Tasting Room Newsletter April 2012

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  A newsletter for managers of tasting rooms, wine clubs, and DTC wine sales
  April 2, 2012
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Hiring Tasting Room Superstars
Most winery tasting rooms are in the process of staffing up for the high season. Now is the time to carefully consider how to build out a superstar team.

First consider your winery’s unique culture. What fits your brand?  Do your team members need to have a formal, elegant demeanor? Or should they be approachable, flexible and folksy?  Do they need to juggle large crowds? The perfect employee would be very different for each of these scenarios. Having a clear picture of your specific cultural needs will help you find the right employees who will enjoy and excel in the job.

Next, consider their qualifications from three additional angles: knowledge, skills, and behavioral traits. While certain knowledge can be taught and skills can be practiced, basic traits like work pace, customer service heart, facility with details, curiosity and warmth are part of a person’s natural behavior profile and aren’t easily changed. Make sure you know the difference for your position.  

Research shows that the most successful tasting room managers exhibit the following behavioral traits:
• Move at a rapid pace with sense of priority & urgency
• Delegate responsibility with close follow-up
• Comfortable with numbers but are more team / people oriented than analytical
• Are persuasive & firm, yet supportive & diplomatic

So what behavioral traits do you need your front-line team members to have?

Taking the time to understand the requirements of your position – going beyond required knowledge and skills to include both cultural fit and desired behavior style – will ultimately pay off in the form of engaged, successful employees, happier customers and of-course more DTC sales. 

Source: WISE Academy, www.wineindustrysaleseducation.com

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  Tasting Room in the Flesh
To Do 
On my way to the Central Coast earlier this month I passed through the Santa Lucia Highlands. As part of the greater Monterey viticultural area, the Santa Lucia Highlands was approved as a unique AVA in 1991. The area’s vineyards are planted on the southeast-facing terraces of the Santa Lucia mountain range, overlooking the Salinas River Valley. With only six tasting rooms, the appellation has plenty of room to grow.
I stopped at Talbott Vineyards to meet my friend Dave Muret, executive director of the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans. Talbott’s tasting room manager Aaron Covino was extremely versed in the appellation and reflected the enthusiastic attitude of an up-and-coming wine destination.
My next stop was Wrath Wines. Tasting room manager Michelle McDaid was the only person in the tasting room, and after a warm welcome, we set about tasting most of the wines available. In a friendly and matter-of-fact way, McDaid was able to answer all of my questions about varietals, the AVA, terroir, grapegrowing and winemaking techniques—even adding some anecdotes and insider info. When I asked, “How do you know so much?” McDaid’s response was simple and enlightening: team work. With only four full-time employees, Wrath staffers must help each other when needed, thereby learning what is required to run a successful winery. McDaid explained that employees all visit the vineyards before harvest, participate in blending, do comparative tastings, give opinions about packaging, etc. As we were discussing the benefits of such an environment, winemaker Sabrine Rodems arrived and confirmed that Wrath empowers employees with the knowledge they need to face the public and visitors with confidence. Sounds like a no-brainer to me…


Lessons to be learned: Too many times, tasting room employees do not have an in-depth knowledge of the product they are selling. (Yes, they are sales people. A tasting room is not a wine bar, but a point of sale.) Without being pedantic and condescending, tasting room employees should know about the vineyards, the grapes, the fermentation, the aging, etc. And what better way to learn than to see and feel the vineyard and winery duties for themselves? This allows tasting room staff to convey with sincerity an experience that will stay in the minds of visitors, creating that everlasting “story” we are all looking for…

In order to better understand some of the training available for wine marketing professionals, I audited a 2-hour evening class at Sonoma State University. This segment was taught by Anisya Thomas Fritz, owner of Lynmar Estate, a mid-size high-end winery in the Russian River Valley AVA. I was surprised to see that most of the 20+ students already were in business and looking to learn how to avoid major errors and focus on successful behaviors (such as using metrics to gauge progress.) As part of the session Tammy Boatright, president of Ving Direct and WISE Academy instructor, presented her direct-to-consumer sales approach. The emphasis was again on goal setting and constantly reviewing of plans vs. actuality in order to institute changes and meet goals…

Lessons to be learned: We will continue to talk about the value of training, knowledge transfer and goal setting for a successful winery. As a tasting room manager/DtC manager/wine club manager, you really are in charge of a sales team, and (contrary to my beliefs when I was a software engineer) it takes a lot of planning and team building to succeed. A simple weekly or monthly team meeting over pizza will create a better environment and individual work satisfaction…

Not To Do
While in Napa in mid-March, I stopped at a pretty large winery with a beautiful setting and tasting bar. A couple was sitting at a table with three or four wine glasses in front of them, being attended by a charming tasting room associate. Not hearing a “welcome,” I went to the bar and started looking at the winery brochures and different tasting options. It was several minutes before the tasting room attendant acknowledged my presence. She was very sweet and knowledgeable, but I already had made up my mind not to like the environment because of the first impression. OK, I may have a chip on my shoulder, but why take the risk? I could have been James Laube from Wine Spectator…


Jacques Brix is Vice-President and Director of Sales, West Coast for Wines & Vines. This column is based on his personal experiences at winery tasting rooms.

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