It's no secret that dining at a McConnell property rivals that of any restaurant in town. And when you add in the number of growing wine society programs at several clubs, you’ve got the recipe for something really good.
A key proponent of the programs is Dave Marra, who spent time at Sedgefield Country Club before taking his current position as director of club operations for Grande Dunes. He’s credited with growing the thriving wine society programs at both clubs, which offer monthly Grape Nuts and quarterly Wine Indulgence dinners.
At Sedgefield, the Grape Nuts dinner series began in 2010, named after a core group of wine-enthusiast club members who called themselves — what else? — “the grape nuts.” Today, this popular monthly dinner typically showcases a specific winemaker and is enjoyed at a reasonable price point.
“Grape Nuts dinners are attractive because they’re themed and focused on cost-effective, member-friendly wines,” says Marra. “It’s not about the formality of wine tasting. It’s a social affair.”
Recent Sedgefield Grape Nuts dinner themes include “Pinot, Pinot, Pinot,” “Blockbusters of Wine,” “90+ Pointers,” “Kings of California,”and “Syrah, Sirah, Shiraz.”
These dinners feature a tapas-style, three-course menu paired with pours that complement the food. Sedgefield Executive Chef James Patterson, along with Maya Panayotova, Sedgefield’s director of dining services, plans a menu after meeting with a wine distributor and sampling the varietals. “I’ll look at the year, the weather, and expectations of the grape,” says Patterson. “I examine the wine’s flavor profiles and come up with a menu from there.”
At a recent Sedgefield dinner, the menu consisted of baby spinach with baked apples and pears; Italian sausage-stuffed ravioli with ricotta and smoked-gouda cream sauce; and peppercorn crusted New York strip with herb-smashed Yukon Gold potatoes and grilled Portobello, topped with a Gorgonzola bacon demi.
“This is a chance to do something entirely different,” says Patterson. “To try things that our members may not normally order .... We can be a bit more aggressive in the style of food we’re presenting. We can serve things like beef tongue and pork cheeks, and we can think outside the box.”
In addition to the Grape Nuts dinners, Sedgefield and Grande Dunes host a quarterly Wine Indulgence dinner. These events are a bit more elaborate, according to Patterson, and the menu is more ambitious. “We recently had a truffle dinner featuring truffles hand-selected and flown to us from Italy,” says Patterson.
At both clubs, one of the biggest Wine Society membership benefits is the locker program. For a minimal annual cost, members have access to a personal wine locker to store their favorite bottles.
“Wine Society members can buy wine from the club, or they can bring their own wine in,” explains Marra. “The corkage fee is waived. So, if you have your own great bottle of wine and it’s something I can’t get, you should still be able to come enjoy that wine in our dining room. You shouldn’t be penalized for that. You’re able to enjoy your favorite bottle, which means you’ll enjoy your dinner at the club that much more.”
Grande Dunes’ Wine Society membership is significant, says Marra: “We’re currently at 93 members, out of 383 members total. This is a very sociable club, so that program works well down here. I’ve purchased six sets of new lockers to keep up with the demand of the Wine Society.”
Recent Grande Dunes events include a fall Wine Indulgence dinner featuring Riedel glassware. “We brought in five different wines at slightly higher price points, and we taught members the difference in stemware. What’s the difference between normal stemware and Riedel stemware? Riedel enhances the pour with varietal-specific glasses. So there’s an educational component of these dinners, too.”
Dean Banks is one Grande Dunes member who enjoys the perks of Wine Society membership. “The wine dinners are my favorite,” he says. “Both the monthly Grape Nuts and the bigger Wine Indulgence events. There’s such a variety of wines we get to try, and I’m always finding a lot of gems. I also order a lot of wine from Grande Dunes .... If I find something I want, I’ll send a picture of the bottle to Dave and he can usually get it for less than I can if I buy it in the store. It’s so convenient.”
So whether you’re a novice wine drinker or a complete oenophile, the convivial atmosphere of McConnell’s Wine Society events is something not to be missed.
“It’s all about interactions,” says Marra. “I love to talk and tell people about the wines they’re drinking.”