Food & Wine Classic: Werlin, Oldman, Sbrocco on the art of presentation

Kelly J. Hayes
Special to The Aspen Times
Mark Oldman
Courtesy photo

It is rare that the wine seminars at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen leave attendees wanting. I mean, how can you go wrong when there are six glasses of great wine in front of you? Not to mention info and laughs.

But there are some presenters who bring lagniappe, a little something extra, to the tents and ballrooms. So what is it that makes for a kick-ass session that sells out year after year? We asked some of the most popular presenters to share their secrets.


Laura Werlin would be popular if all she did was bring cheese. A James Beard Award winner for “The All American Cheese and Wine Book,” she sources and serves samples of the best cheeses on the planet in each of her seminars. But it is her joie de vivre, naturally curly locks and summer sundresses that remind all of a summer in Provence, that pack them in for her ever popular seminars.

“The Food & Wine Classic is the ne’ plus ultra of food and wine festivals in this country, so let me just say that being a presenter for all these years is a huge honor,” Werlin said in a recent interview. “For that and a zillion other reasons, I really try and bring it by way of my brand of ‘edutainment’ — educating while entertaining.” She continued, “That means tasting and pairing specially curated cheeses and wines (by me!), telling the stories of both, and weaving in all-important laughter along the way.”

“But you have to stay on your feet,” she adds. “You never know what’s going to happen, so you have to stay one step ahead of your audience and make sure they’re having a great time. My goal is for everyone to walk out of the tent feeling smarter, energized and cheery (and not just because they’ve consumed six wines at 8,000 feet all before lunch).”


As bold and outrageous as the wines he pours, Mark Oldman’s seminars on “Wines For …,” first, Millionaires, then Billionaires, and now Gazillionaires, have become among the hottest tickets at the Classic. A born showman, Oldman is also known for bringing door prizes for his audiences. “I spend many months thinking about what would be fresh and exciting for audience members,” he said. “How do I give people an experience that they won’t soon forget?”

Despite the titles of his seminars, and his most recent book, “How to Drink Like a Billionaire,” Oldman also declares himself a “passionate proponent of drinking richly without spending extravagantly.” In other words, he is all about the value.

And he knows that making a seminar work takes, well, work. “Part of my recipe is that I always start from scratch,” he said. “I am forever challenging myself: How do I make the year’s topics both more entertaining and more enlightening to audience members?” He continued, “I also think that standing before a tent of 200 smart, discriminating Aspen attendees is a wonderful truth teller. Unlike the books and television work I’ve done, you can’t hide. There are no retakes or revisions. It is gloriously live — and that is exciting and motivating.”

And, of course, the ultimate goal is to win over the tent. “When people come to hear you speak, you are either under-delivering or over-delivering. I am allergic to the former and addicted to the latter.”


If you watch the “Today” show or live in the San Francisco Bay area, you know Leslie Sbrocco from her myriad television appearances. Tall, informative and commanding, she is the kind of wine expert who always makes you want to drink more wine. In addition to her television persona, she is a speaker at a plethora of events with expert chops and a winning way.

This past spring, at a gathering of wine writers at the Meadowood Resort in Napa Valley, Sbrocco shared some tips and techniques that she uses to ensure her presentations are worthy of 100-point scores.

“Use your voice,” she extolled the audience. “It’s sometimes hard for people when they are called on to speak to step up to the plate and be raucous. But the audience came to see you because you are the expert. Pick your favorite superhero and put on his or her suit.”

Sbrocco also admitted that she, like many public speakers, gets nervous before a presentation. “The best thing to do to center yourself is simply to breathe. I have a routine where I take three long, deep breaths … seven seconds at a time. When I’m done I feel better and I’m ready to go.”

And bounce. “Yes, bounce,” she said as she began to hop on the toes of her shoes. “You can feel the energy when you are bouncing. It’s a great way to get yourself ready to speak.”

And finally, she uses a Sbrocco term for keeping your content tight. “Just ‘Spanx It,’” she exclaimed. “Nobody wants to hear you go on and on and on. Edit yourself hard, keep the convo tight. And whatever you do, stay on time.”

Good advice from the best presenters in the world of Food & Wine.

Kelly J. Hayes writes the WineInk column, which appears every Thursday in the Aspen Times Weekly.