Attention Wineries: Shape up your Tasting Room Experience

By John ~ July 15th, 2009.

Tasting RoomLast year, I did a post on tips for visiting wine country which included advice on being friendly and polite and respecting the time of the people working in a tasting room. I would encourage all wine country visitors to review that post before venturing out on the wine trails again this summer.

Several months later, I did a post directed more towards winery owners and tasting room managers on areas needing improvement. Today, I want to update that post as a result of the many tasting room visits I’ve made since then. In this recessionary environment, I believe that it is essential for every winery tasting room to make the best possible first impression to potential customers.

Here’s my updated list of suggestions for tasting rooms:

  1. Make sure that you are open and open on time during the hours that you have advertised or posted that you are open. As our regular readers know, nothing ticks us off more than a tasting room which is not open as advertised. Be sure to keep your hours up-to-date on your website, your area wine association’s website, your voice mail, and all other places you advertise or have your hours listed.
  2. Make sure that your tasting room personnel are friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable. Nothing is more off-putting than a tasting room person who ignores you or acts like a visitor is a bother. Why are you open other than to court visitors?
  3. Make sure that you clearly explain your tasting fee policy, if any, up front. Better yet, have it posted clearly and explain it. I’ve seen it get very awkward when it was not explained up front and a visitor has already finished tasting when the tasting fee is brought to their attention.
  4. Tasting RoomHave a handout with tasting notes and a price list. Too often, tasting notes and a price list are nonexistent or either they are in a laminated copy on the counter but not on a sheet on which a visitor can make notes and take with them. Be sure to include your contact information (website, email address, phone number, etc) so that the visitor knows how to reach you when he/she decides to buy some of your wine later.
  5. Have spit cups and dump buckets available. I have been amazed at how many tasting rooms do not even have dump buckets, much less provide disposable spit cups.
  6. Have water and crackers available for tasters to use to cleanse their palates. This might seem like a small and somewhat unnecessary item; but believe me, visitors remember the wineries whose tasting room covers all the bases.
  7. Give your tasting room personnel some flexibility in wines to pour. Again, when I drive five hours to visit your tasting room that is 30 miles from anyone else just to taste a Cab you are noted for, pay a tasting fee, and then your tasting room person tells me you’re not pouring the Cab today, I get more than a little upset. My suggestion is that you give your tasting room personnel the flexibility to open that Cab if they can see that the visitor is a serious wine enthusiast and not just a freeloader.
  8. Cool your uppity attitude. Obviously, this suggestion does not apply to all tasting rooms as we have had many wonderful experiences and met some very friendly people on our winery visits. In fact, when we have been served by the owners and/or winemakers in a tasting room, most have been very down-to-earth folks who are very courteous and welcoming. Too often, though, we have encountered tasting room hired hands that cop an uppity attitude and talk down to visitors. Not smart and certainly not good for business.

If visitors remember to be polite and respectful and wineries take some of these suggestions to heart, I truly believe the tasting room experience can be great for all of us. Have a great summer in wine country!

Filed under: General Wine Information, Wine Travel

Reader's Comments

  1. Catie | July 15th, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Cool your uppity attitude? In a tasting room? Nahhhh…

    Kori, when I am out of Walla Walla and typically visiting tasting rooms, I am very unassuming and reserve. Hard to believe, huh? Often act like I don’t have a clue about wines, because I want the tasting room staff to perform for me and I want a damn good performance. I want them to tell me about every grape and how to make wine, like I am a newbie and this is my first tasting room visit. And I want them to tell me all of these things even if I don’t ask.

    Most can step up to the performance, but a few others have left me cold. Brrrr…so cold that I was treated like I was expecting them to send me in the direction of their local charitable soup kitchen or the closest leper colony. To those tasting rooms, of course I tell everyone about the bad experience. I have no mercy.

    And I do understand both sides, as I stood behind a tasting room bar for eight years. And the stories I could tell about the a_holes I waited on. There are always going to be difficult people to deal with in any retail format, but tasting rooms are unique because you throw alcohol into the mix. But as you said, if you are a tasting room attendant, you better remember why you are there – to be hospitable, educate and most of all, sell the wine.

  2. Mary Cressler | July 15th, 2009 at 11:49 am

    I think #2, #7 and #8 are most important… i.e. anything having to do with the staff serving the guests! All too many times I have been served by tasting room staff that are either rude, inattentive, and worst of all don’t know a damn thing about the wines they are pouring = big turn off! I will painfully choose to not buy a really good wine just because of bad staff!
    On the flip side, I am notorious for buying wine that really wasn’t that good because the tasting room employees were AWESOME and provided a great experience for me (then I get home, open the wine, and say to myself “what was I thinking”???).

    I’ve worked in tasting rooms, managed tasting room employees, have visited hundreds of tasting rooms and I truly believe that the people behind the bar have a strong power to influence a guests overall experience as well as their purchasing decisions! I can buy good wine at my local wine shop… I go to wineries to have an overall experience (wine, people, ambiance, learning new things, etc)!!!

    Staff need to be well trained, friendly and knowledgeable and give their guests an experience to remember! Word to the wise, chose your tasting room employees well!

  3. Jared | July 15th, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Couldn’t agree with #8 more. Was in Walla Walla this weekend and had two experiences with “uppity” tasting room staff. The punk kid at Nicholas Cole actually had the audacity to ignore us for awhile and then acted frustrated when we weren’t hanging on his every word when he deemed us worthy to talk to. Unfortunately, the wines didn’t make this visit any better as they were expensive and pedestrian. Cheers!

  4. John | July 15th, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Thanks to all of you for your excellent observations from both sides of the tasting room floor. As I said in closing in the post, “If visitors remember to be polite and respectful and wineries take some of these suggestions to heart, I truly believe the tasting room experience can be great for all of us.”

  5. Kori | July 15th, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Catie, we do the same thing when visiting tasting rooms. We try to be very unassuming and experience it just like any other visitors. Tasting room employees should treat all visitors well, not just those they think know something about wine or who might purchase a lot of wine.

  6. Catie | July 15th, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Right Kori. I never gave it a second thought regarding the customer who never bought. While they may love the wine, it isn’t always convenient to buy wine when traveling. And you never know who they will tell about their great tasting experience or possibly purchase the wine online or even in a wine store. Even a wine store sell is a good!

  7. Limo Services CA | November 3rd, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I find some wineries annoying when the employees have that uppity attitude and I usually don’t buy wine from them no matter how great it may be. I also like your idea of having a tasting notes and price list handy, this is very important.

  8. John | November 3rd, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Glad you agree on the necessity of tasting notes and a price list.

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