Client: Natalie MacLean

Project: Book Launches of Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass

Natalie MacLean called Debbie and her team of Savvy Sommeliers to be involved in two big launch events for her first book – Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass. To make an impressive splash, Natalie hosted a by-invitation-only event at her home where she wine and dined editors, publishers, media, business supporters, friends and family with interactive wine and food stations inspired by chapters in her book.  Does glassware make a difference? Savvy Sommeliers provided guests the opportunity to sample a fine wine in a Dixie cup and compare to drink with Riedel crystal.  At another station, guests tasted wine blind as they nibbled on the hors d’oeuvres created by Ottawa’s acclaimed Epicuria Fine Food and Catering

Following this lavish affair, Debbie created, marketed and hosted a large scale sold out event for the general public and loyal NatDecants readers to sample wines that were featured in the book while listening to Natalie read excerpts of her wine soaked journeys around the wine world.

“Debbie leads one of the friendliest and most knowledgeable teams of sommeliers I’ve met. The Savvy Grapes makes drinking and learning about wine fun” – Natalie

Client: Ottawa Wine & Food Show

Project: Cellars of the World annual wine competition

Ottawa Wine and Food Show

Since 2005, Debbie served as Chair of the annual Cellars of the World Wine Competition—now in its 20th year and a crucial part of the Ottawa Wine and Food Show. Each year, more than 300 bottles of wine have been entered into this prestigious event. Behind closed doors, a panel of 25 – 30 local judges—including representatives of the wine media, professional sommeliers and wine educators—judge 300+ wine entries ‘blind’. Debbie and her Savvy team develop and manage all aspects of the competition leading up to the big day. This involves hours of logging all entries, liaising with wineries and agents, inviting judges and recruiting a team of more than 20 volunteers to make the competition run smoothly and professionally. Debbie oversees every aspect of the competition, leading to the announcement of the medal winners.

Client: Nova Scotia Tourism

Project: Culinary tourism marketing campaign in Ottawa market

Nova Scotia Tourism

Nova Scotia Tourism called on Savvy’s expertise to design, develop and roll out a weeklong campaign to raise media awareness and consumer interest in Nova Scotia as a culinary vacation destination. Seafood and shellfish are familiar icons of the Maritimes, yet many consumers are not aware of the emerging premium wine industry.

In the space of just six weeks, the Savvy Team collaborated with a renowned local PR company to spearhead ‘Ceilidh in the Capital’—a campaign/event beginning with ‘Nova Scotia Night’ at a downtown pub (complete with a live Celtic band and a visitor information centre in a high-traffic corridor) and comprising TV and radio contesting, TV segments showcasing wines and foods, print advertising and viral email marketing. The grand finale of the promotion was the Nova Scotia Kitchen Party, featuring a seafood feast and an assortment of Nova Scotia wines. Two Nova Scotia winemakers and an executive chef from one of the province’s top resorts ‘headlined’ the evening: a troop of Citadel Hill infantry piped the winemakers, chef and highland dancers into the restaurant to get the party started!

“On behalf of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, I want to thank you for all of your hard work, expertise and flexibility in helping us stage the Ceilidh in the Capital. We were exceptionally pleased with the event and attribute much of the success to you and your team. The media coverage of the events was exactly what we had hoped and I don’t think there could have been too many media stones unturned in Ottawa. Months later, we still adore talking about the Ceilidh in the Capital event!” – Nancy MacIsaac, Manager, Creative Services, Nova Scotia Tourism, Culture and Heritage Tourism Division

Client: Farm Boy

Project – Developing wine pairings for Farm Boy products

Farm Boy

Ottawa’s premium grocery store retailer, Farm Boy, recognized the growing consumer interest in pairing wine with foods, calling on Debbie and Savvy sommelier Gina Wohlgemuth to educate its customers on how to match Farm Boy products to appropriate wines. For one year, the pair contributed their insights to Farm Boy’s weekly ‘In the Pantry’ eNewsletter and in bi-weekly instore flyer. Offering tips and wine appreciation tidbits, Debbie and Gina shared their knowledge of wine and food pairings while profiling Ontario wineries. Readers and Farm Boy customers found these quick-to-read weekly wine tips invaluable—and Farm Boy acknowledged the added value the information brought to their customers.

Client: Embassy of Argentina

Project – Media and Trade tasting of Argentina wines

Debbie and her team of Sommeliers organized and managed a by-invitation-only wine tasting for the Embassy of Argentina in Canada entitled “Viva Argentina!” .  Despite the hustling and bustling of a busy holiday season, this event held in December 2008 at the Mambo Nuevo Latino Restaurant in Ottawa was deemed a success.  10 wine agents showcased 30+ different Argentinean wines impressing restaurant owners, sommeliers, wine and food media and special guests of the embassy.

“Working with Savvy Company was a delightful experience.  The valuable expertise of Savvy Sommeliers and their ability to manage a high profile event was the reason for the success of the Viva Argentina! wine tasting. Debbie’s team were experienced as both sommeliers and as marketing executives – this combination is certainly impressive.” – Edgar Flores Tiravanti, Head Trade & Economic Section, Embassy of Argentina in Canada

Client: TRIO Restaurant at Novotel Ottawa

Project: All-Canadian wine program to support a new restaurant concept


In 2007, Novotel Ottawa General Manager Rafael Ballester and Executive Chef Scott Lucas invited Debbie to a meeting that would dramatically change the Ottawa wine and food scene. Scott had transformed the restaurant’s typical hotel-style menu, adopting the refreshing approach of gourmet sharing plate menus using only local ingredients. He needed a wine list to complement each season’s available dishes. With her broad knowledge of both the wine industry and wine and food pairing, Debbie took on the task of developing a wine program. Hundreds of bottles later, and with support from the restaurant’s executive team, Debbie introduced Ottawa’s only all-Canadian wine list at TRIO Restaurant. This seasonal selection features premium wines from Canadian boutique wineries. With each new season Novotel profiles a Canadian winery, giving it and its wines new visibility.

To make sure that each new menu and featured winery receives plenty of fanfare, Debbie developed the Savvy Supper Series: events that offer the general public the opportunity to dine with the featured winemaker over a gourmet meal of the new dishes.

To engage serving staff and prepare them for TRIO’s launch, Debbie and Savvy Sommelier Wayne Walker created a wine service training program specifically for Novotel. This day-long session provided the Novotel serving team with the ‘fun’damentals of wine appreciation, wine service etiquette and knowledge of TRIO’s wine list to ensure customers thoroughly enjoy their experience at the restaurant.

Savvy Company and the Novotel team have received rave reviews in the media. The wine industry is taking note, too. Only four months after TRIO was launched, the Wine Council of Ontario recognized the restaurant’s approach by awarding it the Gold VQA Award of Excellence.

In 2009, the TRIO concept and its all-Canadian wine list was launched at Novotel North York location and is planned to roll out across Canada at every Novotel property.

Client: Thirty Three Vines Winery

Project – Launch activities

33 vines

In 2006, Paul Minaker, owner of Thirty Three Vines invited his more than 400 Founder’s Circle members to his vineyard to help with planting vines and see how the building of the winery was coming along. The Savvy Team helped plan and execute this ‘by invitation only’ event, which allowed early supporters of Thirty Three Vines’ to connect to the winery and cement their loyalty. To top it all off, the visitors were invited to an exclusive and private concert featuring the Jim Cuddy Band. The day-long festivities required months of planning, project management, marketing, media profiling and special promotions. A focus group was conducted to gather input on Thirty Three Vines’ marketing approach and wine label design. Debbie and her team of eight delivered a memorable day with rave reviews. More than 300 people visited the winery and 500 attended the concert.

“Thank you again for the Thirty Three Vines Founder’s Circle VIP event at the winery, pre-concert wine tasting and the private concert with The Jim Cuddy Band. It was a roaring success. I know exactly why it worked so well—because of the Savvy team!” – Paul Minaker, winery owner, Thirty Three Vines

In 2008 when Thirty Three Vines was ready to open its doors to the public, Paul Minaker again called on Debbie without hesitation to help with all of the aspects of the grand opening. More marketing, media relations, event management, and (this time) a team of sommeliers hosted an exclusive wine tasting in the winery’s barrel room for the Founder’s Circle members, and also gave tours of the winery facility. Some 400 people visited the winery that day. As it has become tradition amongst the Founder’s Circle members, the grand opening included a private concert featuring the Jim Cuddy Band enjoyed by 600 people. The Savvy team managed all aspects of the concert including bartending!

A few months later, Debbie returned to Thirty Three Vines accompanied with a strategic partner – Imagetree Productions. This time, she was invited to create a promotional video featuring the winery, its owner—and of course the wines.

Client: Pillitteri Estates Winery

Project: Market Analysis Report of China for Canadian wine

Pillitteri Estates Winery

In 2005, China joined the WTO (World Trade Organization)—and trade opportunities emerged rapidly. Charlie Pillitteri, VP Sales and Marketing at Pillitteri Estates Winery, had always done business in Asia—in particular selling his internationally award-winning icewine. however, primarily on a reactionary basis. Charlie called Debbie to analyze the market in China for wine and determine if his winery should invest in this emerging market on a proactive basis.

Debbie conducted market research and met with wine distributors in Shanghai and Beijing, Canadian embassy officials in China and notable Chinese restaurateurs to determine if this was a market opportunity worth considering. In addition, Debbie analysed if Pillitteri could handle the China market with their existing operational infrastructure in Niagara.

“Debbie is a dynamic individual, an astute businesswoman, who has provided valuable business insight throughout the years that we have worked together. In particular, Debbie delivered to me comprehensive report on the wine market in China that highlights the challenges, identified growth opportunities, product and consumer trends, distribution models and market forecasts. This report is critical for my management team and me as we develop our Asian export business model for the next five to 10 years.” – Charles Pillitteri, Vice President Sales, Pillitteri Estates Winery