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When your wine tourism needs a reality check

There is a common belief among some (in fact, many) wine producers that wine tourism is simply offering a tour of the wine-making facilities followed by a tasting of a few wines. We often here the phrase, “How hard can it be to entertain a few guests?” In a country like Portugal, where tourism is steadily on the rise and wine tourism is gaining momentum, a wine producer could easily get caught up thinking that the tourists will just keep coming. The demand is there, and it will continue, so is there really a need to design an engaging tourism product or consider the visitor’s expectations and impressions? The answer is yes. While it’s true that the visitors will keep coming, the reality is that wine tourism involves going above and beyond the visitor’s expectations. Offering a high-quality wine tourism experience involves a great deal of planning, preparing, rehearsing and making sure that everything is, well, perfect. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. From our visits to different wineries, from the Douro Valley to Tokaj, we’ve identified some common blunders that you may want to watch out for if are starting visits at your estate or are currently offer them.

  1. The Unprepared Visits

If you’ve communicated in your marketing material that you are open for visits, with a clear indication of the hours of operations, then you must be open and ready to receive visitors. We are all for adventures, but it’s no fun to arrive at a destination only to find out it is closed and no one is answering the phone (this is much more common than you think). If you require pre-booking at your estate, then you know well in advance that you will have a visitor so be sure to have everything prepared beforehand: washrooms cleaned, barrel room tidy, the tasting room set up with clean glasses, and any other detail to tell your visitor that you were expecting them. Perhaps one of the most common phrases we hear is, “This wine would be better if it were decanted/aerated/chilled (or fill in the blank).” Remember that you really only have one shot to impress your visitor, from the wines to your washrooms, so make it count.

  1. Off-The-Cuff and Off We Go

Regardless if you are a large industrial winery or a small-family run winery, it’s imperative to create a circuit and flow to your visit. A tour that is improvised, where you’re jumping from one room to another with no logical reason and no complimentary talking points, is confusing to your visitor. You want to think about the flow of the visit and how it adds to the experience. Some areas in a winery just aren’t sexy, like the loading dock full of pallets of wines, but we’ve often had this included in the winery tour. Spontaneous additions to your tour, although exciting, are not always executed well and can be quite uncomfortable for your visitor. Consider the following experience we had at a well-known winery in Tokaj. After completing a tour and tasting at the winery, our guide mentions a beautiful vineyard area belonging to the estate. It’s only 10 minutes away by car, he says, and he would be happy to take us there. Excitedly, we agree. We walk out of the winery and await for instructions on where to go next. He quickly ushers us to the parking lot where he then proceeds to jump into the passenger seat of our car. Needless to say, it made for an uncomfortable 10 minutes.

  1. Now, tell me about your wines…

While it is the core product of a winery, explaining wine and the winemaking process to a visitor is another common issue that many wineries seem to struggle with. Many winemakers or staff from the winemaking team often use language and wine terminology that the wine novice is not familiar with or only vaguely understands. While this may be interesting to the wine expert, the wine tourist may feel confused and even intimidated making it hard to connect with the brand. Similarly, when the winemaker is not around, the guide who handles visits has either not been adequately trained or does not understand the winemaking processes themselves. The risk here is that he/she will either provide no information at all or far worse, will make it up. At a recent visit we had in Wachau, our guide stumbled by explaining the wines he was pouring, occasionally reading the back label to answer our questions. When asked about the winemaking process of the award-winning wine, he awkwardly responded with “It’s a winery secret, like a chef in the kitchen”. To ease the conversation, we attempted to ask about the history of the company and the philosophy behind the wines. Despite having worked at the winery for two years, he just couldn’t answer these questions.

  1. A Bit Too Real

Customer satisfaction plays a key role in wine tourism because wine tourism is all about people, people, people. Any visitor, whether paying or unpaying, must receive outstanding hospitality. After all, they have invested the most precious thing they have – their time – to visit your winery.  In February we visited a large wine-producer in Dao, Portugal, that currently offers tours of their cellars, wine tastings and has a restaurant on site. Due to a heavy rainstorm, we arrived 10 minutes late for our scheduled visit. We waited at the restaurant door for a good 20 minutes until the guide (actually, a server at the restaurant) had finally been located. Upon her arrival, she explained that since we were late, she had to go for lunch and she would be back in 30 minutes. We could wait by the door. Certainly not the welcome we had expected and you can imagine how the rest of the visit went.

So what can you do?

It’s not all doom and gloom in the wine tourism world and of course there are many wineries that are providing exceptional experiences with well-designed tourism products and top hospitality. But if you’re winery looking to start a wine tourism experience, you will have to be ready to make a commitment to wine tourism and all that it entails. If you’re a winery currently offering wine tourism, it’s important to know where your weaknesses lie and what is actually happening during a customer visit. If you’re not sure and want to get a clear picture of the real experience at your cellar door, contact us. Our mystery shopping service is specifically designed to identify your tourism product’s strength, weaknesses and greatest assets. Find out more here.