A REASON TO CELEBRATE

Retailers are raising their glasses and toasting the 2004 holiday season with a variety of celebratory wine and beer festivals, tastings and in-store displays.D&W Food Centers, Grand Rapids, Mich., for instance, sponsored a food and wine symposium, "Food, Wine and All That Jazz," this past Friday at the Van Andel Museum Center in Grand Rapids."This event kicks off the holidays for our wine department,"

Retailers are raising their glasses and toasting the 2004 holiday season with a variety of celebratory wine and beer festivals, tastings and in-store displays.

D&W Food Centers, Grand Rapids, Mich., for instance, sponsored a food and wine symposium, "Food, Wine and All That Jazz," this past Friday at the Van Andel Museum Center in Grand Rapids.

"This event kicks off the holidays for our wine department," said Rosalind Mayberry, D&W's wine buyer/merchandiser.

The retailer expected to sell between 900 and 1,000 tickets at $45 each. Along with D&W officials and customers, those in attendance included wine distributors, suppliers and vintners.

The annual event is held two times a year: October and February. In February, imported wines and beer are showcased, while in October, domestic varietals and regional microbrews are in the spotlight.

Timed to the holidays, last week's event featured an array of festive wines, such as a red raspberry varietal, along with wine and food pairings ideal for a Christmas meal. Cheeses, sparkling wine and dessert wines were also included. A live jazz bad provided entertainment.

"Many of the selections make beautiful gifts for the holidays," Mayberry noted.

The symposium gives exposure to D&W's wine departments in several ways. For one, wine catalogs are provided so people can order wines at the event and pick them up at their local D&W store.

Additionally, it enables D&W to conduct tastings of its wine selections in preparation for the busiest selling season of the year. Since the state of Michigan prohibits wine pourings at retail, the event is the only time D&W lets consumers try for themselves all its wine departments have to offer. It also provides D&W with an opportunity to offer significant wine savings. The retailer works with distributors to give 20% to 40% discounts on regular retails.

"Our goal is to offer good prices so people can stock up for the holidays," Mayberry said.

Along with wine enthusiasts, last week's symposium appealed to beer drinkers by including about 50 different Michigan microbrews. Brands included Arcadia, Founders and New Holland. D&W added beer to the festival three years ago. While it once contemplated removing it from the tasting menu, it decided beer is an asset to the event.

"A lot of people tell me that the only reason why their spouses come to the symposium is because of the beer," Mayberry said.

She pointed out that along with tasting beer, participants like to buy beer sampler packs as gifts or for holiday get-togethers.

Like D&W, other retailers are using food and wine shows to make a big statement about their wine departments. About 500 people are expected to attend Dorothy Lane Market's Nov. 4 food and wine show at its Springboro, Ohio, store. The cost is $60 a person. Nearly 80 different wines from all the major growing areas from around the world will be tasted, according to Todd Templin, beer and wine director for the three-store retailer based in Dayton, Ohio.

"This is a great way for us to educate consumers about different regions of the world and wines made there," Templin said.

Along with wine, the event is used to focus on the retailer's perishables. This year, for instance, a variety of fresh seafood and pork samplings will be offered. Beer is not included, although Templin said it could be in the future.

While not all retailers have the resources to hold major wine and food events like those at D&W and Dorothy Lane, many draw attention to beverages during the holidays in other ways, like themed in-store tastings.

Take Jungle Jim's, whose wine department's holiday promotional calendar is packed with tastings from November through December.

On Nov. 19, the Fairfield, Ohio, retailer will host a holiday beer tasting. About 10 different seasonal beers will be tasted, including Sam Smith's winter lager, along with holiday beers from Belgium. The cost is $20 per person.

"We'll be tasting fine beers from around the world," said David Schmerr, wine and beer director, adding that Jungle Jim's treats specialty beers just like it does fine wine.

The fun continues on Nov. 22, the Monday before Thanksgiving, when Jungle Jim's will sample Beaujolais Nouveau, a French wine that's released every year the Thursday before Thanksgiving. The wine will be poured as part of a Thanksgiving-themed menu at the retailer's cooking school.

"People are anxious to try the wine and pair it with food," Schmerr said.

Dorothy Lane has a special tasting planned for the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, when it will focus on Pinot Noir, which Templin described as the perfect accompaniment to turkey. The holiday spirit gets into full swing in December with many retailers hosting sparkling wine events. On Dec. 4, Jungle Jim's will help customers gear up for New Year's when it hosts a sophisticated in-store tasting of nothing but French Champagne.

Timed to the biggest selling month for Champagne, the event will feature 10 different types, along with cheeses and specialty breads, according to Schmerr. The cost is $25 a person.

"We've held sparkling wine tastings before, but this is unique in that it's only sparkling wine made from the Champagne region of France," Schmerr said.

The tasting will feature some of the biggest names in Champagne, including Moet & Chandon, as well as small -- yet high-quality -- Champagne producers. Retail prices for bottles poured will range from $25 to $100. While held predominantly for holiday parties, tastings are intended to get people to enjoy sparkling wine year-round.

"I always reiterate to our customers that Champagne is not just for New Year's," Schmerr said.

West Point Market, Akron, Ohio, will also hold a sparkling wine tasting on Dec. 4. Costing $4 to $6 a flute, the event will emphasize about 10 different sparkling wines that retail from between $15 and $40 a bottle, according to David Sheffer, wine consultant.

"Sparkling wine is a perfect gift if you don't know what to give someone," Sheffer noted.

Along with tastings, retailers will celebrate the holidays with beverages in many other ways. Some, for instance, plan to put certain vintages and varietals in the limelight. At Dorothy Lane, seasonal favorites will be 2002 red Burgundies, as well as California Cabernets.

Others, meanwhile, are already planning to capitalize on the gift-giving season by assembling beer and wine gift baskets. This year, West Point Market will sell six festively decorated gift baskets, according to Sheffer. Each selection will have a different wine theme, such as Chardonnay or Cabernet. A West Point Market private-label basket will also be available. Selections will range in price from about $25 to $60.

What's in a Name?...Dorothy Lane Knows

Dorothy Lane Market is selling a Merlot wine that Todd Templin, its beer and wine director, can literally call his very own.

After all, the private-label wine is named after him.

Templin shares the honor with his boss, Norman Mayne, Dorothy Lane's chief executive officer, whose name also graces the bottle.

Introduced in May, Todd Norman 2002 Napa Valley Merlot is described as having "gobs of bright cherry/berry fruit with hints of chocolate, spice and oak, with a velvety, well-polished finish." It retails for $14.99, although it's occasionally promoted at $13.99.

The wine is performing so well that it's often the fastest-selling wine of the week, according to Templin.

The Dayton, Ohio-based retailer doesn't heavily promote the fact that Templin and Mayne are the wine's namesakes. In fact, the front of the label doesn't mention Dorothy Lane at all. Only the back label states the wine is produced exclusively for the retailer.

Templin explained that the purpose of the brand was to make the wine original, even somewhat mysterious.

Todd Norman is produced by Havens Wine Cellar, a small Napa Valley wine producer. Dealing with this kind of vintner has helped maintain the integrity of the wine, Templin said.

"Oftentimes, private-label wines are mass produced and show up in a couple of different places in a market, like a restaurant or country club, under different labels," he said. "We wanted ours to be truly unique."

Currently, Todd Norman is available in Merlot only, although Dorothy Lane may offer other varietals in the future.