The Wine Experience
Bringing the wine world together since 1981
Wine Spectator’s annual Wine Experience gathers the whole world of wine for a weekend of tasting, talking and sharing our common passion. No other event rivals its energy, quality, history and rich community.
The first Wine Experience took place in San Francisco in 1981. Organized by the Fairmont hotel and local tourism officials, the event centered on a historic tasting of many of the best California wines of the time. The following year, the event’s organizers, including Robert Mondavi, wine writer Robert Lawrence Balzer and Fairmont hotel executive Richard Swig, approached Wine Spectator editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken with the request that he take over the Wine Experience and raise it to the next level.
The year 1981 also marked Wine Spectator’s first Grand Award wine weekend, held at the late and lamented Windows on the World restaurant in New York. It was the debut year of Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Awards program, and restaurateurs, wine producers and wine lovers gathered for a celebration. Initially, 13 restaurants received our Grand Award; in 2016, 88 restaurants hold the world’s highest honor for wine lists, among the 3,595 restaurants that have earned one of the several levels of Wine Spectator awards for their wine programs.
In 1982, Wine Spectator introduced the Distinguished Service Award to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the wine industry. Alfred Fromm, a seminal figure in the rebuilding of California wine after Prohibition, was the first recipient. Since then, 34 people—vintners, academics, business leaders, chefs and more—have earned the wine industry’s most prestigious award.
In 1983, the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation was created, with the goal of supporting educational institutions that prepare students for careers in the wine and hospitality industries. Net proceeds from the Wine Experience fund the foundation and its educational and other charitable activities. To date, more than $20 million has been raised, thanks to the generosity of the wineries and wine lovers who participate in this event. (Learn more about the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation and its activities.)
The size and scope of the Wine Experience attests to the event’s enduring success. Hundreds of wineries pour their rare bottlings and top vintages for thousands of wine lovers; upwards of 20,000 bottles are opened over the long weekend of tastings and seminars, which culminates in a black-tie Grand Award banquet. There, as it has since 1981, Wine Spectator continues to recognize award-winning restaurant wine lists, now from all 50 states and more than 70 countries.