There is nothing in the wine business that builds long term brand loyalty like a visit to the vineyard. The combination of nature, luxury, hospitality, flavor, and education is warmed by the glow that only vacation can provide. It is one of the greatest brand assets that any winery has.
Vineyard visits are additionally powerful when the visitor is a member of the trade. A visit by a sommelier, retail manager, critic, or distributor can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars of sales spread over a lifetime.
But it is the bad experiences with a winery at the vineyard that can destroy loyalty and cost untold sales.
I've visited wineries in many different professional capacities:
Retail Manager buying $500,000+ per year
Senior Executive for Distribution Company
Minimum wage retail employee
Executive for winery
Wine Blogger / Influencer
MBA Student in Wine & Spirits
... and the vast majority of my experiences have been positive. Sometimes, however, the experience is shockingly bad. I left each of these wineries with a bad taste in my mouth owing nothing to the taste of the wine.
I'm not going to name names, because that isn't the point of this article. I'm trying to be helpful.
#1 - Don't Pair Your Industry Visitor with Someone Who is Paid to Create Tasting Room Sales
I still mockingly tell the story of a Napa Valley winery that tried to sell me at "Tasting Room Retail" wines that I sold in my store. Despite months of scheduling ahead and a promise to meet with the winemaker, I was paired with a guy who got commission on the wines that he sold out of the tasting room. He was unable to grasp that I was here to learn about his wines, not to buy them at retail.
#2 - Don't Mock the Part of the Country in Which Your Visitor Lives.
Californians tend to believe that they live in the greatest state in the country. Having lived in California, I know that there are many wonderful things and many horrible things about the state. But yes, California is pretty nice and wine country is some of the best of it. That doesn't mean that you should mock other people's homes.
I remember a winery in Sonoma County and a winemaker who couldn't stop making jokes about people from my state as ignorant hillbillies and 'people who had probably never heard of organic food.' Every state in the USA has a full diverse compliment of people. Smart and ignorant. Cultured and uncultured. Rich and poor.
That winemaker is entitled to his bigoted worldview, but I never sold his wines again.
FYI: This is the most common complaint that I hear for industry associates. Wineries need to get their people in line on this. It isn't okay!
#3 - Respect Your Visitor's Schedule
Those of us in the wine industry have many relationships with many wineries and limited time to visit them. We probably have a schedule. Please respect it. If you are going to be late, say so. If you need to reschedule, please let us know as quickly as possible, and don't be surprised if we can't.
Equally difficult is when the tasting is running too long. It is incredibly frustrating have to breakaway mid-tasting to rush to the next location. If I say that we have an hour, please shape the experience to the time available.
A little knowledge fixes this problem. The best experiences often start with the question, "How long do we have?"
#4 - Don't Limit Your Visitor's Tasting to Only the Wines They are Familiar With.
When I'm coming to a visit a winery with which I do business, I'm coming to understand the place, the property, and the people. Tasting the wines is something of an afterthought. I can do that back at home anytime. So if you are hosting an Industry Visitor, don't limit them only the wines they actually work with.
Going farther afield to taste small 'tasting room only' bottles and barrel samples is a great way to create a memorable experience for the visitor. It also helps us understand the culture and perspective of the winery.
Strictly limiting what your industry partner can taste makes you look petty and cheap.
In today's incredibly competitive wine business landscape, wineries want to make sure that their best customers - the industry professionals who promote their wine to the public - have memorable and compelling experiences at the winery.
The four mistakes in this article should be considered "never evers" and yet they continue to happen. Wineries that work to eliminate these mistakes will discover that they are reaping significant benefits.