Updated: Feb 14, 2019
Wine tasting at a winery is almost always a pleasant, civilized experience. But sometimes a winery has a misstep or simply doesn’t realize that an area needs improvement. Here are four significant ways that establishments can work to improve their winery visitor experience.
It helps if the server is engaged.
Those who dole out the wine at a wine tasting need not be experts about the wine they’re pouring, although that would be helpful. Many people pour wines as a side job or are just learning about the industry.
But it makes a difference – at least to me – if they seem to like doing what they’re doing, if they introduce themselves, and can discuss the wine to at least some extent. After all, the pourer is representing the winery. I have fonder memories of those wineries where the server told us about the winery, about himself/herself and/or the wine. And this marketing often works – I have been known to buy a less than stellar wine simply because I enjoyed myself so much.
In comparison, I distinctly remember one award-winning central Virginia winery where the pourer was sulking as she poured and spoke little. She clearly did not want to be there. At that point, neither did we. It was a lost opportunity for both the winery and for us, and it negatively affected our whole winery visitor experience. We were the only ones in the tasting room but didn’t learn anything about the wines. We left without buying anything, and I’m hesitant to return.
Don’t rush the wine tasting. I know that it’s tempting to move the tasting along quickly, especially when it’s crowded. But if I’m trying to get to know the wine and see whether I should buy it, making me rush my taste is going to backfire on the winery. We know not to linger unnecessarily.
It’s one thing if I have a bit left in my glass when the pourer comes around with the next bottle for tasting; it’s another if my whole party is forced to gulp down the contents of our glasses because the pourer is standing in front of us with the next bottle. There should be a happy medium here.
3) Pet Control
Keep a leash on the kind of dog you’ll allow. Both Doug and I are dog people. I have no personal problem with dogs at a winery, even in the tasting room.
But if a winery is going to allow dogs inside, the winery should be on the lookout for situations that could negatively affect the wine visitor experience. We’ve noticed during several winery picnics where an overly aggressive or even just a friendly dog made a visitor visibly uncomfortable, and have seen a couple leave as a result. And while there’s no excuse for a poorly behaved or uncontrolled dog, wineries should also keep an eye out for other problems, such as a wet dog or one begging for food at other peoples’ picnic tables.
If you’re going to pair the wine with food, consider how the food is presented. We went to one critically acclaimed “by appointment only” winery in Northern Virginia for a tour and sit-down tasting. The cheapest bottle is about $38; the most expensive is about $125. The winery charges more than $50 for the tour and tasting, which includes pairing its wines with a locally sourced cheese and charcuterie board. At that price, you go in expecting a top-notch winery visitor experience.
However, the boards were two to a person – and there was no serving or other utensil. We all used our hands to dig in. I don’t mind sharing food communally, but not everyone wants to eat with their fingers, nor wonder how clean our seat mate’s hands are. And while I can understand family or friends sharing a board this way, Bobby ended up sharing his board with a stranger. Who knows where her hands had been.
If this winery is so exclusive, it could at the very least provide a serving fork or plastic cutlery, regardless of the size of the communal platter. It also could have provided individual plates. We didn’t spring for any bottles, and have not recommended this experience to others.
Overall, we have had an excellent winery visitor experiences at most of the places we have visited. But when you have an overwhelmingly negative experience, it definitely stands out. If wineries want to have satisfied customers that visit their tasting room more than once, it’s worthwhile for them to take the above notes into consideration. If I have a poor pouring experience (pun intended), I’m much less likely to recommend a winery to my friends or to suggest going back.
As much as wineries may like to pretend otherwise, wine is a business-to-consumer industry, and any B2C company’s success depends on meeting your customers’ needs.