Keeping Up with the Jones’

A lively conversation among WISE instructors was triggered by a recent article about one of the hot trends we’re seeing – the changing interests of visitors to wine county. Although this article targets Napa specifically due to the number of visitors that come to this progressive region, it can be argued that the volume is a good indicator of potential Napa trends in wine tasting experiences that other regions might soon recognize and prepare for.

This trend is showing that Napa, in its an attempt to combat extreme competitiveness, is offering more memorable, awe-inspiring, high-dollar tasting experiences that require more time spent one-on-one with guests at the winery. It seems that we are sometimes engaged in a game of one-upmanship. The experiences strive to be bigger/better/more expensive/more Insta-worthy than what our neighbors offer.

According to the Wine Enthusiast article, written by Virginie Boone and titled “Why the Tasting Room is Dead,” this is what visitors want now:

Many of Napa Valley’s 3.5 million yearly visitors appear to want different things out of a winery experience than in days of old: More sit-down tastings, food pairings and places to hang out and Instagram their day. That’s not to mention more of a sense of belonging.

The question is – is this really what visitors want, or is it what wineries are doing to attract visitors? Either way, with traffic stagnant or less than previous year, the trend continues, but is it practical? Does everyone who visits wine country want an all-day, immersive experience that will cost $100+? If our average bottle price is $100+, it may be appropriate to create a guest experience that costs $100+ and encourages visitors to hang out all day. However, we can’t overlook the people who want a ‘traditional’ experience and do not want to spend a lot of time or dollars on an experience.

Best practice is to have experiences that target our qualified buyers – from prospect to brand ambassadors – that match the level of our wine which will gain fans for our brand and sales for our bottom line. Regardless of the price of the experience – which is a business decision based on highest and best use of every bottle and every labor hour – we must nail the basics of great storytelling, genuine service heart, and professional sales skills.

The article went on to say:

There’s no doubt that the status quo can be a less-than-inspiring experience. Crowded, perfumed, snack-less and staffed at times by indifferent hosts, the traditional tasting room can be a rotten place to learn about and taste wine.

No argument there! After literally thousands of mystery shops, we know that these humdrum-to-unpleasant experiences occur more often than we would like to admit. Hiring the right staff who are knowledgeable and hospitable, and then training them properly, can make the difference between the mundane and the sublime, regardless of price point. True hospitality doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Some of the best experiences we have had are inexpensive tastings, held on a wood plank on top of two barrels, hosted by staff who can tell a great story. If we go back to basics, pay attention to our guests, and remember our manners, we can offer a stellar and affordable tasting room experience that appeals to all of our qualified buyers.

We love the higher conversion rates we get when offering a one-on-one personal experience. But let’s do the math – if we offer fewer people the opportunity to taste because of our immersive all-day, can we still be viable and profitable as a business? If our conversion to purchase/wine club/email list isn’t exceeding the industry averages, let’s take a look at what we have to offer and how our guests are experiencing it.

So when reviewing your guest experiences and keeping in mind the competition with your neighbors, consider what your objectives are and listen to what your guests are really asking for. Is this example of one-upmanship the canary in the coal mine for other regions or simply a Napa problem? WISE instructors are seeing yellow birds…

See this blog on Wines & Vines

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