Tasting room odds and ends

By: Dr. Kathy Kelley

With just a few weeks until Valentine’s Day and March and April tasting room trail events being planned, you are probably giving some thought to the customer service your staff provides, whether your tasting room sheets might need to be updated, and what constitutes overall customer satisfaction.  What I have included in this blog post are highlights of a few marketing studies and some strategies that focus on various tasting room components.

Does your tasting room sheet need a “make under?”

Your tasting room sheet is meant to inform consumers about what to expect from the wine before they sample it, but how much information is too much?

Tomas et al. (2014) conducted a study with seven New York State wineries (two had two tasting room locations) to determine if removing sensory descriptors, defined as “any adjective used to describe the flavor or aroma of the finished wine, both subjective and objective,” would have an impact on tasting room sales (http://bit.ly/1WPpqen).

The researchers provided an example in their article that included the descriptions of the climate where the grapes were grown and what the wine paired with, but eliminated the sensory descriptor: “Dry and full-bodied with decadent flavors of pink grapefruit, honeysuckle and lemon meringue.”

Jan 2016_Kathy_Image 1 TR

Data from the study indicated that both bottle sales and dollar sales were higher when the modified tasting room sheets were used.  The researchers concluded that sensory descriptors “may be intimidating to the inexperienced consumers, who may face further frustration if they try a wine based on its sensory description but cannot recognize the same attributes, or if their expectations are not met” (Tomas et al., 2014).  For visitors who have more experience with wine, and “may have existing sensory expectations,” such descriptions may have a reduced “effect…on their choice” of wine.

To charge or not to charge

Now, what about the tasting fee you might charge.  Do consumers avoid tasting rooms that charge a fee?

Of the consumers who participated in a 2012 survey conducted in Michigan, 29% indicated that they do “avoid tasting rooms that charge a fee” (http://bit.ly/1KS85eT).  The remainder (71%) who did not avoid tasting rooms that charge a fee to taste the wines “purchased an average of 7.68 bottles of wine” with a total of $135.78 spent “over the course of their trip.” Those who avoided tasting rooms that charge a fee reported that they “purchased an average of 6.58 bottles of wine” and spent a total of $97.82 “over the course of their trip.”

Customer service – why it needs to be good

As you well know, poor customer service can cause customers to flee a tasting room quite quickly, but how are consumers’ actions influenced by “good customer service?”

Byrd et al. (2016) surveyed North Carolina winery tasting room visitors about what prompted their visit and how important, on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = very unimportant and 5 = very important), winery and regional attributes were in the decision to visit a wine region.  Eighty-six percent of survey participants rated “good customer service” a 4.39 and “winery staff are knowledgeable about wine” a 4.36, both a which were between “important” and “very important.”

When asked about future actions based on their tasting room experience, 91.2% of those who rated “good customer service” as “very important” responded that they would “likely:” 1) revisit the winery, 2) recommend the winery/vineyard to others, 3) visit any winery in the state in the future, and 4) purchase North Carolina wines.  The likelihood of “engaging further with NC wine and wineries” was lower for those who assigned a lower rating to the importance of “good customer service” at the winery.

Is your tasting room experience “all that?”

Have you ever wondered which aspects of a consumer’s tasting room experience contributes to his or her “overall customer satisfaction?”

In this study, conducted by researchers at Cornell University, tasting room visitors rated 24 attributes related to their tasting room experience (e.g. sounds in the tasting room, friendliness of pourer, availability of non-wine gift items) and their overall satisfaction with the visit on a scale from 1 to 5 (1 = poor and 5 = excellent) (Shapiro and Gomez, 2014).

The 24 attributes were combined (based on similarities) into five categories:

1) Ambience (e.g. tasting room cleanliness, lighting, sounds, view)

2) Service (e.g. pourer knowledge, friendliness, appearance)

3) Tasting protocol (e.g. number and variety of wines offered, tasting fee)

4) Tasting experience (e.g. customer’s ability to select wines tasted, waiting time)

5) Retail execution (e.g. wines and merchandise available for purchase, wine quality and price perceptions)

According to the researchers, “ambience” followed by “service” and “tasting protocol” contributed “to overall customer satisfaction” in the tasting room and that “level of customer satisfaction influences the decision to buy, the amount of dollars spent and the number of bottles purchased in a shopping occasion” (Shapiro and Gomez, 2014).

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In addition, while their participants’ mean ratings for each of the five categories (e.g. ambience, service, tasting protocol) were between “very good” (a rating of 4 out of 5) and “excellent” (a rating of 5 out of 5), a one-point increase in the “ambience” score (for example, an increase from 4 to 5) increased overall customer satisfaction by 0.25 points.

A one-point decrease in “ambience” (for example, a decreased from 4 to 3) also had an impact as the overall customer satisfaction then decreased by 0.25 points (Shapiro and Gomez, 2014).  A one-point increase (decrease) in the ratings for the other four categories resulted in a small increase (decrease) in customer satisfaction.

“Welcome to X Winery.  We offer a free winery tour in addition to having some wonderful wines available for you to taste…”  

When you visit some big box stores or warehouse clubs you are often greeted by an employee who is checking your membership card, rolling a cart your way, directing you to a department, etc.  Part of the strategy is to deter theft, but in 2015, after a three-year hiatus, Wal-Mart brought the greeters back to a select number of store entrances to also “improve the profitability of its U.S. operations by making the stores friendlier…” (http://on.wsj.com/1Jet4MU).

According to a winery consultant, Patty Held, her experience at a winery on a busy Saturday was enhanced by the greeter who informed her about the tasting fee, the gift shop, and other activities she could participate in during her visit.  Ms. Held stated in her blog post that when the tasting room is busy, staff are most likely focusing their attention on pouring wines, ringing up sales, etc., consumers who just walked through the door could be “ignored by tasting room staff because they are busy taking care of the other guests” (http://bit.ly/1T8ESDR).

In an upcoming blog, Jen will provide more information on suggested do’s and don’ts for making customers feel welcome – especially during those busy periods.

Sit down and take a load off 

Could the addition of seating in your tasting room increase sales?

Based on data collected form wineries that responded to the 2015 Wine Business Monthly/Silicon Valley Bank Tasting Room Survey, “average wine purchases” where higher for those who were seated at a table or area other than at the bar when participating in a wine tasting.  If this seated tasting was “private or formal” the average wine purchase was $392, while the average purchase was $107 for consumers who participated in a “casual or group” seated tasting.  The average wine purchase for a customer standing at the tasting room bar was $75, while this dollar amount was $65 if the customer was seated at the tasting room bar.  In addition, “Seated customers are more likely to join the wine club than if they are standing at the tasting bar” (Penn. 2015).

Jan 2016_Kathy_Image 3 TR

According to the May 13, 2015 broadcast, 70.79% of visitors purchased wine from the tasting room if they were seated and the tasting was “private or formal” (http://bit.ly/1nbXzdp).

Why is the seated arrangement a benefit compared to standing?  The researchers believe that seating allows for personalization, “art of service,” one-on-one conversations, and relationship building between the customer and the tasting room staff (http://bit.ly/1nbXzdp).

Welcome Jen Zelinskie

I would like to introduce Jennifer Zelinskie, the graduate student who is continuing the consumer research funded by the USDA Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program: “Developing Wine Marketing Strategies for the Mid-Atlantic Region” (Grant 11091317).  Jen graduated from Penn State in May 2015 with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition Dietetics.  She has also assisted Denise in previous NE-1020 vintages, in which wines were made at Penn State using several wine grape varieties produced at the North East and Biglerville, PA research vineyards.  You can read more information regarding the NE-1020 variety trials here, and the Penn State student winemaking experiences here.

Jan 2016_Kathy_Image 4 Jenn

Jen’s interest in wine marketing, and hence some of the questions she will ask survey participants, does include understanding consumer attitudes about wine in relation to their nutritional intake and subsequent consumption and purchasing behaviors.   Jen has worked in the past for a winery in the vineyard and in the tasting room.  Currently, she is behind the tasting bar at a local cidery and assisting with building the business’s social media presence.  In the coming months we will publish blogs that describe outcomes from her recent consumer survey.  Welcome Jen!


Byrd, E.T., B. Canziani, Y.C. Hsieh, K. Debbage, and S. Sonmez. 2016. Wine tourism: Motivating visitors through core and supplementary services. Tourism Management 52: 19-29.  doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2015.06.009

Penn, C. 2015. 2015 WBM/SVB tasting room survey report. Wine business Monthly.  22(7):50-58

Shapiro, M. and M. Gomez. 2014. Customer satisfaction and sales performance in wine tasting rooms. International Journal of Wine Business Research. 26(1):45-60.

Thomas, L., M.I. Gomez, C.J. Gerling, and A.K. Mansfield. 2014. The effect of tasting sheet sensory descriptors on tasting room sales. International Journal of Wine Business Research. 26(1):61-72.



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4 responses to “Tasting room odds and ends”

  1. Mukul Manku says :

    Well researched, informative and interesting post. Loved reading it.

  2. Dean Scott says :

    Very good information for the tasting room. I have moved from the vineyard to the tasting room for the winter at Folino Estates Winery. They are new winery and very progressive and customer focused in there tasting room approach, so a lot of your information will be very helpful. I look forward to seeing Jen’s research.

  3. Tony Wall says :

    It seems to me that the specific sensory evaluation in this example might be an issue: lemon meringue? Really? That is a bit overblown for the general public. The actual words used to describe the taste of the wine might be the problem. How about a basic lemon and caramel flavors description. Descriptors that sound like a creative writing contest are a pet peeve of mine, both as a consumer and as a wine retail salesperson.

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