PENTA- An ocean breeze cools the crowd gathered in the backyard of one of the swankiest residences in Kauai, Hawaii, as the sun begins setting for its magical nightly ritual. The seven-acre property, one of the choicest pieces of real estate on the island’s famed north shore, is playing host for a small gathering with about a dozen local movers and shakers. The lavish $33 million estate is an idyllic, unique setting for any wine tasting dinner—let alone one hosted by the winery’s owner at his family home.
The group has been welcomed for an intimate wine tasting at the home of Peter Dartley, the owner of Argentina’s Casarena Winery. Dartley made his fortune in finance, and took on the winery as a side project, which blossomed into his passion. He’s holding court and leading a tasting through some of his latest releases, in what is arguably the most exclusive wine tasting on the planet—at least for the evening. Playing maestro is the man who set the event up for his best customers, a certified sommelier, owner of Princeville Wine Market, and self-declared wine mystic Daniel Braun.
The Emergence of Exclusive, Bespoke Wine Events
Braun gathered some of his local supporters together for the aforementioned event to offer them a unique experience. Surely, some Casarena wine would be sold, as Dartley personally brought his wines to life in front of a crew of wealthy tasters and collectors, but there’s much more to it than that.
While Braun bolsters the island’s wine culture by fostering community, providing access, and increasing knowledge, his own status as the go-to wine guy on Kauai’s north shore will be buoyed at the same time.
Braun isn’t alone in his approach to going above and beyond in the creation and execution of unforgettably luxe wine events, though. Whether it’s a private events company or shop owner, a restaurant’s in-house sommelier, or someone directly representing a winery or wine region, this is the new winning path toward creating meaningful engagement with wine consumers.
“The moral of the story is that a wine dinner or a walk-around tasting is so 1995 and boring,” says Belinda Chang, who puts on luxurious events of her own after decades spent working with top-level restaurant wine programs.
Instead, Chang curates a lineup of events, including pre-prom, pool party, and picnic themes, tied to bigger outings such as the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and the James Beard Awards (Chang won the 2011 Outstanding Wine Service award) while also collaborating with top producers to score exclusive pours and big-name attendees.
This type of bespoke service for high-end consumers and clientele represents the next level of wine events. Anybody can host a tasting or a seminar—not everybody can do it like this.
Stoking Wine Culture
Such events are particularly key for areas not known for their wine culture. You don’t need to try very hard to find thoughtful wine events or knowledgeable sommeliers and hosts in 2019 Napa Valley.
On Kauai, in addition to running his wine shop and curating the staggering private collections of his clientele, that’s part of the reason why Braun also now serves as the Bailli, or president, of the Kauai chapter of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. The ancient gastronomic society, which has roots reaching back to 13th century France, was revived in 1950 and now has outposts in 80 countries.
There’s only so many high-end restaurants and venues on Kauai, so putting on a quality wine-centric event often means starting from scratch. “Sometimes you’re inventing the wheel and coming up with new experiences, building them from the ground up,” Braun says.
The very next evening after the private Casarena dinner, Braun leapt right back into the fire, or in this case the fire pit, of wine event planning with one of his half dozen annual Chaîne des Rôtisseurs events.
Billed as a “farm and fire” dinner, the event was hosted on the grounds of a small local farm, and showcased a chef preparing local Ni’ihau lamb and a lavish spread of farm-fresh produce. To go along with the food, much of which was sourced on-site, Braun put together an assortment of 16 fine and rare French wines for sampling. He called it a “choose your own adventure” wine tasting, with hand-picked bottles matching the varied tastes of everyone in the crowd.
His focus, as it usually is, was on Burgundy. “I’ve been able to carve a niche out in that area,” Braun says. “Burgundy is kind of my gem.” And so it is that his little wine shop in Princeville, Kauai, routinely outsources shops in far larger and more accessible locales, pulling in hauls of the most coveted, in-demand bottles from the region’s top producers.
“I want to stoke wine culture on Kauai,” Braun says. It may not be the most typical place to expect it— mai tais and frozen drinks are what most tourists typically envision—but when you speak with his clients, that’s the refrain you’ll continue to hear.
One collector, for whom Braun had just hand-delivered two cases of the 100-point Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2016, calls his shop “the gold standard, one of the best little wine stores I’ve ever been to.”
Even within his own store, Braun has made an impact. “It’s so cool to see the wine culture that’s emerging on Kauai, thanks to a place like this,” says Taylor Garcia, an employee at Braun’s shop. “There’s not a lot of job opportunities on the island where you can actually continue to learn.”