Thursday, January 29, 2009

Don't ask questions - just buy the wine!

Brad Posts: Revised 1/30/09

Wineries have personalities! Even before you enter the tasting room you have an idea of what to expect from your winery visit. The first impression, either from a web-visit or the drive up the lane to the tasting room, informs your opinion and frequently the experience you ultimately have. And like the wine they produce, many of the personalities in the tasting room we encounter are complex -- that is to say, some tasting room attendants are inviting, friendly and warm, while others are aloof, snobby, and uneducated.

When I visit a winery, my expectations are geared toward meeting the winemaker, having a personal tour, getting the low-down on varietals (do they grow their own grapes?) and getting excellent personal service. So, when I encounter tasting room attendants who know far less than I do, I become quickly frustrated and frequently leave vowing never to return. Actually, that happened within the past year.

We had visited an up-and-coming winery (with all the appropriate bells and whistles), beautiful by all accounts; however, upon entering we were met with smugness and an air of superiority and although the wines were good - we did not purchase. I vowed never to return. Of course I did return and am glad I did. This time, about a year later, they had the most marvelous tasting room attendant: knowledgeable of the wine and winemaking process and was able (without a cheat-sheet) to recommend appropriate pairings! Wow - what great service we had!

Recently, I teamed up with a colleague at another regional college to initiate a wine industry mystery shoppers program. Basically, he recruited about 50 knowledgeable wine aficionados and trained them to visit wineries and using a post-trip evaluation form - evaluate each winery.

The findings will be reported in a two upcoming meetings/conferences to the industry. One interesting finding that I'll share has to do with the Tasting Room Experience visitors report: Women visitors tend NOT to get the same quality of information as men. According to our study women want more information about grape varietals, paring options, and explanations of each wine they tasted. One big finding/opportunity: these knowledgeable women of wine reported that they didn't feel encouraged to ask questions!

Everyone has their own individual expectations when they visit a winery - some don't mind a snob behind the tasting counter, some want their attendant to be cute, while others want a personal tour of the winery. Mostly we all want good service and at the heart of good service is listening (actively listening) to our customers and helping them achieve the experience they desire -- and both win, the winery with increased sales (and great reputation) and the consumer!

I guess the challenge for all winery visitors is to keep an open mind, recognizing each place has it's own unique personality (just like each of us), and to gain some new knowledge or appreciation from each winery we visit - even if those personalities clash -- hopefully, at least, the tastings will be free!

Happy Tastings!


  1. Similiar experiences here.

    My last trip to Napa Valley I noted a shift towards a two tier system of tastings: basic and premium with a significant price difference between the two.

    At Beaulieu Vineyard I chose the "premium" tasting option which cost (i think i remember) $50. For that fee, I was given six three-ounce pours of their finest wines - including one ancient reserve cab. All served in a small private tasting room without the noise and hubub of the ever-present tour busses.

    I didn't get to speak with the winemaker, and the wine pourer were knowledgable but reserved geeks.

    Overall, I'd rate the experience as "mixed". While the wine was superb there wasn't the chattiness and friendliness which is essential for experience.

  2. I like my attendant to be cute with large.........pours.