Marques de Riscal in Rioja Spain

One thing that all business travelers and meeting professionals can agree on is that team building activities can be a part of business events. The challenge, however, is to identify new and unique ones. Well, perhaps we can look to wine country for some inspiration. As far as I’m concerned, wine events and ideas that work in wine country may just be the solution for meetings and incentive.

While Napa Valley is perhaps one of the most famous wine country destinations in the U.S., La Rioja may be one of the most famous regions in northern Spain. Located about 90 minutes outside of Bilbao, this area has been producing wines for centuries, although it is most famous for its red wines. And there are some great team building ideas for wine tastings that are happening in Rioja.

Marqués de Riscal, a Luxury Collection Hotel (Starwood Hotel & Resorts), is a wine country destination within Rioja where groups incorporate a full range of wine tasting events into their team building activities. Designed by renowned architect Frank O. Gehry, Marques de Riscal reflects a similar spectacular structure of titanium, glass and limestone of Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

For those who plan international travel or local events in wine country, it’s important to choose a business destination hotel that offers a relaxed atmosphere that will be memorable while offering a full range of activities. Built on the property of a 150 year old winery (oldest in Rioja), Marques de Riscal exceeds this expectation, offering fitness, spa, business services, modern meeting space, restaurants, rooftop lounges, unique venues on property and more.

Marie-Therése Pachmann, public relations and quality manager at Marques de Riscal Hotel, suggests that planners who want to organize team building activities in wine country should also incorporate elements of the gastronomy, local heritage and tranquility of being in a wine region. It’s also important to make sure to cover the required meeting activities. Then, let the wine tastings begin.

Event organizers at Marques de Riscal take the idea of team building very seriously, offering a variety of wine tasting and team building wine events into their program. Pachmann has developed an entire menu of team building activities for wine tastings.

Blind Wine Tasting

Blind wine tastings are a popular wine country activitiy. Courtesy of Marques de Riscal, Rioja Spain

Keeping the focus on wine itself, the goal of this group event is to promote a task where the senses are more relevant than logic. A wine expert should provide a presentation of the wines to be tasted, and then explain the “rules of the game.”

The group will be divided into four or five teams and each member of the winning team will receive a prize. The activity is a perfect team building exercise because it requires direct communication within the team, which will have to add up their sensorial memories in order to spot out a particular type of wine.

The Secret of Wine

This is an action packed type of activity where participants (divided into teams) follow several clues that will lead them to find the true “secret of wine.” These clues will be physically looked for, or participants may receive these clues by accomplishing certain tasks (e.g., vine pruning, quizzes, tastings, etc.). This activity should be led by two or three actors who will give a theatrical focus to the event.

Coupage (Wine Blending)

This is similar tot the secret of wine; however, this time the goal is try to make your own wine starting from single variety wines. The characteristics of each variety is explained and the typical “mixtures” of the wine region itself. Then, each team will have a chance to make its own mixtures using suitable proportions until achieving a finished product. The wine expert will judge which one is the best final product.

“Aromas” Workshop

Enjoying good wine is enjoying its aroma. Participants learn to identify different aromas and tastes in order to find the secret of its very essence. To achieve this, participants learn about the various raw products that give these aromas: cinnamon, berries, wood, etc.

World Wines, Comparative Tastings

For this activity, several wines from any part of the globe are chosen (the organizing host may also choose the wines) and the wine expert will try to highlight the differences and resemblances among them. Then, the expert will compare them all to the local wines (e.g., Rioja wines if this is where you are hosting a wine event). This can be done as a team building exercise, and teams will identify wines suggested by the wine expert.

Opera and Wine

A piano player and an opera singer present the activity and the matching between the wine and the music chosen. Among a classical repertoire and depending on the wines served, the soprano will explain the link between both. Music will accompany guests when entering the dining room and once the food is served, as well as between courses and right at the end of the meal. Tip: the dinner menu should also describe the wines and the music and their relationship with the menu.

Wine Dinner Performances (Toasts)

Wine dinner performances are a unique wine country activity for business travel events. Courtesy of Marques de Riscal, Rioja Spain

Most wine tours (and meetings) conclude with a lunch or dinner. While the group enjoys a relaxed meal watered with a delicious wine, the atmosphere changes and acquaintances are made. This is a great time to reinforce the winemaker’s “speech.” Following a plot line that is coherent with the message of wine, several actors receive the guests, and they make a few performances every time a new wine is poured. This may be combined with traditional toasts that will allow everyone to become part of the show. Script writing, clothes design and other elements will be incorporated to the characteristics of each client, wine and speech.

Wine Tasting for Beginners

The goal of this activity should be to introduce the group to the region, tell the difference between good wines and thee “not so good ones” or ones that have some clear defects, and to learn to enjoy the wine region itself. The group will learn a methodology that allows them to know what to keep in mind for the main sensations of wine tasting itself. This activity should be led by a wine expert.

Showman Wine Tasting

For this wine tasting activity, the element of surprise comes in the form of the character that is in charge of the activity – he or she is not just a wine expert, but he or she is also a musician, an actor, a poet and a comedian. And the expert combines all of these disciplines while carrying out the tasting itself. The event is a fun time while participants learn about wine.

Traditional Winery Tours

Perhaps one of the most popular activities for any group wine event is to tour the various wineries in the area. This includes bottling, the barrel hall, etc. Tours will frequently highlight the winery’s architecture. The activity is concluded with wine tastings. Tours of each winery usually lasts one hour to ninety minutes, depending on the size of the premises.

Theatrical Winery Tours

As most people who have attended wine country events in the past, the goal of any guided tour in a winery is to promote their wines and eventually sell their product. The winery can reinforce its uniqueness through how they offer the tour itself through first impressions and the tour’s speech. Unique experience s could include a corner under a theatrical spotlight, a character making an unexpected appearance, some music transmitting the sensations that a particular wine gives to the senses, a dance routine among the barrels.

Other Wine Activities

There are so many different wine activities that may be carried out in a wine country setting, including the following:

  • Wine protocol: right habits in wine conservation, tasitng and serving.
  • Activities at the vineyard: experience task such as pruning, collecting, etc.
  • Theater at the vineyard: small plays that do not require complicated staging.

Updated from August 15, 2010.