s wine festival creates buzz (and revenue)

The Boston Harbour Hotel recently completed the 30th anniversary of its annual wine festival – aptly named the Boston Wine Festival – for which I was lucky enough to be invited and report on the event.

Founded by Chef Daniel Bruce, the property’s executive chef, pictured, the event runs through the first quarter of each year. With 35 separate and unique dinners this year, Chef Bruce figures that there have been well over a thousand wine dinners since inception, as several years had many more functions.

Chef Bruce toasts participants during the Boston Harbour Hotel's annual wine festival.
Chef Bruce toasts participants during the Boston Harbour Hotel’s annual wine festival.

Chef Bruce notes, “The wine series was the genesis behind our wine-driven restaurant, Meritage. If you’re a wine lover or are in the wine business, the Boston Wine Festival has carved a significant market niche. I am very proud of this fact and that it carries positive, year-round business impact.”

Many of you have probably held one or two wine dinners at your hotel. Thus, you can readily imagine what it would be like to arrange two, three or even four a week throughout a three-month period.

Facts and figures

While the target for a typical wine dinner is 80 patrons, most exceed this number as demand is strong. Prices range from US$135 to US$395 per person depending upon the host winery, with the exception of a lower-cost charitable event that is not tied to a specific vendor. The events are profitable and drive some decent rooms business during a typically low season.

We attended the Best of Willamette, highlighting prestigious vintages from Oregon and featuring bottles from Soter, Elk Cove and Drouhin. The magnificent menu consisted of four courses plus dessert, with my favorite being the braised maple-smoked beef tongue served with the Roserock Zephirine 2016 (pinot noir) from Domaine Drouhin.

Why, after 30 years, has this program endured and prospered?

Financial viability. No matter how good the idea, if it does not have financial legs, it is a non-starter. The Boston Wine Festival is good for business, driving F&B and rooms revenue. As a secondary benefit, it enhances the restaurant’s ability to improve its overall wine selection through better relationships with the vending community, often leading to either better prices or to unique availabilities.

A champion in the executive chef. It is doubtful that a program of this intensity would continue without a hard-working driver. Chef Bruce’s passion and creativity doubtless have kept this festival both fresh and flourishing.

Something to talk about when not much is going on. When the Celtics and Bruins are not in town, the first quarter is pretty quiet in Boston. The festival is a welcome respite from dreary days and snow.

Quality image consistency. Events of this nature showcase the property and the restaurant. In these days of social media and public relations, with limited traditional advertising, events make great sense.

I would not recommend that you embark your own decades-long journey of wine makers’ dinners. At least, not if you are sane and value having a life outside of events management. But adding wine dinners at a consistent frequency into your plan is worthy of consideration. If you need to experience the best and get a little bit of inspiration, may I suggest a trip to Boston any first quarter.

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