Wine-Tasting Can Be a Winning Activity for Groups

Groups become winemakers at Chateau Elan.

Pan Seared Brook Trout with Tomato and Fennel
Ingredients • One large trout, cleaned and filleted • Salt and pepper • Three tablespoons extra virgin olive oil • Splash of Ch�teau �lan Chardonnay • Juice of half a lemon • Three tablespoons fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped • One tomato, diced • One bulb fennel, sliced • One tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped • One to two tablespoons butter

Your group does not have to study the subtleties of viticulture to become winemakers at Chateau Elan, a Georgia resort that features a full-production winery and vineyard.

A popular teambuilding program is "Winemaker Wannabe," where participants are guided through the winemaking process and make their very own blend. Much more than just a tasting, it allows groups to learn about what it takes to make a bottle of wine.

"Just like the essence of the winemaker is in a wine, the essence of the person participating in the Winemaker Wannabe is in that glass," says Karen Van der Vort, Chateau Elan's director of winemaking. Previously a fashion and furniture designer, Van der Vort's life changed when she was given a glass of 1962 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti to celebrate the conclusion of a design project. That wine, which today retails for about $17,000 a bottle, led her to switch careers and become a winemaker, with a goal of recreating that same glass. It has been 33 years, and she hasn't looked back.

The "Winemaker Wannabe" activity starts with a tour of the winery and the Wine Market, both housed in the same building. The group is then split into five teams that compete at different stations. In one activity, a team must guess how many grapes are in a bottle of wine (approximately 0.84 pounds). In another, they must smell and taste wines served in black flasks and decide if they are red, white, rose, or sweet. In another of the activities, the team smells 12 different aromas, ranging from coffee to chocolate, and guess the items. At one of the other stations, they are able to make their own wine label.

After they create their perfect blend, each team must present the wine and try to sell it to the entire group. A judge selects a winning team based on the taste of their blend and the individual competitions. The winning team gets bragging rights and gift certificates for the Wine Market.

"Wine is special because it is an ice breaker," says Van der Vort. "It's very social and helps build camaraderie in a group. I've watched as people 'talking about wine' transform in attitude from a suit to 'I'm in my flip-flops now.'"

The winery, housed in a 16th-century-style French chateau, opened in 1984 at the resort, set in the north Georgia foothills, a 40-minute drive from Atlanta. Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet, and Riesling grapes grow in the 75 acres of vineyards on this 3,500-acre conference resort.

Meeting space consists of a 25,000-square-foot conference center with two ballrooms, 19 conference rooms, two boardrooms, and an auditorium. The winery also houses a 1,600-square-foot culinary studio. A cooking class is a nice complement to the program.

At left is one of Van der Vort's favorite recipes that incorporates Chateau Elan wine into the dish.