In addition to influences such as smell, temperature, your mood and visual cues, our expectations play a substantial role in our perception of wine: "If you think a wine will be good or bad, or red or white, the brain primes itself to taste it in that way, regardless of what the tongue's sensors tell it."
As a winery owner or operator offering tasting and hospitality, you have significant influence over a lot of these factors. Here are some key questions to ask yourself and your team as you envision your winery's guest experience:
1. Is our space comfortable, inviting and warm?
2. Are customers greeted upon arrival in a similar fashion?
3. What is the "personality" of our tasting room -- is it pin-drop quiet and serious? Lively and festive? Somewhere in between? And how does this actual experience align with what we would like to offer?
4. How do external factors like music, art work, information displayed, etc. add to or distract from the experience?
5. What information and in what manner are we communicating with customers? Are we matching the information we share to the guest's desired experience? Are we even asking what type of experience the guest is looking to enjoy before diving into the tasting?
6. How are we sharing our story? Is it memorable and unique, or is it simply something that could be said at the winery next door?
7. Are we getting feedback from guests during the experience? For example, if the taster doesn't like whites, did we find this out and skip that portion of the tasting?
8. Are we using the information we gathered and the relationship we're building to ask for an appropriate sale or wine club join?
Some of my worst tasting experiences have happened when I'm greeted by someone who is clearly not interested in doing his job, or someone who wants to show me how much she knows about wine. To pick on the highest quality region in my Pacific Northwest "backyard" -- the AVA where I taste the most frequently -- I've lost count of the number of Willamette Valley wineries who allow (or worse yet, instruct) their staff to launch into diatribes about soil, floods, clones and other geeky subjects. The moment I hear about the Missoula floods, I start wanting to head for the higher hills because I know I'm in for another re-run of a movie I don't want to see. My mind wanders off the tasting course and into a betting game of whether clonal break-downs will dominate the "conversation." If my husband or non-industry friends are with me, particularly those who've tasted in other regions, I know I'm in for a post-tasting eye roll at best.
It's typical to be bombarded by this type of information without so much of a mention as to why the winery was founded or who makes the wine. I'm almost never asked what brought me to the winery, about my level of wine interest or if I've been to the property before. Nor am I asked about the styles of wine that interest me, such as a more acidic white or earthy red. This one size fits all (or none) approach misses a huge hospitality and sales opportunity.
A winery has an enormous potential to set the tone and expectations for the tasting by working through the eight questions I pose above, and creating a vision for hospitality and service. This influence over expectations can go a long way in creating enhanced experience, excitement for return visits, loyalty and increased revenue in the form of moving more boxes.