Marketing inside the Tasting Room


Puit d’Amour from St. Honoré Boulangerie

This past week, I had the pleasure of visiting the still somewhat chilly seaside of Oregon thanks to a handful of out of town appointments.

In between the productive parts of the week, we managed to visit a couple of western Oregon wineries.

While a good time was had by all, I found it interesting how different each winery’s tasting room experience was designed to sell.

The Fancy One

This winery, created originally as a farm by a Montanan from Butte, was a bit upscale, sizable and very clean. It was a long-established place, noting that “long established” means “since 1980 or so”.

They’re that new because ash from Mount St. Helens’ eruption killed most crops in the area, changing the soil for decades to come.

The room said “old money” (dark, massive woods). While there were a few sweatshirts available, the retail portion of the room was all about the wine. Lots of it. Information from two inconsistently dressed but very sharp wine servers was on target, friendly and as detailed as you wanted. They clearly loved talking wine.

The Spartan One

This tasting room had a simple, fuss-free entry off of their gravel parking lot behind the wine production area. There’s a bar, a few barstools and an area clearly used for packing shipments. All in the tasting room. The lone wine steward was reasonably well-educated about the wine but didn’t really provoke the conversation.

The Homey One

This one was very new, expecting to bottle their own wine from their own grapes for the very first time this year. Previously, they’ve made wine using grapes from nearby vineyards.

The tasting room was homey, if not a bit cluttered with every wine accessory and kitsch you could think of. A yellow lab was chilled out on the floor. A guitarist was just outside the tasting room’s open door, playing in shaded patio seating area. Unfortunately the wine at this place wasn’t very good. The staff was right at home, downright friendly and maybe even too at home if that’s possible.

The Experienced One

This winery was almost 20 years old. Their marketing materials (online) referenced comments by a well-known reviewer. The tasting room was small, uncluttered and while it had wine accessories, they include only those focused on a better wine experience (vs. coasters and talking corkscrews).

Staff was knowledgeable and friendly in an average sort of way. Nothing bad, but nothing outstanding.

What struck me

While we didn’t visit all of the wineries (there are quite a few), the ones we did visit took very different approaches to their goal – presumably that of selling wine.

In every tasting room, there was little to take home other than wine that would bring you back to them to buy more. Few items had a website address on them – at least those that you could take with you.

No one asked us for contact information, not even those who sold us a bottle of wine.

In some cases, there were Oregon wine country brochures and/or county-specific winery marketing association brochures, rather than winery-specific info.

Every winery but the “Fancy One” was out of “wine menus”. These are descriptive sheets about each of their wines that left you room to take notes and perhaps note which one you prefer over another and why. In two different places, the only one they had was leftover from a Memorial Day special event – in both situations, it was the last one they had.

Why is this important?

How will they choose?

Out of the 40+ wineries in that Oregon county, during our visit they often have but ONE chance to get a visitor to fall in love with their place, their wine, their mystique, and the grapes that only they know how to nurture.

These small facilities (small in the wine world) sell at most one wine in retail locations. Some sell only at the winery. That’s right – they have no retail presence.

Ordinarily, you’d want these visitors to ask their local store for your wine, but they often can’t. Their small production (number of cases produced annually) prevents widespread distribution. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you’ve got to get them loving your stuff quickly in that situation.

Think about trying to penetrate (much less stand out in) mainstream retail wine shelf space the next time you walk into a grocery that carries wine (or a wine center store). It’s like looking at the salad dressing bottle shelves at WalMart. Your eyes glaze over at all the choices.

When the mind is presented with a zillion choices, one of two things tends to happen. People take the default choice (Gallo?, Wishbone?) or they make no choice at all. Next time you’re in your local grocery, watch people look at the wine shelves. They’ll look and look and in many cases, they’ll give up and take a Gallo (or whatever they saw on TV recently, or whatever is on sale).

Why? Because no one stands out in that environment. That’s why you see more and more outlandish labels and wine names. They know their bottles are on a shelf with 200 others so they’ll do A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G to catch your eye.

What do you want me to do next?

Knowing that the competition (where you might not be stocked) often caters to “How much?”, why wouldn’t you try to hook folks while they’re in your tasting room? It’s the best possible situation for the winery. They can’t grab a Gallo. They can shop by price, but they still get to taste before they buy. They have experts to help them choose what fits their taste buds and their budget.

There’s something else critical about that the tasting room visitor: She walks in the front door with a sign over her head that says “I like wine and I’m willing to drive all the way here to try YOURS.”  Think about how often you get the opportunity to make a first impression on someone who has tipped their hand that strongly.

What does the winery want them to do next? Beyond taking home a case (or even a single bottle), they want these visitors to go home and order more of their wines online (if they can). They want them to ask their local store to stock or custom order them. They want their visitors want them to go to the DailyGrape and watch Gary‘s reviews of their wines and then order from him.

If that’s what you want them to do, you have to make it easy.

And now, it’s your turn.

Now…think about the “browsers” who enter your business. Think about the first time buyers and, where appropriate, the tourists who enter your business.

How do you “stick” in their minds? How do you help them return, even if all they can do is return to your website?

Wineries have to deal with customers in states (like Montana) who cannot (easily) have wine shipped to them due to arcane laws put in place (and kept there) by fear-driven trade associations.

In one way or another, we all have situations like that, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take every step possible to make it easy to buy. How are you making it “easy to buy” even for your customers who have to exert effort to do so?

Let’s simplify that a bit: How are you making your stuff easy to buy?

What do you want them (your visitors) to do next?