Grape Pickers Make Great Wine Salespeople
When selling wine at a local winery, it is important to realize the customer has not come into your tasting room to buy a bottle of wine. It is a truism of winery marketing that if they wanted to buy a bottle of wine they would go to a liquor store. When visitors come into your winery, they are looking for an experience.
Therefore, they don’t want to talk to a student earning money after school or someone who is working a second job to pay off credit cards. Your customers really want to talk to someone knowledgable and learn a little about the wine they are tasting.
What varieties were used? What was the growing season like? Why is this wine different than last year’s? This information will all be absent at the liquor store level.
Winery customers also want to talk to the winemaker. How did the fermentation go? (Or maybe, just ‘How do you make wine?”)
If they ask a question, follow it up with your information. If you have nothing to tell an interested customer about your wine, you may well be in the wrong business.
Either that or you may be making wine from juice off the deserts of California. In which case no one knows the answers to these questions as they were lost out in the dust of California’s Central Valley.
Vineyard volunteers can make excellent tasting room workers. If you can convince some of the pickers or vineyard people to come in on Saturdays and Sundays to help sell wine, these employees can often give customers the experience they are looking to find. Grape pickers often have knowledge and experience that can be conveyed to customers without conscious effort.
Many years ago, I had a job as an orchard worker; pruning, thinning, mowing and picking apples. It was mandatory that we had to come in on Sundays during the fall and help sell apples in the orchard salesroom. Eventually, I came to realize that after working in the orchard, I sold all the apples I had personally picked the week before.
Apparently I took pride in the crop I was picking. How well colored the fruit is! How big the crop is! What great condition these apples are in! I didn’t mean to be so enthusiastic, it just came naturally.
The elderly couple who owned the place never told me to push one variety over another, but without realizing it, I was relating the experiences customers who come to a local orchard are looking to experience.
Visitors to a local winery are looking for an’inside” experience. They want to learn a little about the varieties that produced the wine. They want to develop an appreciation for what makes this wine special.
I am often amazed that local wineries provide no understanding of the grapes that are used in local wines. If your staff is still at the, ‘Try this one…Did you like it?” level, you are not only missing the opportunity to educate an attentive customer, but you are also allowing an excellent sales opportunity get away.
Always remember, education is part of the experience people who visit a local winery hope to encounter.
On a similar note, your customers want an authentic local product to augment and perhaps justify the experience. Often, the first question guests at our winey ask is, ‘How many of the wines here are made from grapes you grow?” When we tell them more than 90% are grown on our farm and all are grown locally, they normally sit down immediately, for they know this is going to be an interesting tasting.
Some of our customers express amazement when they learn it is legal for a local winery to sell wine that is not grown locally. (‘I didn’t think they could do that!”)
Others feel duped. A friend of mine related a story about an Australian woman who visited his winery some time ago. The woman had visited wineries all over the world and she made it a practice to taste local wines in many countries.
‘How many of your wines are grown locally?” the Australian woman asked immediately upon entering the winery. When my friend told her he grew all the grapes, she sat down and asked for a tasting and spent much of the afternoon.
She was angered, she told him eventually, that in the Midwest, many of the wineries had few 100% locally grown wines. One large winery she had visited had only a single 100% locally grown wine. ‘I was offended”, she said, ‘that I came to your region and found I was drinking mostly cheap wine from other places.”
Virtually every winemaker and winery owner I have spoken with tells me that local wines sell better than out of state wines. When the snow begins to accumulate and the cold winds of winter drive the tourists away, please take a look at the cases gathering dust on the back wall and make some decisions as to what wines to keep on the tasting list.
Some growers claim that they do not want to make wines they do not like personally. Others say they are trying to appeal to a ‘more sophisticated” clientele. Take a lesson from Walmart. (They have honed retailing to a fine art.) Keep track of what sells and what does not, then remove the slow selling items from the shelves. Slow selling items cost the retailer (that’s you) money.
Slow selling wines take up valuable shelf space that could be filled with items that do sell and do make you money. They also take up retail sales people’s time during tastings.
In the end, slow-selling wines, although they may be popular with you, damage your reputation, an experience you customers will share with others. If the product sells poorly get it off the shelves and replace it with something that does sell.
Also keep in mind that the polite comments your customer may share with you or your sales staff while in the tasting room are usually unimportant. It’s what they say to each other in the parking lot that counts. Are they cradling bottles of wine they cannot wait to serve at a coming dinner party or sip on the deck after work? Or did one of them turn to a friend and say ‘I could have bought any of those wines in any liquor store for $5.00 a bottle less.” This is not the experience you want them to leave with.
When a customer walks into your tasting room, you have the chance to give them a special experience. Not a liquor store experience, but the opportunity to learn something about the area’s wines they did not know.
Did you or your staff take this opportunity to share your opinion about what makes this wine or that one special? Did you, your wine and your staff give them the experience customers were looking to enjoy? Each visitor is an opportunity to present your point of view. I recommend that you use it. It is an asset only you possess and it is of enormous value.
John Marshall is owner of Lake Pepin Winery and Great River Vineyard and Nursery in Lake City, Minnesota, which is on the Mississippi River, 12 miles south of Red Wing, MN. Lake Pepin Winery features a wide range of estate grown wines made from cold hardy wine grapes. If you visit, you are likely to meet John in the tasting for an authentic, local wine experience.