At the annual Flavor Napa Valley Welcome Dinner—a six-course feast featuring California’s finest wines and food from famed chefs including Roy Choi, Michael Chiarello, and Masaharu Morimoto—John Evan’s plate remained largely untouched. The managing director of the Silverado Resort and Spa, which played host to the lavish November event, was too busy buzzing around the room, checking in with guests, directing staff, and ensuring the flawless execution of every detail.
Four years ago, the Silverado teamed up with its management company, Dolce Hotels and Resorts, the tourism marketing organization Visit Napa Valley, and local chefs and winemakers to create a food and wine festival that highlighted the Wine Country’s bounty and brought in crowds during a traditionally slow tourism month. Dolce and the Silverado were the founding sponsors of the festival, which has grown from an intimate affair to one of the region’s premier food and wine events. “When we arrived here in July of 2010, we wanted to make sure we found a way to give back to the community,” Evans says. “The first two years we ran the event ourselves and kept it within the walls of the Silverado Resort. But we always had the plan that we would open it up to other resorts and restaurants.”
The most recent event, which set out to raise money for culinary scholarships, featured 150 participating wineries, 70 culinary and wine experts, and 30 different events and demonstrations. Venues ranged from the Silverado’s event facilities and the Culinary Institute of America to the Meritage Resort and Spa and multiple area wineries. The promotion brought in 2,700 attendees—88 percent who came from outside the Napa Valley area, from 34 different states and five countries.
Strategizing for the 2014 festival picked up almost immediately following the 2013 wrap up. Dolce and the Silverado put together a steering committee in December to assess feedback and form ideas for the next year. Because Flavor Napa Valley sets out to bring in top celebrity chefs, Evans says they generally need to book top talent 12 to 18 months in advance. Six months prior to next year’s event, preparations will kick into high gear, with menu arrangements, weekly conference calls, and marketing initiatives to attract media attention and financial support.
Planning and putting together such a large-scale event is a challenge, but Richard Maxfield, Dolce’s chief operating officer, says it has become easier over the years. “We started small. We didn’t bite off more than we could chew,” he says. “You have to have alignment on vision. You need the key stakeholders and the leadership to pull it all together and the team to support it. You also need communication, follow-up, and support.”
When developing the first festival, Dolce hired Karlitz and Company, a full-scale marketing firm, to handle the event management and sponsorship sales. Hiring an outside event-planning company, Evans says, was an essential step for growth. For other resorts or hotels considering hosting a food or wine festival, Evans suggests bringing in an agency to help with promotion and logistics. “That’s the route we’ve went and it’s proven to be successful for us,” he says. “I don’t think, as a resort, you would typically have the kind of resources available on a day-in, day-out basis to run the event and operate the resort, even if you had the support of a large corporate structure.”
Being so heavily involved with Flavor Napa Valley each year helps position Dolce at the forefront of culinary trends—an asset that remains vitally important to the company as it promotes meeting packages to prospective corporate clients and group guests. The exposure and publicity drummed up by the festival is worth all of the hard work and planning headaches. “Our core business around meetings focuses on food,” Maxfield says. “Flavor Napa Valley was our opportunity to enhance and support that. It is a nice strategic fit for our organization to be involved at such a high level.”