Case Study

Tasting in the Dark
Dr. Hoby

Partnership between The Dreaming Tree Wines and The Culinary Institute of America

Overview We often think of pairing wine and food, but what else can wine pair with? Dr. Hoby Wedler, adjunct faculty member at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), was asked by the CIA to innovate a closing plenary lecture of their Summit for Beverage Professionals all about wine paired with music. The result was a partnership with Dreaming Tree Wines, a creative collaboration between award-winning winemaker Sean McKenzie and musician Dave Matthews, to innovate a unique afternoon of pairing wine with music from the Dave Matthews Band songbook. Dr. Ali Bouzari of Pilot R&D was also invited to participate in the discussion. The Task The task was to create an impactful, interesting, and creative tasting experience where the tasting notes of the wines at hand would literally be told by music. This was an exciting opportunity to pair Dreaming Tree wines with music from the Dave Matthews song book. Guests were under blindfold for most of the experience. Outcomes were striking for all guests. Perhaps the most striking outcome was achieved  when the same wine was served twice but paired with a different song. The participants described the same wine completely differently depending on the music it was paired with. When art, science, and emotion intersect, amazing experiences come to life involving every sense we have at our disposal. We use eyesight to obtain 85-90% of information from our surroundings. Hoby regularly collaborates with brands like the Culinary Institute of America and The Dreaming Tree Wines to bring our four non-visual senses to the table along with eyesight to create everlasting memories and highly engaging experiences which allow guests to remember brands like The Dreaming Tree and The CIA very positively. Outcomes During this 90-minute custom experience, attendees were blindfolded and led by Dr. Wedler, McKenzie, and Dr. Ali Bouzari of Pilot R&D through a discussion and tasting of Dreaming Tree wines while listening to carefully curated music. The team created this experience to be emotive and memorable and to show participants how wine and music can pair elegantly, much like wine and food. Pairing wine with music creates an experience much like pairing wine with food where each component of the experience complements the other. This was the first ever wine and music pairing-specific event offered at The Culinary Institute of Senspoint’s expertise in custom experiences led to this pioneering partnership. “This experience changed the way I will drink wine and listen to music forever. It was that impactful.” Event Attendee “That was the most unique wine experience I’ve ever attended. I have hosted dozens and attended hundreds.” Event Attendee “I had no idea that the second Rosè was the same wine! The song made it taste absolutely different. I thought it was a white wine and definitely not a rosè.” Event Attendee “I never thought experiences could be so mind opening and game changing. Now I do. Best-ever wine tasting I’ve attended.” Event Attendee

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Tasting in the Dark
Dr. Hoby

Launching Vero Gusto with Barilla and Edelman

Overview Barilla Inc. is the largest pasta and sauce company in the world. Running large operations in over fifty countries is very demanding and requires the efforts of thousands of employees. Barilla Inc. develops new products frequently. Barilla North America aimed to launch a brand-new line of sauces in the United States near the end of 2019. These sauces are positioned as a super-premium brand and Barilla sees it important that their employees have a strong understanding of these sauces including their origin, their story, and what sets them apart in the marketplace. Furthermore, Barilla wanted to build a very impactful launch event for influencers and media in the heart of Manhattan. The Task Barilla Inc. sought to provide an opportunity for their employees in the United States office to better understand their new line of super-premium sauces. Barilla tasked the team with designing and executing a series of tasting experiences that would assist Barilla employees in better understanding the sauce line including the story behind it, the ideas which generated it, and its super premium niche in the ever-growing and ever-changing sauce market. Each sauce has a “hero ingredient”, one ingredient featured “front and center” in the sauce and on the package. All hero ingredients are sourced from specific regions of Italy and the new sauce is made in a traditional Italian method in Parma, Italy. This relationship led to Barilla working with Dr. Wedler to build and execute a launch event featuring the sauce for key influencers and media.  Outcomes Dr. Wedler and his team curated, prepared, and executed two experiences, each with approximately 60 Barilla employees, to help familiarize participants with the brand-new line of sauces. We used a proprietary tasting technique developed by Dr. Hoby Wedler which includes temporarily removing the eyesight of all participants using a blindfold. One benefit of this technique is that participants are not distracted by their mobile devices, computers, etc. and are more equipped to focus on what they hear, feel, taste, and smell. Participants said they felt a new level of ownership and passion for Barilla products. They also expressed a newfound ability to describe Barilla products and, ultimately, represent the brand in a more authentic, genuine way. Finally, in collaboration with Edelman, we designed and executed an exclusive brand activation for media and influencers from around New York City and the tristate area. Barilla requested an experience revolving around all five senses. To build the most impactful experience possible, Dr. Wedler and his team travelled throughout Italy to gather hero ingredients and learn about each hero ingredient’s region and how it is produced. Together, we designed an evening beginning with guests tasting Italian Prosecco in a stark white “waiting lounge” to deprive their senses. Guests were then blindfolded and led completely in the dark into the event space where they were seated at long tables. Dr. Wedler then led the guests through a journey of the sauces using all non-visual senses including sound, taste, smell, and touch. Guests embarked on a tasting tour through Italy where they examined each hero ingredient along with its corresponding sauce. Hero ingredients were sourced by Dr. Wedler from Italy. While in Italy, Dr. Wedler interviewed many stakeholders around the hero ingredients and played sound bites of those interviews as well as general sounds of Italy during the experience. Once the tasting portion of the evening concluded, before removing their blindfolds, guests were invited to describe their impression of the room. They eagerly described it as being empty, having high ceilings and hard surfaces, and being cavernous. They removed their blindfolds to find they sat  in a space ornately decorated with art installations perfectly highlighting this line of sauce. Guests were invited to taste passed bites containing the “hero ingredients”, taste cocktails crafted and inspired with each ingredient in mind, to sit in a chair made of fresh herbs to represent the Mediterranean, and so much more. This experience utilized each of our five senses to tell an inspiring, eye-opening, and unique story of exciting new product in the marketplace. https://youtu.be/t9yUn654v8c Previous Next

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Tasting in the Dark
Dr. Hoby

Mind’s Eye Press Event at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum with Ornellaia

Overview The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation runs the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan which has been showcasing art to the public since 1959. One philosophy of the Guggenheim family is to make the world a more accessible and inclusive place, a value which they share deeply with me. They developed a program called Mind’s Eye wherein their goal is to make the art in their collection more accessible and available to the blind and visually impaired community. They implement this goal through highly curated and detailed verbal descriptions of the art paired with so-called touch objects which represent the texture of the art. All guests at Guggenheim museums are strictly prohibited from touching art in their collection. In 2018, a partnership was formed between Ornellaia out of Tuscany, Italy and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation wherein Ornellaia auctions off large format bottles of their wines labeled with drawings by well-known artists and donate the proceeds to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to fund their Mind’s Eye program. Ornellaia shares our values of making the world a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive place. The first year of collaboration was successful for all parties and both parties wished to feature the 2019 collaboration for the media and press. The Task In this four-way collaboration, Ornellaia and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation sought the support of Colangelo and Partners, a premier US-based wine and spirits public relations firm, to feature this partnership to key members from the wine and art press. Colangelo and Partners knew of my work with Tasting in the Dark and our desire to straddle the fine intersection between art and science through experience design. After developing a deep understanding of the collaboration, I created, assembled, and delivered a customized blindfolded tasting experience for approximately 25 influential individuals from the press which allowed them to observe the value of this partnership. Prior to my tasting, all guests were offered a glimpse of the Mind’s Eye tour delivered by Guggenheim docents. The evening commenced with short presentations delivered by the deputy director of education for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the CEO of Ornellaia, and Yours Truly. The presentations revolved around the work of each organization and my presentation homed in on how I see wine as a perfect way for all of us to experience art and beauty through flavor, aroma and texture. I ended my pre-tasting presentation by commenting that wine, for me, is closely related to how I imagine sighted people feeling when they look at complex works of visual art. Following our pre-presentations and the tour of the Mind’s Eye experience, the tasting began. During the tasting portion, two iconic Ornellaia wines, one white and one red were tasted. I prepared extremely customized aroma samples to pair with each wine. Joining me to lead the tasting experience was Axel Heinz, director of wine education for Ornellaia. Outcomes The goal of the evening was to engage key influencers in the press regarding the partnership between the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and Ornellaia. During and after the evening’s festivities, many invited guests approached the organizers and informed us that this was one of the most memorable events they have attended in a long time. The event resulted in a flattering article which appeared in Barrons’ Penta. https://www.barrons.com/articles/ornellaia-lends-support-to-guggenheims-minds-eye-01560893012 Ultimately, this press event was a very successful collaboration which generated extremely positive media coverage for Ornellaia, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and I was both flattered and honored to be a part of this beautiful collaboration.

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Tasting in the Dark
Justin

Opening Eyes at The French Laundry

Overview Perhaps the most important ability of front of house staff at fine dining establishments is to be able to read their guests and give them a truly memorable experience. Part of creating this legendary guest experience involves careful descriptions of food and drink being served. Even at restaurants as established and well-renowned as Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry, staff need to be refreshed with engaging ways to explain food and drink and interact with guests. The Task In this collaboration with Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry, our task was to use a blindfolded wine tasting, Tasting in the Dark, to give 40 French Laundry front of house staff a completely new and vulnerable environment to experience and discuss wine in detail. Furthermore, the principles at The French Laundry wanted to refresh their staff’s way of describing flavor, aroma and texture of foods and beverages to guests and elevate the guest experience as much as possible. Outcomes During this 2-hour, immersive experience, we utilized four premium wines from The French Laundry wine list, many of which the staff had limited to no familiarity. While under blindfold, the staff were encouraged to engage in a deep discussion about food, drink and how we describe them. Then, we homed in on the concept of sensory literacy by having the staff smell several complex aroma samples and describe them to their colleagues. Finally, four wines were tasted and described first by TFL staff and then with our team in a conversational yet highly informative style. The outcome was a refreshed front-of-house staff with a new outlook on describing food, drink, and how they pair together. Chef Thomas Keller said, “This was one of the most unique and productive trainings he has experienced in his career.” Previous Next

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