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Often winery owners have chosen to get into the business because they are passionate about wine and making wine, but interestingly they haven’t stopped to think and plan how to sell the wine AND make the winery profitable. It takes more than a good winemaker to establish a success winery. There are multiple facets to consider: growing grapes and harvest, making wines you can sell (not necessarily that you like), branding, marketing, the tasting room, sales (possibly different channels), distribution, events, etc.

Today, we are talking about the Tasting Room. Occasionally, you, the winery owner, realizes that the tasting room is your golden opportunity to welcome guests, show off your wines and send them home happily with a few bottles, a memory worth talking about with friends and a reason to revisit. However, more often what happens is that the passionate winemaker turned winery owner, looks at the tasting room as something that “just goes with the territory” of owning a winery. It’s an after thought without a real plan for success. Wherever you may fall between love and perhaps a laissez faire attitude toward the tasting room, this point of interaction with your customer is critical for your success. The tasting room is your biggest opportunity to expose guests to your wine, make an impression and gain customer loyalty for years to come. Either you can do it right and create a business of abundance or you can take on the “make it and they will come” model, which will result in lots of great wine, but with minimal market exposure and low sales. This blog is directed to those who are up to making good wine…AND money!

We caught up with Paul Wagner, author of “Wine Marketing & Sales” and president of Balzac Communications, to discuss tasting rooms and creating a market for your wine. “The tasting room is only second to the label in branding your wine. The biggest mistake owners make regarding their tasting room is making do with what they have instead of creating what they need.”   The plan many owners have is to sell wine, make money and add on or remodel as they grow. However, Mr. Wagner argues that every time the tasting room needs to be updated or changed, the message being sent to your customers is: you don’t know what you are doing.   Yet you still expect them to buy your wine!

Tasting Rooms by the experts

And of course, they will buy your wine. They will love it and come back! The wine is good and that is why they are visiting, right? Well…not so fast. You may be surprised to find out that people do not actually visit wineries to find great wine. “They come for the experience,” states Mr. Wagner. From the drive up to the tasting room to the greeting, ambiance of the room to having an authentic interaction with the servers, “Your customers should feel like guests in your home, rather than religious disciples. A tasting room is a business, and everyone’s job in the tasting room is to sell wine – not just entertain people. Measure the success of your tasting room by sales, not by the smiles on their faces. Each customer goes to a winery with a certain amount of money in mind that they are willing to spend. Did you listen to what they wanted? Did they buy your wine? If not, why not?  Whose DID they buy and why?”

Most prospective winery owners take viticulture and enology classes, and later realize they should have taken their marketing class first!   Now they have all these grapes and bottled wine and don’t know how to sell them.”  Paul Wagner

Now, let’s look at a winery that was conceived and built from the beginning to be a viable business – Flat Creek Estate in the Texas Hill Country.   Madelyn and Rick Naber, opened their winery in 1998 with the intention that the winery be successful and profitable. As Madelyn said “Deciding to open a winery wasn’t romantically involved. It was the business plan that made sense.” Located in Lago Vista, 45 minutes away from any other winery, they had to create a destination for the visitor. Madelyn says they joined the Texas Hill Country Wine Trail to gain exposure to those looking for wineries. From there, they started building their winery with the customer experience in mind. The road winds through the vineyards up to the winery built from Texas limestone and river rock, creating anticipation for what is yet to come. Guests are welcomed within 30 seconds of arrival and the warm colors of golds, reds and browns make them feel right at home as their experience begins. Focused on fun, customer service, education and quality wine, guests are guided down the stair case overlooking the production area and tasting room, where they are paired with wine pourer who visits with guests about what they like and are then able to suggest wines to suit their palates.

When asked what sets Flat Creek apart from other wineries, Madelyn states “Attention to a quality wine, personal customer service and building relationships. We strive to make everyone feel very welcome. We want them to come back again and again. One way we do that is to have them participate in the winery, such as planting and harvest. We also host a wine dinner the first Saturday of every month.  Guests were soon asking to hold special events out here on the grounds.   Next we needed a backup for inclement weather, so we built a pavilion for private events and weddings, along with a little bistro for them to continue their enjoyment of the day.”

“The people are not a part of the story. They ARE the story. What allows us to be here, is you (the customer) being here. Our success is about others.”  Madelyn Naber


When asked what it takes to build a successful winery, Madelyn says “It’s really common sense. Have a business plan and know where you are going. Every year review where you are now, where you want to be, and how you are going to make that happen. From a financial side, we are always looking at the bottom line. Fifteen years later, the plan still has to work.”

Paul and Madelyn have aptly shown us that establishing a successful winery with continued increase in sales and customer loyalty is directly correlated to the experience your customers enjoy while visiting your tasting room. Before you build is the best time to ask yourself some important questions. See a previous blog  “Ask the Right Questions” to lay the foundation for your success. But if you are one of the many who did not build your tasting room and winery with the customer experience in mind, there is no time like the present and we would be happy to assist.

7 Points to Take Away From the Experts

1.  It takes more than a good winemaker to establish a successful winery.
2.  The tasting room is only second to the label in branding your wine.
3.  Creating a memorable experience is imperative to distinguish yourself.
4.  Listen to what your customers want.
5.  Measure the success of your tasting room by sales, not by smiles.
6.  Your customers are THE story.
7.  Have a business plan and know where you are going.

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  1. July 30, 2011

    We have visited and written about the experience at 700 wineries. Paul Wagner is absolutely right when he notes, “They come for the experience. From the drive up to the tasting room to the greeting, ambiance of the room to having an authentic interaction with the servers.”

    Also, servers need to be prepared to answer questions about the wines, vineyards and where grapes are sourced in addition to knowing what happens in the winery.

  2. August 3, 2011

    All great points and practical approaches to creating and sustaing a successful tasting room. The only thing to add is that the realtionship must be managed with same personal attention and service after the customer leaves the tasting room.

  3. August 7, 2011

    I used to tell my wine students that they were not only in the wine business, but also in the entertainment industry.

  4. August 9, 2011

    Indeed great advice! So many times I have been in a tasting room with employes who act like they dont like there job and are lacking knowleged about the product they are selling. Agravating!! The whole winery experence is what will spread word of mouth. No billboard or label can compete with that!

  5. August 10, 2011

    Same goes for the New Zealand Cellar Door experience. Quality and well informed staff, customer likes and dislikes, range of tasting options, option for winery tours, hands-on vineyard experience, et al.

  6. August 13, 2011

    Great article, totally agree. It is the same story in Central Otago, New Zealand. So many people are passionate about their wines but failed at the sales and marketing, especially shows in tough times like these. We have had some very steep learning curves even through we have had other business before. We don’t have our own winery or cellar door. Our cellar door is a joint one with 6 others at Lazy Dog Restaurant & Cellar Door 7km down the road from our vineyard.

  7. August 18, 2011

    Great article, but there is one flaw…
    Knowing the Nabers fairly well, I believe that Madelyn’s husband’s name is Rick and not Paul! Otherwise, an article that rings to the truth.

  8. August 18, 2011

    I stand to be corrected. I just reread the article and found that I misunderstood. Sorry!

    • August 19, 2011

      No problem Melba. Glad to see you’re looking out for Rick, not that he needs anyone to look out for him 😉

  9. August 19, 2011

    Rick and Madelyn have perfected the winery business to perfection…they and their staff make everyone feel like you are the most important person in the whole winery.
    Thanks Rick and Madelyn,

  10. March 10, 2012

    I could not agree more. Our Cellar Door is very simple and small. People want an experience to take home and as I watch my wife, Jo present the wines these people know that while they did not come into a million dollar building, they can still get million dollar service. Good glass ware, a smile, genuine interest and good quality wine create the entire memory. Hopefully then they leave with an understanding of the love and care we put into the vineyard in order to provide their enjoyment. After all what other beverage, like wine has the ability to become a snapshot of time and place. What better souvenir can someone send home.
    We have been astounded by the difference a carefully planned and well operated cellar door has made to our business. But I cannot emphasise enough it is the love of people that will ultimately make your Cellar Door successful, not how much you spend on creating the perfect set. People can go to Hollywood for that.
    Mike Eaton


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