Soos Creek and Quilceda Creek: A Contrast in Customer Service

By John ~ November 25th, 2009.

Members of the Golitzin family welcoming guests to the Quilceda Creek open houseSoos Creek and Quilceda Creek wineries have “creek” in common in their names, but a huge “gulf” separates them. And it’s not so much in the quality of their wines as in their approach to customer service.

I’ve purchased and enjoyed several of Soos Creek’s wines, so I was excited to receive an invitation to attend their annual Open House last Saturday and taste through all of their new releases. Unfortunately, that’s where the fun ended. After driving almost an hour in the rain and in the dark through heavy traffic from an afternoon of tasting in Woodinville, we ended up on a dark country road near Kent next to their new winery building. I only deduced it was their building because of all the cars around it. There was no signage, no outside lighting to help you find your way, and no winery personnel to greet you, to explain the parking situation, or to direct you to the entry. Thank goodness it had temporarily stopped raining when we arrived.

After stumbling around in the dark looking for an open door, which was on the opposite side of the building from the driveway, we found light. There was a huge crowd already inside and a line of people holding glasses snaking out the door, but no one at the door from the winery to explain the system for tasting the wines. Finally I just asked another guest at the end of the line how this works. He answered that it was very disorganized, and that he had already apologized to his guests for inviting them. I had already apologized to my family when I saw this logistical mess. There were five of us in two separate cars who had driven an hour each and met at Soos Creek for the open house.

It turns out that you had to fight the crowd to get inside to get a wine glass, then get in a long “figure eight” line that crossed over itself to eventually get your first tasting sample from the single tasting station, and then get back at the end of the line outside and do it all again, six times if you wanted to taste all of the wines. If it had been raining during the time we were there, it would have been an impossible nightmare. I quickly concluded that there are too many other good Washington wines to put up with this mess on a Saturday night. I just forgot about tasting any wine, fought my way through the mass of people to get a cookie for the road, and left. By the way, the cookies were $1.00 each, but they were delicious.

Quilceda Creek open houseContrast this experience with a visit to the Quilceda Creek open house and wine pick-up party. When you attend a Quilceda Creek function, you understand why they are “the best”. Not only are their wines superb but they know how to run a business and put on a customer friendly event. First of all they have their open house in the afternoon, rather than in the evening, when there is plenty of light and you can see where you are going if you’ve not been out to their facility before. Second, you are greeted outside near the street by friendly winery personnel who check you in, explain the system, and call ahead so that your wines are ready for pickup when you get inside. Third, when you get inside, you are again personally greeted by one of the family members and directed to the wine tasting station which is located away from the entrance and has two people pouring.

I don’t enjoy “calling out” a winery like I’m doing with Soos Creek in this post, and I wouldn’t even bother to do it if he made plonk wine. But Dave Larsen is a real nice guy and an excellent winemaker. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a Taste Washington seminar earlier this year. And I’ve liked his wines that I’ve tasted. But Dave needs to know how upset many of the people attending his event were last Saturday and the negative light it shines on his business. In these tough enough economic times, it’s not enough to make good wine, you have to develop and maintain good customer relations. Wine lovers have too many other choices if you don’t.

I didn’t put up this post until today, because I thought that by now those of us who had been invited to the open house would have received an apologetic email or snail mail letter offering a re-take of the open house, special discount, or something to acknowledge how he inconvenienced us last Saturday. So far, nothing. C’mon Dave, you can do better than that!

Filed under: American Wine, General Wine Information, Washington State Wine

Reader's Comments

  1. Bean | November 25th, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    You have highlighted a distressing trend that I have noted of late, which is to overextend and over book wine events. I have also walked out of wine events that were too crowded and understaffed. I go to wine events to learn about the winery and taste wine, not have to search crowds for staff or spend all of my time in a queue. Too many times events have advertised and charged for food but ended up being out of food less than a third of the way through event or run out of wine glasses.

    With over 600 wineries in Washington state, there is a lot of good Washington wine out there. I am looking for the experience of the winery and interactions with staff to make a winery stand out from the crowd.

    Please wineries, it is much better to have a small group of customers raving about the great experience they had tasting your quality wines than a large group of customers complaining about the experience

  2. John | November 25th, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Thanks for saying it better than I did. We’re both trying to help the wineries do better at customer service.

  3. R J BODAH | November 25th, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    I guess we lucked out! Got there about 7:30. No really lines and Dave poured most the wines himself. Left with a case of wine at about 8:30. Over all it was fun and the cookies for the road were great.

  4. John | November 25th, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Our experience was based on a 5:30 PM arrival time. We both agree that the cookies were good.

  5. David Larsen | November 29th, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Dear Friends,

    All our customers are important to us and we welcome any new guests to attend our annual open house. So we were saddened to read that there were some who were unhappy with the crowded facility. As we mentioned in our newsletter, there were many challenges with the expense and construction of the wine building and we just started to use it in September even though it was not totally finished. With everything so new, there are bound to be mishaps and unfortunately for some, there were. We did consider waiting one more year before having our open house. But since we missed last year due to construction, we had many requests from customers to have it this year. I did attend the Quilceda Creek open house earlier this year and agree it was first class. However they had fewer people in attendance and were only pouring 2 wines; hence, their shorter lines. Yes, there is a gulf between us; including the price of our wines. And if you want fancy, you won’t find it at Soos Creek. Although we did fall short in some respects this year, I do give our 12 family members and friends an “A” for effort. And we do have plans for making improvements next year. Yes, we do charge $1 for the giant cookies but all the other food and wine samples are no charge. We did receive many positive comments and based on the over 1000 ounces of wine we poured and the number of cases sold, it appears most people did enjoy themselves. However, because of the inconvenience and to show our appreciation, we would like to extend the discount for one week and offer free shipping on up to one case of wine. An email will follow. Thank you!

  6. Bean | November 29th, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Listening and responding to customer comments is a vital, but often neglected aspects of customer service. As a blogger myself, I am always pleased when a winery joins the conversation.

    As an ardent supporter of Washington wine, I am pleased to hear David that you had satisfactory sales and positive comments from other sources. But from my perspective, this isn’t about every winery replicating Quilceda Creek. For me, it is about making the difficult choices involved around quality vs quantity of experience and delivering more than promised. It can be seductive and exciting to go big, but it can back fire. This customer service experience is not an isolated incident, and I hope that other wineries will join this conversation.

  7. John | November 30th, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Thanks for your comments and your commitment to make improvements for next year. I hope you took my post in the spirit it was intended; that is, to help you and other wineries understand what visitors expect in order to provide better customer service and thus sell more wine in a timely fashion.

    Thanks again for you excellent comments and insight.

  8. Don Wood | January 5th, 2010 at 11:58 am

    What an excellent discussion. I can first say that I know firsthand what a difficult thing it is to handle an event when you are a brand new start up venture and the event turns out to be very different from what you had planned. I can offer encouragement that very valuable lessons can be learned and used to make the future much better for the guests. It is so important as John mentioned that the business remember that the guest sacrificed great effort to attend and really deserves the highest level of preparation prior to the event. Way to go John and Bean! Best wishes Dave! Hope to meet you someday!

  9. John | January 5th, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Thanks for your insightful comment. I know you speak from a wealth of experience. Happy New Year!

  10. R J BODAH | January 5th, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Drinking the 2005 Artist Series 9 now. I’d have to say a day light open house next year would be nice, with a big white tent if need be.

  11. John | January 6th, 2010 at 11:03 am

    That would be a good idea. Thanks for your comment.