What Visitors Want From Winery Websites

June 2011
by Kent Benson
As a wine educator, I spend a lot of time on winery websites researching wines for classes and private tastings. Some websites are quite good; too many are almost worthless. I realize winery websites are not created for the benefit of wine educators; however, the more educators know about a winery’s wares, the better equipped they are to form partnerships with that winery and introduce its wines to the public.

What’s more, I would argue that wine educators and potential customers are looking for many of the same things. Most people I know who visit winery websites do so to find out more about the wines, not to watch a commercial. They’re looking to learn about the history of the winery, the vineyard practices and the winemaking techniques employed. They are there to be informed, not entertained, and they want the information delivered as efficiently as possible. No, these aren’t your average customers, but your average customers probably aren’t visiting your website.

For starters, you can skip the fancy Flash Player intro—it’s a waste of the visitor’s time and your money. It only presents an irritating obstacle standing between the visitor and the information they seek. For some reason these are particularly fashionable in Europe.

In order to satisfy the expectations of the curious visitor, every winery website should include certain basics, starting with the winery’s history. When was it founded and by whom? Tell it like it is. If visitors to your site want a fictionalized, romanticized version of a winery’s history, they’ll rent “Bottle Shock.”

If the winery has changed hands over the years, talk about it. No one will think less of your wines because the enterprise is no longer owned by the founding family. It’s just another chapter in the story.

Include information about the winemaker. If there are multiple winemakers, be sure to spell out their specific assignments, so the visitor knows which winemaker should get the credit for the wine she just enjoyed.

Help the visitor learn why your wines taste so good. What steps were taken in the vineyard, during harvest and throughout the winemaking process that contributed to the final product? Generic comments like “only select grapes from California’s best vineyards were chosen” are not very helpful. Be specific.

If the winery is now part of a multi-label company, don’t hide it; show some pride in your association with the other labels in the stable. I find it interesting. When the above details are relegated to the parent website, just say so and provide a link. Would it be the end of the world for the public to know that your “boutique” winery is really owned by a larger company?

It is essential to keep the site up to date with all of your current releases. It amazes me how long it takes some producers to update their websites for the latest vintages. Don’t neglect past vintages that may still be on store shelves or in a consumer’s wine rack. Archiving several past vintages would be ideal, but at least one or two should be accessible.

My biggest fear with wine websites is the dreaded, password-protected trade link. The Internet is for getting things now, not two or three days from now when someone eventually replies to a request for permission to access the sequestered information. Is it really that big of a risk to allow the public access to technical sheets and pictures of bottles and labels? Besides, the last thing we all need is another user ID and password to remember.

Here’s my wish list for every wine website:

1. History: frank and honest, including founder, subsequent owners and corporate owners (don’t pretend you’re a “family” winery when you’re not)

2. Technical sheets

     a. Available current releases and at least two previous vintages

     b. Vintage report

     c. Winegrape source locations, soil types, vine ages

     d. Vineyard practices, yield, degrees Brix at harvest

     e. Proportion of all grape varieties

     f. Forthright, step-by-step, detailed description of the winemaking process (tell all)

     g. Details of aging regimen: proportion aged in wood, proportions of French vs. American oak, proportions of new, one-year, two-year, etc., oak alternatives employed

     h. Pairing and serving temperature suggestions

     i. Proposed drinking range from vintage date

     j. Technical data: actual ABV, TA, pH, RS, dry extract, disgorgement date

3. Winemaker and owner: names, pictures and bios

4. Bottle and label shots (keep them current)

5. Pictures and maps of estate or controlled vineyards

Posted on 06.23.2011 - 06:01:42 PST
These are great tips Kent. We are a Marketing and Web Design Firm and I follow all the Colorado Wineries and their sites either don't have any useful info or have some but not enough. I like to know all this info, especially if I am doing a wine tour and want to give more background info to the guest.
Colorado Springs, CO USA