When you work in the hospitality side of the wine industry, you are always taking unofficial polls. It’s second nature and part of our banter to ask visitors “Which wineries did you visit?” I rarely have to pull teeth for more details and very quickly, I find out which wineries are taking care of their visitors and which ones are just phoning it in. And yes, wineries have off days just like the rest of us. But if the number of off days pile up, pretty soon, you will be scratching your head and asking your tasting room staff, “Where did they go?”
I often hear that wineries with the big reputations and/or fancy tasting rooms disappoint the most. True, the expectation from the visitor is elevated when they visit a storied label. They walk in your door and expect to have a wonderful experience and if it falls short, the harder the fall.
With today’s economic awareness, wine visitors want to be convinced why your wine is worth the $40, $50 or $80 you are asking. What they want to hear from you that the wine itself is worth the price tag and not just the fancy surroundings. Most importantly, they want to hear the passion for the product come through.
It was very easy to see why they liked certain wineries better than others. They readily admitted that at their least favorite stops, the wine was just as good – it was the experience itself that did not move the winery into their fav column. This conversation confirmed that in most cases, it wasn't the lack of a fancy tasting room, nor that the wine was substandard in any way – it was the tasting room experience that won or lost them.
Here is a recap of recent wine visitors’ comments:
1) Our GA couple had a great time hanging out with one winemaker who spent significant time with them, talking about wine and making a strong personal connection with his brand. Waste of time? Not at all. The couple purchased four bottles from him (they were flying home so felt limited in their purchases), but have already made plans to attend a special winery event at the Atlanta suburb wine shop they frequent. Making a brand advocate in another part of the country goes a long way in building your wholesale business one loyal consumer at a time.
2) Do tell the story of how your wine was made while you are pouring, including which vineyards and why the winemaker chose them for this wine. At another winery, the tasting room staffer wasn’t sharing these stories (and they have awesome stories to tell). The visitor mentioned that yes, there are tasting notes on the bar for him to read, but why was he expected to have to dig out these brand nuggets?
3) Do vary the message depending on your guest’s wine experience. One young couple (late 20s) told me that they appreciated the tasting room pourer who said, “I like this wine after I’ve done my five mile run and then want to kick back on the deck.” They instantly understood where this wine fit into their lifestyle.
4) What this young couple didn’t like was the “bragging” about the wine. Younger wine tasters are not looking to traditional wine media to evaluate wine, so listing scores and awards did not resonate with them. They got that the winery was proud of their wine, but they felt that they were expected to appreciate the wine because they were told to. It was not a winning (and therefore, a buying) approach.
5) Be careful about the appearance of different levels of service in the tasting room. Guests are very aware when they perceive other guests are getting special treatment. This is sometimes difficult to control as your tasting room staffers will each have a distinct style and will vary their interaction depending of the character and exposure of every guest. As winery owner, be sure that levels of service are not out of whack and that there is no inherent basis against any demographic at play.
6) The worst sin is not to welcome guests to your tasting room at all. One group told me that they stood around for 10 minutes without anyone saying hello or offering a tasting. As a result, they now refuse to purchase this brand’s wine or visit in the future, although the male guest did tell me he bought a bottle of their wine at their local wine shop just to see if they were missing anything. His verdict? “Not a thing!”
7) Not sure how to evaluate your tasting room experience? For starters, be sure to monitor Twitter and Facebook for mentions of your winery. If there is something not right, it will spread quickly via social media. If you are reading positive comments, thank them. If you do read something negative, respond with genuine concern and interest in setting it right. An earnest “we want to do better” will go a long way to giving you another chance to make a long time fan.
Need independent eyes and ears? That’s where winery consulting services can help.
When a small winery recognizes that the only thing preventing them from being a “must-see” winery, is excellent and personal customer service, they now know how to compete against the big boy wineries. And there is nothing stopping a winery from implementing a higher level of service and interaction today — at little or no cost!
In this era of instant tweets and Facebook sharing, we are all working harder to make sure every guest has a great experience and goes away eager to recommend our brand. Any winery not evaluating their tasting room experience may wonder why they are being passed over as visitors drive by on their way to another winery.
What hits or misses have you seen?