5 Easy ways to improve the tasting room experience
My good friends, James and Kimberly (@UrWineGuy), along with Kim’s mom, their daughter and my wife, Sheri, visited this past weekend and we spent Saturday tasting in the Sonoma Valley and Sunday tasting in the Napa Valley. Now that I’m working in the industry, I look at tasting rooms a little differently and with a more critical eye. Our tasting experience this weekend was a mixture of good and bad and revealed many things that I think all wineries should consider when opening your doors to the public. Here are just a few that I feel very strongly about:
1. Don’t let your friends or relatives, who are not good with people or lacking in personality or manners, help out in your tasting room. If you do nothing else, follow this one suggestion. I realize that you may be a very small winery and volunteers are all you can afford, but even the best wine in the world won’t sell in your tasting room if people have a bad experience with your staff. This isn’t just a matter of proper training, but of having the right people representing you. In one tasting room, our questions were answered by this older man in a very flippant manner and later, he rudely pawned off our group to another person to finish pouring for us as he went off to deal with another group that came in. Members of our party, who actually bought some of their wines in the past and knew the winemaker, were so insulted, they immediately walked out without buying anything. I doubt they will ever buy anything from that winery again, but even worse, they will tell their friends about the horrible experience they had. Your tasting room is where customers develop their image of your winery and who you are. Make sure the image your customers leave with is a good one.
2. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Just because someone comes into your tasting room dressed like a bum doesn’t mean he can’t afford your wine or won’t be buying anything. And that overdressed couple who just hopped out of the limo is no guaranteed sale either. My friends and I dress very unassumingly but James and Kim have great influence with many people and a few people may actually read this blog. Treat everyone with equal respect. You never know with whom they might be friends.
3. Please, don’t tell me what aromas and tastes I should be experiencing as I am tasting your wine. I realize you are trying to be helpful and you’re selling wine, but I would like to come to my own conclusions without any outside influence. If I need some more insight, I can read the tasting notes that are written. You do have those written somewhere, don’t you? Please DO tell me something interesting about the making of the wine, a story about the winemaker or history of the winery. These are things I will remember long after I forget how the wine tasted
4. Make sure you have lots of dump buckets in the tasting room. This really should go without saying, but I was surprised at how many tasting rooms only have one dump bucket at the tasting bar. Paper cups in lieu of lots of dump buckets would even be welcomed. I really don’t want to walk down to the other end of the bar with my mouth full to spit. And be sure your dump buckets look like a dump bucket. That floral ceramic bottle cooler isn’t always the first thing I think of pouring wine into.
5. Make your guests feel welcome and comfortable. I realize that not all wineries can afford a huge tasting room nor the people to handle unusually large crowds that seem to appear all at once, but a simple verbal acknowledgment when we walk in the door that you know we’re here and will get to us eventually is all I need. Otherwise, I’ll just assume you’re purposely ignoring us. If you can’t accommodate everyone inside and take us to an outside area, make sure it’s comfortable. If it’s nearly 40˚ outside and you expect us to sit outside, provide some heat for your guests. Offer non-alcoholic drinks for kids and designated drivers. Not everyone coming into your tasting room is there to drink wine. Bottled water is most appreciated and so rarely offered.
There are many other suggestions I could offer, but these really stood out this past weekend. Remember, your customer’s experience at your tasting room is what they’ll remember no matter how exceptional or mediocre your wine may be. Train your staff, make a few changes in your tasting room procedures and strive to make it a great experience for your guests.
Thanks to Barbara Drady, and the tasting rooms at Silver Oak, Trione, Bennett Lane, Hall, St. Supery, Beaulieu, Rubicon and Alpha-Omega for their hospitality and doing most everything right.