What Activities and Events Might Drive Customers to Your Tasting Room?

By: Kathy Kelley, Abigail Miller, and Dana Ollendyke (Penn State Extension Associate)

As we have done in the past, we are taking this opportunity to share results from our wine marketing research study, an effort involving researchers at Penn State, Rutgers, Cornell, and New York University. With approximately “81% of [Pennsylvania wine] sold directly from wineries” (Dombrosky and Gajanan, 2013; http://bit.ly/1LygxFl), one of the issues we investigated in last year’s survey was what a winery could offer to encourage winery tasting room visits, and increase the frequency of these visits.

While, in some cases, we investigated broad categories and factors, we have plans to delve deeper in our upcoming survey into what could motivate consumers to visit a winery tasting room and barriers survey participants feel prevents them from visiting.

Just as a reminder, data were collected through a 15-minute Internet survey (22-24 October 2014).  Participants residing in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania were screened for not being a member of the wine industry, being at least 21 years old, and for having purchased and drank wine at least once within the previous year. A total of 977 participants qualified and completed the survey.

Interest in winery activities and events

Today’s visitors do much more than just taste the wine at a tasting room; rather, there are opportunities to tour the vineyard and the wine-making facility, participate in classes, attend festivals, and much more (http://bit.ly/1JtOEHK).

But should a winery go through the process of planning, implementing, and evaluating an event or activity?

Data from a study conducted by researchers at Texas A&M University and Sam Houston University showed that, for Texas wineries, there was “a positive correlation between wineries that offer services such as tasting rooms and tours and gross sales… [thus] the more tourism services a winery offers, the higher their potential for gross sales” (2008; http://bit.ly/1NSBgRx).

OK, so, with all that could be offered – what activities and/or events might garner the greatest consumer interest? 

Though not an exhaustive list, we focused on activities and events that were more commonly found when we investigated wineries online and also based on popular press articles.  As an example, an event that has been offered at some wineries and restaurants is a “Paint Nite,” during which attendees paint a certain picture by following an instructor while enjoying wine or other alcoholic beverages (https://www.paintnite.com/).  We were interested in learning if this activity appealed to our participants, and, if so, how much.  Below is a table with data pertaining to the level of interest our participants expressed based on the seven activities/events that we tested.

Aug 2015_Kathy_Table 1

As you can see, “tasting events,” “tour of the winery and vineyard,” and “food vendors from local restaurants,” were the three activities that had the highest level of interest (86.3, 83.0, and 78.9%, respectively), and are often interdependent of each other.

It makes sense that if someone is going to visit a winery tasting room that they would be interested in tasting the wine, but there are opportunities to offer “tasting events” that go a beyond the norm – perhaps they could be based on a theme, focus on your new release, be an exclusive tasting with limited seating, or your winery tasting room could be one of the stops on a local food tour.

And, although separate categories in our survey, winery tastings and tours are a natural pairing. Most likely you already offer a tour, and subsequent tasting, but can you take your standard tour and split it up into several?  The goal of this strategy would be to encourage even more frequent visits.

Château Élan Winery & Resort, located in Atlanta, offers six different tour options, five are private and one is offered on a regular basis.  While all six tours end in a tasting, each is unique with a different focus (http://www.chateauelan.com).  The private tours focuses on each of the following: 1) the vat room, 2) the wine making process, 3) the vineyard, 4) an experience with the wine maker, and 5) a session on other Georgia food products.

Aug 2015_Kathy_Fig 1

In addition to what is described above, there are other opportunities to make connections with local restaurants, cheese mongers, bakeries, chocolatiers, etc.  For example, might one (or more) of these businesses create a small tasting plate that could be included in your “premier tasting option?”  Or, could it be purchased separately for visitors to enjoy along with a glass of wine they purchase and consume at your tasting room?   I’m sure that some of your visitors would appreciate the opportunity to try a regional cheese with your wine.

Aug 2015_Kathy_Fig 2

Or, you could substitute the crackers you provided each taster with a few slices of bread from a local bakery.  This is another great way to cross promote with other local business.   While in Paris, this last May, I participated in two separate tasting events at O-Chateau Wine Tasting & Wine Bar (o-chateau.com).  Along with a breakdown of what my tasting fee would include (five still French wines and one Champagne, a two-hour session with an English speaking sommelier, and a private tasting room for no more than 12 participants), the description also alerted me that not only would bread be included, but that I would be tasting baguettes from the bakery that supplies items for the president of France.  Though some participants might not consider this as being a benefit or anything special, others might find it appealing.

Aug 2015_Kathy_Fig 3

With 70.2% of our participants responding that they would be interested in visiting a winery that offered “holiday events,” consider occasions that might be a good fit with your wine.  Commonly celebrated holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, New Years, and religious holidays might come to mind quite easily, but don’t forget local events that may appeal to your tasting room visitors.  For example, the neighborhood of Bloomfield (in Pittsburgh, PA) holds an annual Italian heritage festival called “Little Italy Days” (http://littleitalydays.com).  A winery tasting room could partner with a local Italian bakery to pair wines with Italian pastries.

While a “painting party/class” and “book clubs” were of less interest to our participants, it is possible that such events and activities might still be of great interest to your visitors.  As with any new marketing idea or change you make, it is essential to make sure that “it” is a good fit for your business, then trial “it,” and finally evaluate “it.”

Just a few things to think about as you plan your future winery tasting room activities and events.  You may want to even consider planning an event to celebrate Wine Tourism Day on November 7th (http://www.winetourismday.org).  In its third year, the day is planned to encourage wine tourism businesses, including hotels and restaurants, to offer events as a way “to celebrate the importance (and fun) of wine tourism.”  Another opportunity to raise your glass and celebrate!


Additional Research & Thesis Advisory Team Members:

  • Jeffrey Hyde, Professor, Agricultural Economics, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Denise Gardner, Extension Enologist, Department of Food Science, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Brad Rickard, Assistant Professor, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University
  • Ramu Govindasamy, Professor, Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, Rutgers University
  • Karl Storchmann, Clinical Professor, Economics Department, New York University; Managing Editor, Journal of Wine Economics
  • Rob Crassweller, Professor, Professor of Tree Fruit, The Pennsylvania State University

The project “Developing Wine Marketing Strategies for the Mid-Atlantic Region” (GRANT 11091317) is being funded by a USDA Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program grant, whose goal is “to assist in exploring new market opportunities for U.S. food and agricultural products and to encourage research and innovation aimed at improving the efficiency and performance of the marketing system.” For more information about the program, visit http://www.ams.usda.gov.


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