Wine Tourism and the Mid-Atlantic Wine Consumers’ Interest in Tasting Room Activities

By: Jen Zelinskie and Dr. Kathy Kelley

Though you welcome them when they enter your tasting room and you ask where they are from between pours, do you ever really wonder how important wine tourism is to you and your community?   Based on statistics published within the past few years, wine tourism has grown and is often the “core” vacation activity.  The following table describes just a few statistics about number of wine tourists and the resulting economic impact that the wine, grape, and related industries had on New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania just a few years ago.

Screenshot 2016-07-26 13.04.01With a few magazines devoted specifically to this type of tourism and national and international conferences slated for this fall and next spring, wine tourism is getting the attention it deserves.

Who is a wine tourist?

Just as not all wine consumers are alike and similar in their consumption and purchasing preferences, wine tourists can be segmented based on level of interest in wine and non-wine related activities.  According to Dr. Marlene Pratt, Griffith University in Australia, four types of wine tourist profiles exist:

  • ‘Wine interested’ (55 percent): “likes wines and has attended tastings and wineries before. Enjoys food and exploring the countryside. Generally travels with friends to wine regions. Eager to learn about wine.”
  • ‘Wine curious’ (17 percent): “has a low to moderate interest in wine, is motivated to visit the region by non-wine reasons and wineries are seen as ‘just another attraction.’  Is satisfied with basic knowledge of wine.”
  • ‘Wine lover’ (15 percent of wine tourists): “knows wines and can discuss the finer points of wine with the wine-maker. Food and wine matching is important. Visits the winery for buying, tasting and learning about wine.”
  • ‘Disinterested tourist’ (12 percent) “visits wineries as part of a group, and sees it as an alternative to a bar. Generally just concerned with drinking wine, and has no interest in learning about wine” (

Knowing which type(s) of wine tourists visit your tasting room can better prepare you for meeting, if not exceeding, their expectations.  For example, you could use this information to:

  • create a more advanced tour for the ‘wine lover,’
  • develop a tasting menu and local food pairing for groups for the ‘wine interested,’ or
  • organize a multi- farm, ag. business, etc. tour for groups of ‘wine curious’ visitors.

What might “complete” a wine tourist’s visit to your tasting room?

So, what are the motivations, preferences, and activities wine tourists engage in when planning a “winecation?”

A wine tourism study conducted by researchers at the Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre (STCRC) in Australia focused on lifestyle aspects of food and tourism. They discuss eight key “enhancement factors” for the wine tourism experience:

  • Authenticity – “consumers feeling they have had a special experience that they could not have had elsewhere,”
  • value for money – “feeling the experience was worth the monetary investment… feel they have obtained value for what they spent,”
  • Service interaction – “positive service interactions… enhanced the overall experience,”
  • setting and surroundings – “location of the winery that attracted people, including the outlook and scenery,”
  • product offerings – “food and wine experience was enhanced by type of products served or opportunities to purchase other regional products,”
  • information dissemination – “three major sources of information: print… visitor information centers, and ‘word of mouth’,”
  • personal growth – “all factors allowing the tourist to learn about the region, food and wine as well as interactions with winemaker and staff,” and
  • indulgence and lifestyle – tourist feels they received a “total pleasing experience” (

Maybe it has been a while since you have really looked at what you offer and could promote to wine tourists that would fit one or more of these “enhancement factors.”  One way to assess your current offerings and your potential is to conduct a SWOT analysis.  Such an exercise identifies the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats that impact the business (  Two of these (Strengths and Weaknesses) owner/operators have control over, since they are internal to the business, while the other two (Opportunities and Threats) relate to external factors.

An example of a simple SWOT analysis for a winery can be found here:  Maybe you also have a Strength such as “prestigious wine school training,” an Opportunity such as really developing a powerful social media presence with social media tools your primary customer uses, and, perhaps, you also have a Weakness and Threats related to competition in the market place.

While many winery tasting rooms offer a “complete tourism experience” that includes restaurants, accommodations, tours, picnic facilities, and recreational facilities ( others might not have the available land or zoning for this to be feasible.  Thus, provide a list of suggested local restaurants, hotels/bed and breakfasts, etc. to visitors and cross promote with these businesses on your website and through social media.

What the Mid-Atlantic wine consumer feels is important in the tasting room and in close proximity to the winery.

We, too, at Penn State seek to understand what will “complete” a Mid-Atlantic consumer’s wine tourism experiences. In our November 2015 survey, we asked participants to indicate whether each factor offered at the tasting room was “important” or “not important” when deciding to visit.  Sixty percent of survey participants indicated that light snacks available for purchase was important (figure 1), followed by activities and/or events (46.1 percent), a restaurant (43.9 percent), gift shop (41.8 percent), and lodging (25.4 percent).

Screenshot 2016-07-26 13.05.33Participants were also asked to indicate whether each factor located in close proximity, but not at or on the tasting room property, was “important” or “not important” when deciding to visit. The top six offerings in terms of being “important” are presented in figure 2, below.

Screenshot 2016-07-26 13.06.05

Restaurants was selected by 63.2 percent of participants.  Other responses which at least 40 percent of participants indicated were important included: shopping (47.2 percent), lodging (45.3 percent), cultural and historical experiences (44.5 percent), tour and sightseeing activities (43.9 percent), and other winery tasting rooms (40.6 percent).  Among the factors that approximately a third or less of participants indicated were important, were: entertainment and breweries/distilleries, selected by 37.1 and 36.3 percent of participants, respectively.

Based on our data, “food” is among the most desired addition to the tasting room experience, both on the premises and within close proximity to the tasting room. An article published in the New York Times described the importance of food at a winery and how it enhanced the overall experience. At Wolffer Estate Vineyard (Sagaponack, New York) sales of food (e.g. cheese and charcuterie platters, bottled water) were 35 percent higher in 2011 than the previous year.  According to Suellen Tunney, retail sales manager, “people want the whole experience… they want to take a tour, have a full wine tasting and a cheese plate or several cheese plates” (

The “specialty foods” trend is one that winery tasting rooms should explore when deciding what foods to offer their customers. According to the Specialty Food Magazine’s “Today’s Specialty Food Consumer 2015” report (, 47 percent of consumers reported purchasing specialty food during a six-month period in 2015. Specialty foods appeal to Millennials (age 21 to 38), Generation X (age 39 to 50), and Baby Boomers (age 51 to 69) alike, and equally to males and females.

Consumers are driven to purchase specialty food and beverages by the desire to try new things and because of the high quality and perceived healthiness of the foods. Offering specialty food options at your winery can satisfy their need for something to eat while enjoying their wine tasting. According to the report, the top five most purchased specialty foods include:

  • Cheese and cheese alternatives (e.g. lactose fee, soy free, or vegan cheese),
  • ice cream and frozen desserts,
  • chocolate,
  • coffee, coffee substitutes, and cocoa,
  • cookies, brownies, cakes, and pies.

You could also make your selection based on the consumer generation you serve or hope to attract.  For example, in addition to the item listed above, pasta, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and salty snacks are some of the foods that appeal to the Millennial generation.  Oils and vinegars; meat, poultry and seafood; and salsas and dips appeal to Generation X and would also be good to offer on the menu and for items they can purchase and take home with them (

Activities Mid-Atlantic wine tourists desire based on who accompanies them during the tasting room visit.

In our March 2016 survey, we asked participants with whom they visit winery tasting rooms. Out of 1,038 participants, 60.0 percent responded that they visit winery tasting rooms with a romantic partner (for example, a domestic partner, spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend). Fifty-one percent responded they visit winery tasting rooms with groups (three or more people) of family and/or friends.

These participants were then directed to additional questions that asked them to select specific activities that would appeal.  The figures below show the responses that were selected by the most participants when considering a visit with a romantic partner (figure 3) and with a group of family and/or friends (figure 4).

Screenshot 2016-07-26 13.06.31Screenshot 2016-07-26 13.07.22

Based on the data presented in figures 3 and 4, there are many similarities between those visiting a winery tasting room with a romantic partner and those visiting with a group of friends and/or family. Both groups expressed the greatest interest in wine tastings, either shared with a romantic partner (73.5 percent) or with a group of family and/or friends (72.9 percent). In both cases, the couple or group sample all the same wines, which provides them an opportunity to discuss each and agree on ones that they all like. “Ability to purchase appetizers or ‘small plates’ to share” was the second most popular activity for both groups, followed by “sit down table service with meal and wine pairing,” and “entertainment.”  This supports our other research mentioned earlier, in figures 1 and 2, showing that the availability of “food” is important to our survey participants.   Though the positioning within the top six activities of interest did differ between the two groups, 42.9 percent of participants who visited a tasting room with a romantic partner were interested in an “organized tour of winery tasting rooms including transportation (for a fee)” and 46.6 percent of those who visited with a group of family and/or friends were interested in this activity.

What prompts an “unplanned stop” at a winery?

Prior to traveling to tasting rooms, wine tourists often schedule their time and budget for their trips; however, they often participate in unplanned activities due to their convenience and proximity to wineries.   According to Michigan State University researchers, “78 percent of visitors spent at least some time researching their destinations prior to traveling” yet 61 percent also reported that they visited a winery not on their travel itinerary due to its close proximity (

Hence, although the course a wine tourist follows is driven by research and planning, they exhibit a sense of spontaneity.  Based on a 5-point Likert Scale (1 = no impact, 5 = a great deal of impact), the following were the top reasons participants had “unplanned stops” at wineries:

  • “close proximity to another stop” (4.07 mean),
  • road and other signs (3.56 mean), and
  • “passed during travel” (3.47 mean).

The top three information sources used during a wine tourism trip were:

  • brochures/maps (56.4percent),
  • wine trail information (45.5percent), and
  • roadside signage (44.5percent) (

This shows that it is important to reach out to wine tourists prior to and during their wine tourism travels. You can do this by making sure that your winery tasting room is listed in publications, both online and in print, and placed on appropriate websites (e.g. state and regional wine websites, Yelp, Trip Advisor) and in locations which wine tourists would potentially stop while traveling (e.g. local restaurants, hotels, travel centers). Also, make sure that your winery tasting room has adequate roadside signage. Another way to attract the traveling tourists would be to take advantage of participating in wine trails and other tourism guides that promote the wine region where your tasting room is located.

What does it all mean?

When planning a trip, it is understandable that one would be interested in experiencing a destination more fully which may include more than just visiting the wineries, and could also include partaking in local cuisine, shopping, and finding a place to stay. When traveling with a group, it is possible that everyone may not be a “wine interested” tourist, rather the group may consist of every profile of wine tourists.

Accommodating every different type of wine tourist or offering every single different activity that appeals to consumers would be quite difficult.  Rather, take a look at “who” your visitor is, what it is about your tasting room that they value, and realistic opportunities for creating a “complete tourism experience” through a SWOT analysis.  You just may be surprise at all that you offer.

There are many more strategies that a tasting room owner/operator could consider for their business: participating in wine tasting trails, offering a case club, being a vendor at a wine festival, etc.  We will continue providing highlights from our research studies in the new several blogs.


Frank, Rimerman + Co. LLP. (2013a). The economic impact of New Jersey wine and vineyards – 2011. Frank, Rimerman + Co. LLP Report. Retrieved from:

Frank, Rimerman + Co. LLP. (2013b). The Economic Impact of Pennsylvania Wine, Wine Grapes and Juice Grapes – 2011. Frank, Rimerman + Co. LLP Report. Retrieved from:

Stonebridge Research Group LLC. (2014). The Economic Impact of Grapes, Grape Juice and Wine on the New York Economy, 2012. A Stonebridge Research Report. Retrieved from:

Wines Vines Analytics. (2016). Wine Industry Metrics. Wines & Vines. Retrieved from:

Wines Vines Analytics. (2015). Wine Industry Metrics. Wines & Vines. Retrieved from:

Wines & Vines. (2016). Industry Databases: Winery. Wines & Vines.  Retrieved from:

Other Researchers & Jennifer Zelinskie’s Thesis Advisory Team:

  • 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
  • Michela Centinari, Assistant Professor of Viticulture, Departemnt of Plant Science, 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






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