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Marketing,Wine,Wine Sales

Winery tasting rooms are retail outlets and samples aren’t mandatory

Winery tasting rooms are retail outlets and samples aren’t mandatory… What a concept, huh, but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t understand this basic marketing concept.

Tasting rooms are set up for wine retail sales, and education may also be part of that process… Here you may enjoy learning about wine, and then make a purchase to support the proprietor’s efforts at showing you his, her, their best, if you liked the wine. It’s cleverly disguised sales, ladies and gentlemen, under the guise of hospitality.

[Image: Left to right: winemaker Rui Veladas of Carmim Winery and winemaker Jose Fonseca, in Carmim's tasting room.]

Because I’ve had so much experience working for wine companies in their retail outlets, I’ve been able to observe a lot of behavior. I’ve worked at Belvedere, Mondavi, and K-J, and my husband has worked at Pezzi King, Imagery, and Gary Farrell. Combined, we’ve shared a lot of stories and experiences; and, there are patterns that emerge.

Most of the people who visit wineries are really wonderful people. They come from near and far, and are genuinely interested in learning about wine. And, they purchase some wine to enjoy during their trip, or to take home with them and enjoy at a later date. (There are great containers today that allow people to put a bottle or two into a piece of luggage without a possible broken bottle.)

There’s another group who come to wine country, who are opportunists, not the least bit interested in learning about wine or wanting to purchase anything. It’s the weekend, “Let’s go to wine country to get slammed” crowd.

  • OF AGE: It’s a college weekend escapade, for those who are of age. I’ve seen this one many times, and they don’t come to buy wine. They just became of age, and they’re out to have a limited funds weekend that includes alcohol.
  • THE HOST: Jose used to have one patron who would bring his own cheese each week, a guest or two, get their tastes of wine, and just hang out on the deck all afternoon like it was his living room and he was entertaining… with free wine.
  • THE DATE: I had one guy who came in every Sunday for months, and each time it was with another scantily clad female. He’d taste through each wine, then simply say “thanks,” and leave… week after week, after week. I finally let the cat out of the bag by asking him if he was ever going to buy wine for one of his girl friends. He didn’t return, and we gained bar space for people who were seriously interested in learning about wine, versus the cheap date.

Those who come for just free wine are a real minority, understand. It’s not like tasting room attendants don’t think, “Oh, gawd… here they come again.”

By shedding light on this:

  • It might deter a few offenders, if they know that their game plan is well understood on the other side of the counter.
  • It might also encourage winery owners to start charging a minimum fee that could be applied to a purchase. It will slow this down substantially.

Wineries are a retail outlet… Period. Unlike other retail situations, they let you sample their fare… for at least a half hour. That’s equivalent to a glass of wine. (Imagine sampling in a bakery for a half hour?)

People in tasting rooms are there to inform, educate, and present the wines of their proprietors. To simply go to wine country for a free day of drinking is actually ripping off the wine companies.

Some people have a favorite wine critic, who gives them guidance about what they might like in a wine. Since wine can be such an expensive part of a meal, it’s a great idea to ask others for help in making that decision.

Some are lucky enough to have the time and resources to come to wine country to taste for themselves. By so doing, they’re now making some of their own decisions about what tastes great on their own palates. And, they generally make a purchase, if the wine strikes their fancy.

To simply see the tasting rooms as a place for free wine is actually ripping off the owners, if you’ve never thought of it that way. This may seem like strong language… it’s not. It’s just stating the facts as they exist.

Tasting rooms are a retail outlet in which you may enjoy and learn about wine, and then make a purchase to support the proprietor’s efforts at showing you his, her, their best, if you liked the wine. It’s cleverly disguised sales, ladies and gentlemen, under the guise of hospitality.

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3 Responses to “Winery tasting rooms are retail outlets and samples aren’t mandatory”

  1. This is a great commentary! We own a winery with a tasting room in a beach resort area near a college. We have many guests who wish to learn more about wine. And, unfortunately, we get the “let’s get buzzed for cheap” crowd as well. In our area it is common to charge a tasting fee. We recently raised our tasting fee to $10, but we will refund the tasting fee with a bottle purchase (our average bottle price is $25).

    We discovered that when you give something away for free, it has no value in the eye of the consumer. Since we raised the tasting fee, our bottle purchases are up by over 50%.

    I find it so hard to believe that any winery can offer complimentary tastings and survive.

    By the way, I would be interested in knowing how you reconcile this article – a tasting room is a retail outlet – with a previous article that promotes tipping in the tasting room and suggests that tasting rooms are part of the service industry.

    Thanks for continuing interesting opinions!

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    We are a service industry…We provide wine education, as a service for why people “might” want to buy a specific wine. Sommeliers are paid handsomely for what many tasting room people provide for a minimum (or slightly higher) wage.

  3. Steve Howe says:

    Most visitors to wine tasting rooms understand that the winery is a business and cannot simply give away their wine. I normally purchase at least one bottle of wine and more if I enjoy the wine.

    However, when there is a tasting fee and I don’t care for the wine, I don’t feel guilty about not making a purchase.

    When wineries apply the tasting fee toward purchases, the perfect solution in my opinion!

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