Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer Time Fun

I was in the winery yesterday and a lady came up and told me how much she enjoyed our wine and the winery and she would be back again and again. I am never sure just how to say “thank you” to comments like that, the two words by themselves seem inadequate. Wine making is a something of a personal thing you share with your customers, our wine is a product we sell, but our philosophy and methods are very personal.

I remember when our first six months in business was wrapping up, we’d had a great beginning and the holiday gift-buying crowd had encouraged us. We were sitting around and talking about what we could do to grow and maintain our sales momentum. I said I was less worried about sales then I was disappointing both repeat and new customers, so many people had said so many nice things about our business and how it was good for the community. I felt we needed to balance these kinds words with actions.

When I suggested regular free events I the winery to our informal “marketing committee”, the discussion turned to how we could leverage these events an maximize wine sales. I said, “No, the free events are our way of saying THANK YOU to our customers.” One of the people there said, “You don’t mind if you sell a little wine too, do you?” Well, of course not, but my response was that was just a side benefit.

So we set up our now familiar rotation of free events. January thru May we offer free in-house seminars on wine related topics, like home winemaking, planning winery vacations, wine basics for beginners, and so on. June through September we would have events to tickle the taste buds. June is the bread baking contest; July we have certain days we offer free samples of gourmet chocolate; August we pair our wine & free cheese samples; and in September, our biggest event, the Cheesecake Festival! Now, we do not offer special events October through December because we are just too busy, but that’s when many new wines are introduced, so its still worth a visit then.

So, I hope you did not miss the bread baking contest on June 27th, but if you did, be sure to watch the website for the dates of our other special events at

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Limited tasting or "Flights, Good or Bad?"

So you stop into your favorite winery and the well groomed tasting room employee asks the usual, "What kinds of wines do you enjoy?" You tell them you like most all wines and you see them hesitate before responding, "Great, what are your favorites?"

You tell this capable pourer you like dusty dry reds and sinfully sweet fruit wines, plus everything in between. The taster-facilitator says, "Glad to hear it, we would be happy to pour any eight wines for your tasting flight, here's our wine list."

Why have some wineries taken to limiting their customers free wine tastings? Many reasons are given, many are the same as mentioned in the previous post regard paid tastings. Too many pours for too few sales, people coming in for a free tasting and buying nothing, among others.

One issue for many wineries is drunk driving liability. In our small winery we presently are offering nine dry and ten sweet wines. If we pour one ounce samples (a suggested amount) we have provided more then two glasses of wine, enough to have someone be over the legal limit. At our winery, we shoot for about 1/2 ounce samples, two good sips, and only about one glass of wine. Of course, not every one tries all our wines, so they get much less then a full glass in total.

In the wineries I have visited that offered "flights" or limited our tasting, the numbers are between four and eight wines. They suggest you and your spouse share different samples, effectively doubling your tastings, but the amount poured is generally shy of what two people would need for two good sips each.

Like we all things, a balance is needed. One lawsuit lost would put a winery out of business, so we owners must reflect a concern for our livelihood. Yet, over-limiting tasting can limit sales, so the balance must be sought. What do you think? Comment here (see below) or email me at

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Paid tastings? pro and con

We offer free winetasting and we always will as far as I am concerned. Many wineries are reconsidering paid winetasting and/or limited tastings as a policy and even a few have adopted such measures for their own business model. What are their motivations?

I will keep the respondents names and wineries unmentioned, I do not ask such questions with the intent to "out" someone on the Blog, but I know its useful information for many.

First, most wineries who now charge (excepting states that require it) do so due to what they describe as "large numbers" of visitors who taste and do not buy. Three wineries mentioned specifically bus tours that use their winery as a "rest stop" on trips to or from somewhere else. One person stated that they had a bus stop by recently with over 40 people on it. Most of them used their restrooms, about 2/3 of the bus people tasted wine, the sales were a total of eleven bottles. Another winery employee complained that they get alot of gambling-boat bus tours that seem to just want to 'catch a wine buzz' as part of their trip and typical sales is less then one bottle per three people tasting. (Our little winery averages just shy of two bottles sold per person tasting).

Two wineries I talked to said they had "several groups each day" that tasted wine, but did not buy. In one case I asked specifically, "Everyday you are open, you expect to see more then ten people who taste, but do not buy?" The answer was a resounding "YES!". The majority of the wineries I talked to tell me they see few people who do not buy after tasting and that is pretty much what we see as well. We generally have less then one person per week who tastes, but does not buy, for whatever reason.

I think it is open for discussion as to whether or not a winery location tends to have it have more non-buyers. A location in a shopping center or downtown with foot traffic will certainly have a higher percentage of drop-in tasters, who do so on a whim, who choose not to make a purchase. The point here is (IMHO) that you chose the location due to higher traffic, do not be surprised at the result of that traffic, more looker/tasters who do not buy.

The main point I carry forward is that free wine tasting is the very foundation of the local winery business. Charging for tasting is certainly the right of the owner, but your business is not growing to your satisfaction after instituting such a policy, I can tell you why sales are not climbing.

I have gotten several emails on the issue of limited tastings (flights) and will get to those in the next installment of this Blog. Please keep in mind our annual BREAD BAKING CONTEST is June 27, 1-6 pm, we will have free bread samples to go with the free wine tasting. All commercial entries must be in by 2pm day of the contest, amateur entries by 4 pm. Email me for more details @ or

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pay to Taste - evil or good?

So we were on a tasting tour or wineries a few years ago, up near Traverse City, MI, and I took my friends into a favorite winery, one of the big ones. The greeter says "You can pick up your tasting glass over there. $5 each person." I was stunned, I had been there the year before and there was no charge or tasting limits, except for their "premium" brandies and sparkling wines in a special room off to the side.

I turned to my buddies and said, "Sorry guys, they want $5 for a tasting, how about we move on to the other ten or twenty wineries up here that do not charge?" We moved on...

A few states, including Ohio, require a fee be paid for wine tasting, its usually $1 for six, what some call a flight of tastings. The number in a flight seems to vary from place to place, but thats not a big issue.

The question is, dear reader, what effect will paid tasting have on you, as a regular visitor to a winery? What effect would paid tasting have on the nouveau wine taster when he peaks in the door and sees they want $5 for a tasting, limited or no?

What sells wine at our place is the tasting, I would guess 50% of our sales involve wines that the test-taster would not have selected based on description (we'll talk about that) beacsue they generally do not find that wine as good, when tried in the past. Many of our regulars have moved from sweet to dry wines because we encouraged them to keep trying to find a dry wine they liked. Would they have done that for $5 a visit?

Next time we will consider the reason why wineries do charge for tasting, other then when required to by law. Feel free to comment (click comment below) or email me at