Winter is the Best Time to Build Your Winning Tasting Room Experience and DTC Strategy

Tasting rooms are usually the first point of contact between a winery and its customers. This is where your customer’s wine tasting journey begins – but it doesn’t have to end there!

While social media is a great branding tool to help wineries build image and interest, the tasting room experience is still the ultimate sales tool to sell wine, increase the average spend per guests and enroll new wine club members.

The Silicon Valley Bank Wine Report (January 2013) is a respected, influential barometer of the North American wine industry. The report provides a comprehensive overview of the industry, including financial forecasts, economic insights and consumer consumption patterns. Here is an infographic they published that outlines the report:

State of The Wine Industry 2013 Infographic
State of The Wine Industry 2013 Infographic – Click to Enlarge

Silicon Valley Bank forecasts that direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales will continue being the largest growth channel for most wineries. One of the report’s most important take-aways is that innovative wineries launch the sales process with a real-world tasting experience, then translate that experience digitally afterwards for customers, no matter where they live.

1) See your tasting room as a pivotal part of your overall marketing strategy. Winter is the best time to review your tasting room experience and develop a winning DTC business strategy. Creating a personal tasting room experience should be the cornerstone of every winery’s business plan.

Innovative wineries know it’s profitable to start the sales process at the wine tasting room, with a marketing blueprint for how you will carry that experience forward in direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales. Your goals should be to build awareness, develop a loyal captive audience to generate sales, keep stimulating the average spend per customer, and enroll new wine club members. All these tactics build brand loyalty and generate word of mouth referrals.

fruit | wine

It’s wise to set weekly, quarterly and monthly sales goals for yourself – such as wine club conversions, web sign ups and number of web orders – so you can monitor and measure how your program is doing.

2) Make a memorable impression on guests at your tasting room. Your tasting room should be consistent with your winery’s personality and brand. Guests do not receive a sales pitch; rather they enjoy a friendly, personal and … vibrant experience with special wines and people… glasses poured, bottles and cases sold, wine club members enrolled all add up to the creation of new “brand ambassadors”!

Ask yourself – as a winery owner, do you spend time in the tasting room to deliver authentic one-on-one experiences that connects with guests? Are you carefully cultivating your wine tasting offering? Does your tasting room experience educate and inspire?

Wine Glasses

Your goals should be to build year-round traffic and connect with guests so they buy wine during their visit, and later through the wine club. You can do that by ensuring your tasting room people generate a lively, friendly atmosphere, that they’re knowledgeable about the wine, and that they’re attentive. By paying attention to the smallest details, your team can deliver that special guest experience.

You can keep guests engaged by telling emotionally compelling, authentic stories about the winery, the area, and the people. Educate guests about pouring wine, tasting it, storing it. Share your knowledge and passion by talking about your vineyard, about Old World, handcrafted techniques used in making your award-winning Pinot, for example.

Your front-line tasting room salespeople are the cornerstone to driving revenue and ultimately, profits. Ensure they use a soft sell, educational approach as they invite a special collection of people to join your wine club. The overall purpose is to sell wine without pressure, to convey that you will reward their loyalty with special treatment and care.


Ask guests what kinds of wine they prefer to taste. Give guests a branded handout with a fresh story about the winery, tasting notes and a detailed product list showing both regular prices, and special prices to wine club members.

You will receive ALL manner of wine drinkers – from the newest to the most experienced winemaker. By paying attention to details of your tasting room experience, and the room’s vibe, you can convert a “satisfied” customer to a “highly satisfied”, repeat customer. An enthusiastic and knowledgeable tasting room server typically sells a lot of wine during the visit, as well as in future referrals to your tasting room (and wine club).

A presentation from the Silicon Valley Bank Report:

3) Take your wine club tasting to a new level. Create a great experience and give your customers memorable wines. Do this by helping customers explore a variety of special wines, by creating a roped-off VIP area at the winery dedicated to wine club members, and of course, have special wines on hand to give these guests. Consider offering a unique gift – such as a seasonal offering from the region.

Always waive tasting fees when customers purchase your wine. And consider offering one-time purchase discounts.

4) Segment and Leverage your Customer Database. Develop your database of existing and potential customers at every opportunity and touchpoint (including a website sign-up), with the goal of collecting emails and permission to send messages inviting guests to your tasting room.

Spend time segmenting your customer database – usually by demographics and by customer spending habits. Are your sales and marketing efforts focused on targeting new, high -value buyers? If not, they should. According to Silicon Valley Bank Wine Report, it’s the baby boomers that are buying, “74% of average sales are to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.”

“With more Baby Boomers retiring, and subsequently spending less, it’s up to the age groups that follow to make up the difference, particularly the demographic known as the Millennials. That is the future.” (Rob McMillan, founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division).

Ice Grapevines

Wineries should also seek budding enthusiasts and ardent wine lovers. Incentivize guests to sign up for your newsletter or mailing list. For best results, use personal greetings and customize emails to the wine club members and high-value customer groups.

5) Every Message You Send Must Be Worth Your Customer’s Time.

Once you know your customer base, you can develop a customer touchpoint strategy. A simple way to truly “touch” people is to congratulate, thank, and surprise new wine club members for joining your club by sending a personal greeting with the first shipment, and maybe also provide an exclusive offering. Also, send an email notifying wine club members their shipments are on its way. Provide customized offers and send out regular ” wine pairing of the month” or “recipes” in wine club email newsletters. Taste tests and informal copywriting are a great way to add a personal touch to product recommendations – people appreciate it, and it keeps them coming back!

Lifecycle marketing
Once you bring customers in, retaining them is critical to a profitable, sustainable marketing strategy. Take every opportunity to solidify relationships with top customers. Make personal calls to thank your best customers. If you continually plant seeds all year long, you will enjoy long-term direct-to-consumer sales success.

Some people do leave wine clubs, but that’s not necessarily the end of your relationship. Just because someone leaves a wine club doesn’t mean they no longer drink wine, or don’t continue enjoying yours. A former wine club member can still be a great customer.

Occasionally stay in touch with former wine club members. Include them in your winery’s life with seasonal event invitations, and email updates. Maybe acknowledge birthdays and send the occasional “We hope things are going well” note.

Ко-мо-до // Ko-mo-do

6) Innovative Wineries Continue the Sales Process Digitally. Online channels offer a prime opportunity to promote your story and leverage the direct-to-consumer sales channel. Are you maximizing digital channels to sell wine? Creating an online marketing strategy is an excellent opportunity to disseminate content, build brand awareness and increase direct-to-consumer sales. Make it easy for people to join your wine club online, and provide that call to action frequently on your website. Of course, your website must be up-to-date and deliver more than an ‘online brochure’ by employing your authentic ”assets+ – blogs, pictures, newsletters. Develop and follow a schedule for regular content updates – such as release dates, wine accolades, recipes & food pairings, wine club offerings, special events, twitter feeds, blogs and video content. Don’t forget to keep your online events calendar updated, too.

Ecommerce presents a major opportunity for wineries to sell more wine, now and especially in the future. Developing an ecommerce sales strategy will ensure your winery increases its direct-to-consumer market share and delivers a great customer experience to the widest range and types of customers. But caution – approaching ecommerce without a comprehensive strategy is perilous, unprofitable and probably quite costly in both dollars spent and opportunities missed.

Selecting the right ecommerce solution may seem daunting, but it’s actually quite simple. It involves a market-facing front end – the website – linked to a more invisible and complex functional back-end that is the real genius of ecommerce.

This involves such technical matters as shopping carts, payment gateways, and providing options for pricing, discount and promotions, as well as a comprehensive wine-offering catalogue. There are also opportunities to make sure you leverage the inventory management and fulfillment processes you currently have in place, or can build upon.

Given the steep rise of mobile device usage in ecommerce, it’s vital to ensure that ecommerce sites are truly optimized and responsive to customers buying wine using mobile and tablet devices.
The most important aspect of ecommerce is the quality of the user experience. Is it easy for guests to join your wine club online, and shop for wine? What is your guest’s experience when they try to buy your wine? How easy is it for them to learn more, to buy, to contact you, to see what others like?


7) Leverage Social Media to Build Audiences, to Engage, Listen and Talk. Silicon Valley Bank reports that “58% of wineries reported that social media is “useful” to “extremely useful” in their marketing efforts. Social media presents solid opportunities to build audiences and engage with people outside the wine industry: they are the consumers of all generations, who actually buy wine. Are you listening to what people are “saying” about your brand? Are you speaking to them?

A good way to think is along these lines: Social media is your online public relations, your tasting room is your sales force and customer relationship management powerhouse. Besides developing conversations with your customers, social media makes and maintains connections with trade, distributors, and media. Social media also lets you listen in to learn and find out what customers are saying about your brand and tasting room experience.

The major market share of mobile smartphones means that people are more connected than ever. Today, there are a host of social media tools to discover when people taste wines at the dinner table. Innovators are creating tools for people to access information – taking the process from the wine label to the mobile device.

Social media is a key part of a winery’s marketing plan – whether the focus is on Facebook, Linked In, or Twitter. You choose the method, but always approach social media with enthusiasm, commitment and authenticity.

It’s simple to invite guests to become a “fan” of your winery on Facebook or follow you on Twitter or LinkedIn. Always encourage tasting room guests to note their experiences on your winery’s page – which demands that you promptly respond to their comments, both positive and negative.

Establish a framework and metrics for monitoring customer engagement, even if you need to engage someone to set it up for you. For example, if you are using Twitter, how much feedback are you receiving and what types of comments? Leveraging your findings brings intelligence you can apply to adjusting your guest experience.

Wine Clubs

8) Goals for your tasting room marketing. By tracking marketing activities, you can track whether you are progressing towards achieving your sales goals. Ecommerce tools for DTC sales will provide you with new levels of valuable customer data – including demographics, purchasee histories and customer feedback.

Reaching your goals should mean a celebration – so tell the world that your business is a success, and encourage new wine club members to join in your success. Now that’s something everyone can feel good about

Make 2013 Your Year for Building a Winning Tasting Room Experience and DTC Strategy. Let us know what you are doing to increase your DTC sales!


Cindy Ferrie

Cindy Ferrie Marketing Strategist