Tasting Room Techniques

By: Kathy Kelley

You, me, and the others who write for this blog are all drawn to winery tasting rooms, and many times we plan our vacations around wine related activities. I’ll bet you incorporate what you observe at other tasting bars into what you say or do when you pour samples in your own establishment.   You probably also make a mental list of what “doesn’t work so well” and try to avoid such issues. Certainly you cannot always anticipate what is going to happen in your tasting room, but you probably have experienced an issue or two that could be handled more seamlessly in the future with a little preplanning.

Getting into a groove with groups

I’m sure that you have had your share of groups stop by unannounced, hoping to get served right away, and then be on their way to the next tasting room. You probably have also received several calls from consumers asking if your space can accommodate larger groups. I recently overheard one seasoned staff person tell a caller, “Sure, they can come and taste, but we are really busy and there might be a wait…..”

True as this is, how welcome would you feel if you were the person making the telephone call? I got a good sense that the tasting room staff person who took the call would have just been fine if the party didn’t show up – as the owner, would you? Since large groups of visitors can be hard to avoid, consider developing a set tasting menu of four wines (two of your best selling sweet and two of your best selling dry wines), for groups of five or more. This would allow your tasting room staff to have a bit of control over the situation.

You could even employ this strategy for those who visit your tasting room and have no idea what wines to sample. Certainly, they could go in order of sweet to dry but what if they need to select just four or six samples from a list of 12 or more? Sometimes consumers get overwhelmed by choice and then confused (and sometimes embarrassment) because they don’t want to make the wrong choices. A few “mini” tasting tracks (one sweet, one dry, and one with a little of both) and corresponding tasting sheets could be used in this instance.

What questions do you commonly get asked?

We are entering a time when you are probably relying on part-time help or training new tasting room employees so that you can be out in the field or in the winery. So, they may not know (or have completely learned) about some of the more basic or historical facts about your business, such as how the winery got its name or how long the winery or tasting room has been in existence. As surprising as it may be, I have heard even the most polished and impressive tasting room staff stumble when responding to these questions.

Sep 2014_Kathy_ Image 1 tasting room staff image 1

This issue can be resolved by asking your staff to develop a list of questions they get asked and then you can create responses for a FAQ list that they can refer to and learn from. Topics could include:

  • Origin of the winery’s name and year founded
  • How many bottles or cases are produced annually
  • Vineyard acreage
  • Grape varieties grown on the property and where other grapes used to make the wines are grown
  • How the wine bottle labels were selected, what your winery’s logo means/its significance, and how the owners select the name for their blends
  • How the winery got started. For, example, did the owner receive training in a prestigious wine grape growing region? Or, is the owner so passionate about wine that he/she completely changed his/her occupation in favor of becoming a member of the wine industry?

Sep 2014_Kathy_bottle of wine in tasting room image 2

What new and/or projected food trends does you wine pair with?

A strategy that I talk with students in my Penn State course about often, especially when focusing on edible products, is to provide consumers with may ideas/ways to use products in order to encourage them to purchase greater quantities and/or increase purchasing frequency.   You may have a recipe for mulled wine or sangria, which would list your wine as the primary ingredient, but could you take it a bit further?

Do you remember back in March of this year when a particular chain restaurant made headlines because they had added “wine” milkshakes to their menu (usat.ly/1rOmwfS)? Well, the article attracted a bit of attention and several recipes were developed and posted on food and wine websites.

You do not need develop your own unique recipes in order to make the suggestion that your wine be the basis for a milkshake or other tasty treat. While you or a staff member may have a culinary background or just like to be creative in the kitchen, I would encourage you to take advantage of what is already available on Pinterest.

Sep 2014_Kathy_Image 3 Pinterest image 3

Just as with Facebook, Twitter, and the other social media accounts you employ, if you are on Pinterest you need to pin/repin images and video regularly. With all the content posted on Pinterest, repining an image to your winery’s Pinterest page is one way to inform, remind, persuade, and build relationships with consumers. According to recent research, “One pin generates on average: two website visits, six webpage views, and 78 cents in sales” (bit.ly/1qgCsp4).

How powerful is Pinterest?  Quite powerful.  Source: bit.ly/1qgCsp4

How powerful is Pinterest? Quite powerful. Source: bit.ly/1qgCsp4

What else can you do to encourage increased usage? Suggest several pairings, of course. When you think of the foods that your wine pairs with – are you thinking more broadly than just steak and fish? For example, could you provide pairing suggestions for current food trends?

We are still a few days away from the first day of fall, but it is not too early to think about which of your wines pairs well with pumpkin. Pumpkin has a few things in its favor: “a perennial favorite,” national chains creating pumpkin flavored foods and beverages (e.g. Starbucks and McDonalds), and “pumpkin-flavored sales jumped 14 percent to about $308 million in 2013” (bit.ly/1xg8DcV). Sep 2014_Kathy_Image 5 wine pairing with pumpkin image 5

What if pumpkin flavored foods do not appeal to consumers? Foods projected to be trendy for fall and into 2015 include kimchi and fried chicken (bit.ly/1uCaJ1t), and salamis are predicted to be the “next bacon” (avc.lu/1lCJJPz). I’m sure that you could come up with some pairing suggestions, and have fun doing so.

 Where are you going to direct visitors after they finish their tasting?

Most likely, tasting room visitors who come to your establishment from remote locations are going to send a few hours or even days in your region. These visitors probably need to eat lunch or dinner before continuing their travels, so why not direct them to restaurants that serve your wines?

These travelers may not be very familiar with the region and, if they trust you enough to buy your wines, they will most likely value your recommendations for restaurants and other businesses that they should also visit.

Aside from the verbal recommendation, what else could you do to help them make the decision to actually visit the restaurant and enjoy a nice meal along with a glass of your wine? How about having a menu from each of these restaurants in your tasting room?

Sep 2014_Kathy_Image 6 menus image 6

Did you give them a reason to come back?

 A tasting room guest’s premier visit should (hopefully) not be their only visit. So, what can you do to get them to return? Give them some reasons to return by sharing information about events and festivals that they can attend at the winery and contests host, with some prizes needing to be claimed at the winery.

Conveying this information might be a little bit difficult when your tasting room is packed with visitors, but it is still possible to alert customers about the barrel tasting you offer in the spring, your winter holiday open house, etc. Do you have space on the bottom of your tasting room sheet with a summary of upcoming activities? Or, do you have room on the back of the tasting room sheet for a calendar of upcoming events, list of outlets where your wine can be purchased, as well as restaurants that serve your wines?

Even though you may post announcements on your front door and place pamphlets on a table in the entry, the tasting bar might actually be the best place for some of these items. With customers lingering longer at the tasting room bar than they might at your entry – they may be more likely to pick up a flyer and read it. This also serves the purpose of occupying customers as they wait for their next sample to be poured.

If your visitor is on Facebook they can look at pictures of the previous year’s event and read your post: “We had a great time this year celebrating with all our fantastic customers at our holiday open house. We will post the dates for next year’s event in early October.” I know that I would mark my calendar!

Do you have suggestions for marketing topics that could be the focus of future blog postings? If so, please email your suggestion to me at kmk17@psu.edu

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