Attention to detail. As a business owner — especially in the hospitality space — this should be a huge priority. How many of you can truly say you’re paying attention?
There are nearly 10,000 wineries in the United States, most of which have tasting rooms or offer some sort of consumer experience. In an industry that can at times feel constrained by tradition and etiquette and a constant undercurrent of judgement, it may seem hard for a winery to break out of the mold and explore new ways to engage with their customers. What does it take to stand out? I visit countless tasting rooms a year. Here are some interesting moves I’ve come across in my travels that have made my visit truly memorable.
1. The Spittoon
First of all, if you are a winery and you don’t offer your guests a spit cup or easily accessible dump-bucket, you are contributing to the perception that going wine tasting is all about getting a buzz. I’ve seen plenty of guests standing around awkwardly as their friends are getting a taste of the next wine in a lineup, trying to figure out what to do with the remaining ounces in their glass. Most of the time they just knock it back, sometimes with the same facial expression they might make taking a shot of Jose Cuervo. Not everyone wants to finish every drop of wine — it’s nothing personal — so it’s important to make them feel encouraged to spit or dump.
Now, how about taking this gesture to the next level, by offering something elegant and consistent with your brand. Check out this gorgeous personal spittoon offered at Robert Renzoni Vineyards in Temecula Valley. It’s a small detail, but it serves the dual purpose of making your guests comfortable and adding a stand-out, Instagram-worthy touch to the experience.
2. The Education
While those in the biz love to wax poetic about véraison and malo-lactic fermentation, the average consumer glazes over during the “education” phase of a wine tasting, wondering when the next pour is happening, or if there are going to be any of those weirdly satisfying wine crackers coming up. What are you doing to make this experience exciting for your guests?
One winery that has taken consumer education to the next level, making it not just informative but actually really fun, is Raymond Vineyards in Napa Valley. From the garden exhibit showing the difference between a vegetable patch growing in regular soil and one growing in soil with compost, to the “Winemaker for a Day” lab that allows guests to blend their own wine, to the wall of aromas that encourages guests to squeeze what looks like a vintage perfume puff to catch a whiff of typical wine smells like black pepper and cherry and vanilla, Raymond has found unique ways to teach guests about wine in a memorable and engaging way.
3. The Guided Tasting
Seated, guided tastings are an important offering at any winery, but it’s important to go beyond simply pouring six tastes of wine and going through the motions. I will never forget a guided tasting I did while living in Italy, at Castello di Fonterutoli in Tuscany. We sat down to six pre-poured tastes of Sangiovese from different plots within the same vineyard, to experience the incredible difference a small change in exposure, soil and unique microclimate can make.
Baily Winery in Temecula Valley offers an eye-opening vertical tasting of five to six vintages of their Meritage or Cabernet Franc to demonstrate the remarkable consistency and age-worthiness of their wines. This also serves as a platform to discuss the impact of climate on a given vintage, not to mention the winemaking techniques used as a result.
Vertical Tasting of Meritage at Baily Winery
4. The Nosh
I am always delighted when I sit down to a tasting and there is a thoughtful lineup of small, carefully curated bites. If you are serving food with the wines you are presenting, it’s important to be deliberate about the flavors, and prepared to explain the thinking behind your selection of nibbles. Not only does this allow you to tell a story, it creates an experience for the guest that engages their senses in a deeper way.
Carefully curated pairings at Cardinale
5. The Environment
Ask yourself three things: a) Is it clean and well kept? b) Is it consistent with your brand? c) Is it social-media-worthy?
This last point cannot be overstated. Most of us have FOMO and we all want to paint a picture of our lives that brings out other people’s FOMO. You can achieve this through your signage, your decor, your gift shop offerings or your grounds. Create unique places for people to take selfies or pose for photos, search for items from cool local businesses to sell in your gift shop, instead of the same wine charms and tchotchkes that every other winery sells. If you’re want to tell your guests to do something — or, more importantly, not do something — in a sign, make it tongue-in-cheek or clever.
The bottom line here is that when you are busy trying to run a business, manage a wine club, coach staff and prepare for harvest, it’s easy to push some of these details to the back-burner. But I encourage you to spend some time bringing them back up to the forefront of your business and your brand, as even a few small tweaks here and there will help you cut through the noise and differentiate yourself as a winery worth visiting.
Got thoughts or questions? Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Instagram @thesocalwinegal