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How to host a Wine and Cheese Fundraiser

A question Eric V. Orange "EVO" , founder of, often gets asked is:

"We're a not-for-profit agency in need of funds; is there a way we could have a fundraiser through your organization?"

The good news is YES, and this guide will explain the basics of organizing your event, plus we'll show you how you can use to help promote your non-profit cause.

Note: Eric wrote this from the perspective of a medium sized event, so please adjust or eliminate aspects which may not fit your circumstances.

To begin with, an ideal wine and cheese/food event should involve key people from these four segments of your local food/wine businesses.

  • A local retail wine shop

  • Local cheese shop/bakery/restaurants. Any food/wine related purveyor that you can tap (for example: bottled water supplier

  • Several local wine wholesalers

  • Several local wine suppliers

A Word of Caution: Every state and most municipalities have laws and regulations regarding alcohol use at events, including several states which require a license or certification for servers. Some laws even prohibit the sellers of the products from directly pouring.

Start with a making a call to your local Alcohol Beverage Control Board.

Here is a list of Alcohol Beverage Control boards by state:

Tell them your plans and ask about any requirements for legal compliance. Typically, it's a straightforward process, as others are certainly doing this already.

Next, approach your local retail wine shop, especially if you are a customer of theirs. Perhaps someone in your organization has an inside contact, which is always beneficial. Where wine sales are state controlled, you can likely skip this step.

You see, local wine shops are customers of the wholesalers and suppliers. As such, they can influence them to help support your cause. Ideally, that means the wholesalers and suppliers send the wine/drink products as a donation (free) - AND - a representative to pour and present the products to your attendees.

In the U.S. we have something called the Three Tiers of the alcohol distribution system. Here is a brief explanation of how it works, with tips on how to contact these valuable resources for your event.

1. Importer/Marketer: Known as Suppliers, they can both bring the federally licensed product to the U.S. and/or manage the storing, distribution and marketing of U.S. products to each state.

2. Wholesaler/Distributor: The wholesaler buys products from suppliers and warehouses them (temperature controlled, bulk quantities, etc.). They run sizable operations for warehousing and delivery, and have sales representatives covering the state. In turn, their sales reps present products to "On-Premise" (primarily meaning restaurants and bars, where the product is consumed on the premises) and "Off-Premise" (meaning retail shops).

3. Retailer:The place down the street where you buy your booze.

Keep in mind that a retailer may be more likely to help if:

  • It's a good cause

  • It's good timing

  • It's good for their business

If you can find a retailer who has worked with events, they may already have established relationships with venues in their area. If not, and you need to find a venue, be sure that it is within a reasonable range of the retailer's customer base. A retailer on one side of town is disinclined to pour wine at a venue on the opposite side of town, because it's unlikely that attendees in that area will be customers of theirs. (Unless the retailer wants to "spit in the eye" of their competitor on the other side of town - a not uncommon scenario.)

If you cannot secure a retail wine shop, the next step is to try the suppliers and wholesalers directly. You will need to work hard to sell your particular fundraiser over the myriad of others who call looking for donations. These folks get countless calls for donations, so yours must have a compelling benefit to get their attention. Often, budgets set aside for such expenditures tend to dwindle to nothing by the end of the year, so making contacts early in the New Year can offer you a better chance.

My recommendation is to start with the suppliers. Most of the nation's major suppliers have representatives with budgets (and bosses with bigger budgets) in all major markets; at minimum, they'll have a representative for your state.

Some of the major Importer/Marketing companies are:

Kobrand -

Gallo -

Terlato Wines International -

Foster -

Constellation -

WineBow -

Diagio -

Fredrick Wildman -

The Henry Wine Group

Wilson Daniels -

A.V. Imports Inc. -

Pasternak Wine Imports -

Vineyard Brands -

Billington Distributors, Inc. -

Contact information should be noted within these websites. Call the company and ask for the name and phone number of their local representative for your state. If they do not have a rep, ask to speak to the manager for your area.

Do not expect one company to support your entire event, though it's not unheard of. Rather, secure small amounts of product from as many suppliers and wholesalers as you can. One mistake often made is to make do with the first connection and unintentionally exclude participation from other area suppliers and wholesalers. While one connection may offer enough product and support to help you through your first event, the others in town may not be overly enthusiastic to help you for your next event. Therefore, I highly recommend that you engage as many suppliers and wholesalers as possible for the best overall support. I always say, spread it around. A significant benefit with having a greater number of industry insiders aware of your event is that it can create impact for overall buzz and attendance of the event.

Other Resources & Helpful Tips:

Local vineyards - All 50 states are listing wineries these days, so by all means, contact vineyards in your state - even neighboring states. They will likely be open to offering something, provided the demographic of your attendees is in line with those desired by the winery. Do keep in mind that most of these vineyards and wineries are small operations with very limited budgets (they also receive their share of solicitations) but it cannot hurt to call them - it may bring new people in their door.

Attend other events - Also, look at nearby cities that have similar events and contact the host. Ideally, it would be best to attend their event and schedule a meeting with the host shortly thereafter (keep in mind that it is usually too hectic to have their attention before or during the event). If you are traveling, check the schedule for that area to see if there are any events to attend.

Timing against other happenings - Obviously it's crucial that you don't schedule your event the same night as a major sports event, etc. You also want to avoid being too close to any similar events that happen within a short time of yours. HINT: Check and try a Google search for your city and events or something similar and you may find local calendars with other types of goings on.

Venues - If you don't have a retailer, or if your retailer/wine shop does not have a venue they work with, you will need to secure a space. Most restaurants have at least a small room for gathering, though it may be a limited space for hosting a large number of attendees, so make sure you know how many people the room will accommodate. Also, many restaurants close at least one night a week, so they might consider letting you have the full restaurant on that night. Hotels are also a key choice, but they sometimes have little ability or incentive to give much of a discount for charity. Sometimes, thinking outside the norm can have a good impact. For example, I once poured at a tasting on a moving train from Poughkeepsie, NY to Grand Central Station. Other interesting events take place in museums, aquariums, theaters and concert halls. The more unique (within reason) your venue, the more buzz you are likely to create.

Key Considerations/Checklist:

Pricing - The cost of the venue will directly affect the price of your ticket (see also Income).

Food - Passed hors d'oeuvres, nosh tables, local restaurants presenting.

Event Space - Decide on the arrangement of your space and create a venue layout in advance, so there are no last minute surprises. Keep in mind trashcans, bathrooms, drinking water (if it's not supplied by someone) plus chairs for folks to sit down and small tables to place tasting glasses and/or plates on. Realize that someone is going to have to take the back corner. Traffic flow determines the most desirable tables and you could have unhappy vendors. There are too many possible variables involved for me to offer suggestions on this one, but expect table positions to be an important factor.

Wine Tables - The wine tables will almost all need ice in tubs to chill their whites. They'll need dump buckets and water in pitchers for rinsing glasses, as well as trash cans. If your event is more than one day, they will need to know that their products will be secure for the next day (this is a big issue - nobody wants to schlep their stuff back and forth for a multi-day event, and they do not want to leave their goods for fear of theft.).

Restaurant Tables - Restaurant participation will increase the infrastructure of the event. They will need water, power, plus more space to set up, prepare, display and serve. Ask if they supply the sample plates and flatware, or should you?

Fine Glassware - Fine glassware, often referred to as stems, would typically have to be purchased. There may be a local Riedel representative ( in your area, and the Riedel reps may be willing to do a standardized tasting demonstration of their glassware for your event, so ask them. Bottega del Vino Crystal is another.

Standard Glassware - Glassware for the event can be supplied by the venue or by you. Local party rental shops carry an abundance of glassware (Libby's standard wine glass is the norm).

Clean up - Depending on the venue, clean up may have to be negotiated.

Money / Expenses - Keep in mind, your organization may have to put some money down or make purchases prior to the event before you sell a single ticket.

Income - Back to pricing. Obviously, your ticket pricing has a direct effect of the turnout to your event. Even in the support of a worthy cause, folks want to know that they get at least a modicum of value for their money. Also, the ticket price will be a determining factor in the type and number of attendees. If you charge $20 per head, you'll draw a $20 crowd, and in my experience this crowd tends to eat and drink everything in sight, with little regard for quality. That's not to disparage them, as they can be a significant source of revenue. Just be aware that with a low ticket price, you're apt to get a lot of them at your event, so you should plan your supplies accordingly. As you raise your ticket price, the crowd will be inclined to pay more attention to quality instead of quantity. The downside is that as the price goes up, you will have fewer attendees.

How Much Wine - Most bottled wine in the U.S. is sold in 750ml and 1.5 liter (a.k.a. magnum) bottles. A 750ml (standard) is equal to roughly 25 ounces. That can equal about 4 (my pour) or 5 glasses per bottle, about 12 tasting pours. If folks are drinking by the glass with food (as opposed to sipping multiple tastes) factor 2 to 2½ glasses per drinker in the first hour and 1 to 1½ glasses for the second hour. After the second hour, probably one glass or less per hour per drinker. The number of guests, times expected consumption, divided by 5 should give you the number of bottles needed.

You will need both red and white wine for certain, and you may wish to include Champagne and/or other sparkling wine. If you plan to serve other beverages like beer, you'll need to factor those as well.

Selling Tickets - If you already have an online credit card merchant account or can get one, that would be choice number one. (Keep in mind that the process and expense of setting up a merchant account can easily outweigh the benefits, and can be more lengthy and difficult than you might think.) also offers a ticketing system which, along with its huge marketing benefit, can be set up to cost you nothing from your proceeds. Ticket Overview

PayPal is an option, as is Google Checkout". Both are fee-based systems which allow you to make monetary transactions online.

E-Tickets - Highly recommended: E-Tickets mean that you send confirmation information via email to the attendee which offers entry to your event. With paper tickets, you must add printing fees, possibly postage, plus the cost of someone to handle the ticketing.

Sponsorships - (tasting notes, booklets, other marketing) Goal number one might be to find a large corporate sponsor for your event. If you can secure a multi-year commitment from a business as in The [[some company]] food and wine event that would be great, but you would be better served to come up with a clever and creative event name first. Once you have your name, then try for [[witty event name]] sponsored by [[some company]].

Here a number of other things you can do to maximize the revenue from sponsors:

  • Produce a "tasting notes" pad listing the wines/products available, and offer local businesses an exclusive headline on the tasting sheet

  • Produce an information pamphlet with vendors information (adding their table location is a nice touch) - and - you can offer paid advertising to generate more revenue

  • Solicit pens from local businesses for note taking

  • Create goody bags and solicit items from local businesses to give your departing guests. Many companies have promotional items, including discount coupons or other giveaways that can add value to the gift bag. Just be careful not to get cheesy here (no pun intended) .

Seminars/Demos/Book Signings - If you can offer seminars or demonstrations within your main event, you can increase potential revenue, plus add to the draw of your event. Try a wine presentation, a cooking demonstration, or perhaps a local or national cookbook author (always a hot item).

Educators - There are a number of Wine Educator types who travel to events for a fee, but who have enough name recognition to draw extra ticket sales to offset the cost. To name a few:

Kevin Zraly

Andrea Robinson (formerly Immer)

Karen McNeil at

Also note that in the world of wine there are two accreditation's that top the list: Master of Wine (MW) Master Sommelier (MS) (pronounced so mel yay)

Men and women entitled to have MS or MW after their name have undergone years of extensive study and rigorous exams by their peers to attain it. The years of study needed to become a Master does quite fairly dictate financial compensation for their time, but again, many will be very reasonable. LocalWineEvents boasts a high percentage of MWs and MSs within our Educators listings that are talented at educating the public.

Included in the those listings are knowledgeable local Educators who teach about food and wine, and many can be very spirited and entertaining types to serve as a bonus feature for your event. Realize that most of these folks are trying to pay the bills like the rest of us, so while some may trade for the exposure alone, you may need to negotiate a small fee with others. The upside is that they are usually not overly expensive and you just might help with the launch of a rising star.

Likewise, there are celebrity chefs who can draw big crowds for both cooking demos and book signings. They are always an attention getter, but their fees can be pretty steep.

Don't be afraid to sample your local chef talent. Enlist the support of some local restaurants. For example, if you recently had a good dining experience at a restaurant, and the chef ventured out of the kitchen to greet guests, you might consider asking that chef to present a cooking demonstration (this also creates buzz for their restaurant). It never hurts to ask, at least they'll be flattered.

Auction - Live or Silent?

You might consider running an auction within your event, but realize that doing so increases your manpower needs substantially. Live Auction means you need an auctioneer. Silent means you put the items on tables with clipboards and folks drift around placing their bids on the sheets provided.

You will need time and help putting together the components of a successful auction. Here are some key considerations:

  • Soliciting the donations to sell

  • Collecting the goods from the donors

  • Categorizing, logging and pricing of the goods

  • Storing the goods in a secure place

  • Moving them to the event

  • Coordinating and collecting payment for the winning bids

  • Disbursing the items to the winners

Other vendors - Water, cheese, food stuffs of most sorts. This depends on your overall intent for the tone of the event. Just don't go too far astray from the food/wine/spirits and beer fields if you bill the event as such. Offering big screen TVs or ShamWow might not be a good idea in some cases.

Insurance - You will certainly need to consult qualified professionals about insurance needs. Some events that I have been involved with require insurance coverage by all the exhibitors. I'm sure that there are "venue" insurance items to sort out , though I've not been a party to those. If the event is taking place outside there is such a thing as rain insurance, so check with an insurance broker for details.

Table charge? - Certainly if you have a strong opportunity to commence your event with a bang and everyone knows it, then asking vendors to pay a table charge could work. For a first-time or one-off event, you may be better off providing the exhibitor with tables at no charge for the sake of getting momentum for your event.

Volunteers - The more volunteers you can get, the better. The ideal would be to have enough people to rotate shifts, allowing those on off-time to also enjoy the event. Volunteers can help refill ice, empty dump buckets and refill water pitchers on the tables. (It's bad form for your attendees to step up to a table with a full dump bucket and no water to rinse their glass.) If you post a charity event on my site and need volunteers, contact me and I will make mention in The Juice for your area to attempt to stir some up for you.

Marketing - POST IT! Obviously, you should post your event (assuming it's appropriate) to, and I believe it would be very beneficial. Also, I would encourage you to seek out your local community newspapers, websites and forums. Most cities/towns maintain a local event calendar, and/or an e-blast newsletter, so use Google to search for them. Typically, posting is free and takes only a few minutes. Another free option is, a post-it-yourself site.

Final Notes - One issue to watch for with the event itself is your exhibitors bailing out before the event has ended. Some of your vendors are likely to try to make an early get away. For the folks who paid the price, but get a late start to the event, it's discouraging to see empty booths 45 minutes or more before the event is over. The threat of not being asked back may or may not work for your vendors. The surest way is to get a deposit of some amount against their departure on the agreed schedule.

Attendee Etiquette - Skip the perfume/cologne or at least keep it to a bare minimum. It's not enjoyable at a wine tasting to be smothered by a cloud of Wind Song as attendees try to enjoy the chardonnay.

Do not push your glass up to signal the pourer to stop pouring. They almost never have an incentive to over pour, and even if they do, there are dump buckets for what you don't want to drink. For those on the pouring side of the table, it's just plain rude. Likewise, don't expect to get a full glass or additional pour by dropping your glass down. They are providing tastes, not pours.

Also, never walk up and say something to the effect of give me a red or do you have a blush? These folks are pouring their wine because they think you may become a consumer of it. If you don't care for what they are pouring, that's fine. It is always courteous (and in good form) to read the label on the bottle.

In closing 🍷

Relax and ENJOY your event! We at have created an indispensable tool which is beneficial to all those involved in the food, wine, beer and spirits-related industries, not to mention an extraordinary resource for consumers. Several of the promotional tools we offer on our site will increase the event awareness,, therefore increasing the possibility of strong attendance.



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