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  March 2, 2017
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WISE Bites   Tasting Room Forum
Planning Staffing for Busy Times   Wine Stars in the Lone Star State

Before we know it, busy season will be upon us. Most wineries will be looking to add staff to accommodate summer visitors. Now is the time to begin the planning process for hiring and onboarding an all-star team.

We need to get management to view staffing as a variable cost. If we work exclusively with a headcount cap, we’ll end up with insufficient staffing. We need to justify staffing decisions based on sales dollars per labor hour, new club signups per labor hour and visitors per labor hour. We also need to measure average order value, WISE Triple Score conversion rates (orders, clubs and contact data), outreach metrics (calls, emails, notes and guerrilla networking). Remember: Average order value and conversion rates will increase with a higher staff-to-guest ratio. So, if our average order value or conversion rates drop dramatically when we are really busy, we do not have enough staff. And don’t forget what too many winery executives just take for granted: all the time it takes to support PR, trade / VIP tastings, gatekeeper relations, etc.


The annual conference of the Texas Wine & Grapegrowers Association took place Feb. 15-16 in the quaint city of San Marcos, south of Austin, the state capital. The population of the area has quadrupled in the past 20 years, and the wine industry is booming in the Lone Star State. With 287 wineries and 185 tasting rooms, Texas is a major player producing 1.8 million cases of wine per year, according to Wines Vines Analytics.

The Wines & Vines booth was crowded, and I liked that event organizers brought a bottle of wine for us to serve to conference attendees. Perissos Vineyards’ Montepulciano was a revelation and a well-known selection in Texas if the bottle being emptied in 10 minutes flat was any proof. Bravo Perissos!

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 "WISE Bites" continued.


 "Tasting Room Forum" continued.

Err on the side of overstaffing. Knock-your-socks-off service requires a little overstaffing. Average order sizes and wine club close rates are higher when we have enough staff. This will more than pay for the extra hours.

What is staff doing during downtime? Just cleaning and restocking? Plan out other sales opportunities including outreach projects (phone, email, thank-you notes and gatekeepers). It’s also a great time for peer-led continued training and roleplays. GMs go crazy when they see staff standing around—they see it as a cocktail party. But they should be thinking of it as a fire station; we need people there and prepared to jump. Meanwhile, we can make the downtime much more productive with creative, ongoing training and customer outreach.

To raise the bar, it’s important to start fresh. Think about the super-star team we’re trying to build. What do our great staff members have in common? We want to look at qualifications from different angles. Knowledge and skills can be measured easily, but we also need to find the right behavior traits, which are more difficult to interview for.

Here’s some insight into the behavioral traits of the most successful tasting room associates: Their personal work style is steady and even-paced. They do quality work and are calm under pressure. They are fine with repetitive routines, and they are thorough in completing tasks. They follow guidelines and work within established standards and procedures. Their personal communication style is service- and people-focused. They are friendly, outgoing and warm. They are good listeners. They like frequent contact, interaction and communication with a wide variety of people. They are agreeable, accommodating and helpful—and supportive of other team members.

With the job market for qualified tasting room associates so tight, how do we make sure we get the best staff for our winery? We need to be flexible and accommodate staff’s individual requests. Successful tasting room professionals need to have a lot of energy, and this can be a real burnout job. It may take extra planning on our part, but we need to help them make sure there is gas in the tank. Studies show that workers with flexible hours are more satisfied with their jobs and more focused at work. They have a sense of control, a feeling of empowerment and respect. Flexible work hours mean balanced lives—employees may be able to spend more time with their kids, take care of aging parents or attend school. Having balanced lives means they are in the “no-excuses zone” when they are at work. When they need to be on, they are on. That’s our goal. But being so flexible is a pain, so what’s in it for us? It can help retain valuable talent, promote cross-training, reduce overtime, tardiness and sick days. It can increase productivity and boost morale and loyalty. It’s a great recruitment tool, which can give us an edge in a tight labor market.

Source: WISE Academy,



Of course, I could not stay there without a visit to at least one winery. Three Dudes Winery was only a few minutes from the conference center. The temperature outside was a Texas-comfortable 82 degrees, and the winery entrance had the expected “country look and feel.”

As luck would have it, a bus full of “bachelorettes” had just arrived and crowded the small tasting room with laughter and good humor...

Angie Berg is the tasting room manager (with Michael Crow) and the staff handled the crowd with probably the best attitude and savoir faire I have ever seen. There was plenty of humor, patient explanation of the wines, making everyone feel welcome and important. My hat is off to you, Angie, for being a real hospitality pro!


Lessons from France and Australia: Paul Franson, Wines & Vines' senior correspondent, writes about what we should learn from other countries regarding wine consumption. France adopted a “premiumization” strategy, while Australia went the “economization” route. The results are detailed by Damien Wilson, Hamel family chair of wine business education with Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute, and written up here.

Top 10 States for Number of Wineries: California, 4,202; Washington, 759; Oregon, 715; New York, 383; Texas, 291; Virginia, 271; Pennsylvania, 229; Ohio, 195; Michigan, 158 and North Carolina, 141.


Napa Valley Wine Education: Napa Valley Wine Academy wins the WSET award. Read more here.

Sonoma State University 2017 spring course: From the Certificate in Direct-to-Consumer Sales to the Certificate in Wine Business Finance and Accounting, courses are beginning March 15. Learn more here.


California: New employment laws that became effective January 2017 involve the minimum wage and IRS mileage rate. The law firm of Dickenson, Peatman, and Fogarty published some details on these topics here. Additionally, another new law covers the practice of serving complimentary wines and beers in beauty salons and barbershops.

Virginia: Wine sales continue to grow with Blue Ridge leading the way. Read more here. Virginia boasts 226 tasting rooms...

Colorado: With 115 wineries and 82 tasting rooms, the state of Colorado really has a “wine country.” R.H. Drexel takes us on an extensive tour.

Florida: Florida has 55 wineries, 41 with tasting rooms (75%). Tallahassee is the home of the Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research at Florida A&M University. Michelle Nickens, Tallahassee blogger, narrates her visit to the center.

Ohio: Ice cream with wine? Who would have thought! Kat Tenbarge, a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau, writes about it here.

Oregon: Our Northwest correspondent Peter Mitham is always connected to the Northwest wine industry. I saw him at the Oregon Wine Symposium in Portland constantly engaging attendees and participating in as many seminars he could fit in during the two-day conference. Gen X and millennials make up a great part of Oregon wine consumers. Peter’s article reports on findings and trends to be watched by wineries and DtC professionals.

Arizona: With 82 wineries (55 with tasting rooms), Arizona holds a very solid position in the U.S. wine industry. Of the 82 wineries currently in business, 15 are new since March 1, 2016 (a 22% increase!). Writer Lana Bortolot takes a serious look at the Arizona wine country in this article.


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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 and events.




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