Taste the experience

by | Dec 1, 2017 | Business and Marketing

Let guests to your winery’s tasting room leave as ambassadors by giving them an experience that speaks to your brand’s story and values. By Jana Loots

 A winery tasting room is not only a showcase of the winery’s product offering. Every time a visitor walks into your tasting room presents an opportunity to gain a loyal ambassador for your wine brand.

In retail stores, consumers are confronted by numerous brands, varietals and wine styles across a wide price range. The tasting-room environment is therefore the most controlled space where producers can introduce potential consumers to their brand.

“Most customers who visit a tasting room understand a good experience before they’re able to identify a remarkable wine,” RCA Consulting operations director Rob Arnold says. “If they see value in the experience they’ve had at a tasting room, they’ll automatically place a greater degree of value on the wine they’re tasting, which translates into better customer retention and increased spend.”

The turnover of top-performing tasting rooms in South Africa is in excess of 30% of the estates’ total turnover. But a good tasting-room experience goes even further, SKOP hospitality training facilitator Frieda Stanbridge says. “Your brand must be embedded in your guests’ minds to ensure your wine is at the top of their list when they’re buying in a store. Specifically make them aware of your label and any significance regarding the name of the winery or wine.”

Rob and Frieda share their top tasting-room tips:

Define your identity as an experience

“Know what type of experience you want to create and ensure there’s a common thread between this and your marketing strategy and brand image,” Rob says. “Focus on the values which underpin the brand and ensure that all staff representing the brand in the tasting room are living these values in their daily interaction with customers.”

Foster relationships

“Treat each person entering your tasting room like a visitor to your home. After all, they’ve chosen you as a preferred destination on a specific day and at a specific time time,” Frieda says.

The ability to foster rapport and authentic relationships with customers is the most important competency that every member of the client-facing team should have, Rob says. “This will bring customers back to your brand regardless of their degree of passion for the product.”

The ability to listen and empathise is a crucial part of this process, especially when dealing with a dissatisfied customer. “It allows us to acquire the necessary information to understand the intricacies of their frustration and provide a solution which speaks to the exact frustration.”

Develop a culture of learning and leadership

“Tasting-room staff should be seen as a valuable asset to your company’s image and potential profits,” Frieda says. “Unfortunately not enough time and resources are invested in staff training.”

Rob is a strong advocate of developing a culture of learning and establishing leaders in the tasting-room space. The leading wine brands and tasting-room staff undergo training throughout the year, with the focus being on aspects such as service, attitude, communication skills, product knowledge, floor management and delegation.

“The most intelligent and effective way to ensure consistency in the cellar-door experience is to develop leaders in this environment. These people ultimately become responsible for the business unit and once provided with the necessary tools through training, can be held accountable according to predetermined objectives,” Rob says.

Remember to sell

Always keep in mind that the desired outcome is to sell wine, either at the tasting room or on the shelf. A challenge tasting rooms face is ensuring that visits are not only social events, but translate into sales. “Don’t be shy to ask guests which wine they’d prefer to buy,” Frieda says. “If they decline, ensure they have your contact details and know where to find your wine in their area.”

Measure your success

The most common ways to measure success is through return visits and expenditure per guest. “Return visitors are more likely to spend on purchases and increase growth in sales,” Frieda says.

However, measuring service is just as important as measuring sales. Rob suggests developing a set of service expectations and asking customers to objectively evaluate whether these were met.

Build brand loyalty

Customers trust other customers. “When customers return with friends and family or write good reviews on social media and travel-related apps, you know you’re doing something right,” Frieda says. “Brand loyalty is the most powerful tool you have available to work with. In the present economic times it becomes increasingly evident that consumers use their purses to cast their vote. It’s up to you to ensure you get their vote.”


Award-winning tasting rooms share their approach.

“La Motte’s tasting room is all about creating a world-class, memorable wine experience regardless of whether our guest is a novice or connoisseur. Although a passion for wine is important, we appoint our staff firstly on the basis of their positive attitude. We have a dynamic team with a mix of personalities that caters for different types of customers. Ongoing external and internal training is crucial.” – Werner Briedenhan, tasting room manager, La Motte Wine Estate

“Waterford Estate welcomes guests to our property in the way you welcome good friends into your home – this is called The Waterford Way. The story outside the bottle is as important as the quality of the wine inside the bottle, and we strive to give guests an experience tailored to their needs through our six tasting options. Continued staff training and mystery guest programmes help us measure and adjust our approach.” – Kevin Arnold, managing director, Waterford Estate

Brands are built on the experience that guests have when they visit. Guests recount these stories the world over. Terroir or a sense of place is an expression beyond vineyards, cellars, wine and winemakers, it is about creating a unique experience and onsite is the best opportunity anyone can have. Make sure you utilize all the tools around you to do this: investigate, invent and be creative in transferring this information to guests. This makes our jobs eternally interesting! – Carolyn Barton, owner, Creation Wines

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