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  October 3, 2017
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WISE Bites   Tasting Room Spotlight
Dream a Little Dream with Me   Wolffer Estate

Let’s go on an adventure. Close your eyes and imagine taking the most luxurious vacation of your dreams. Money is no object. You will be pampered in a stunning setting. It’s as if the staff can read your mind: Everything you desire appears before you even ask for it. You will never forget this incredible experience.

What are the details of your dream vacation? Whether it occurs on a tropical island or in the mountains, it likely includes these amenities:

  • Ideal accommodations
  • Wonderful food and beverages
  • Activities we enjoy
  • Amazing staff and service that anticipates our needs and fills them
  • Extra-special things we like without having to ask for them

Wolffer Estate Vineyard serves an estimated 500,000 visitors annually from its indoor and outdoor tasting areas. The tally is probably the largest of any tasting room on the East Coast, according to marketing director Alison Tuthill and veteran tasting room director Suellen Tunney.

Founded in 1988 in Sagaponack, N.Y., Wolffer today produces some 40,000 cases annually in the Hamptons AVA, with about 35% sold direct to consumer. Its wine club membership tallies about 2,500, and retention rates are consistently up to 97%. With numbers like these, Wolffer must be doing something right. One full-time employee remains in constant contact with wine club members to ensure they are being well served.



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 "WISE Bites" continued.


 "Tasting Room Forum" continued.

When you think about it, there’s not much difference between the amenities of that dream vacation and what we offer to our guests every day:

Ideal accommodations: Our gorgeous winery and tasting room

Wonderful food and beverages: Our fantastic wine and food pairings

Activities we enjoy: Our tours and tasting experiences

Amazing staff and service that anticipates our needs and fills them: Our well-trained team

Extra-special things we like without having to ask: From notes within our point-of-sale and customer-relationship management systems

So, what does it take to deliver that “dream vacation” experience? Here are seven WISE steps to make it happen:

1. Make a strong, positive first impression.
Maybe we don’t have a greeter, so this role belongs to everyone. A warm smile and a word of welcome are all it takes. Be mindful to smile at each guest, even if you are not personally serving them. Remember that if the customer can see you, you are on stage. This is especially important for office staff who come into the tasting room on a mission. Yes, you too are on stage then, so play the part of a welcoming host.

2. Call customers by name whenever possible, and instill a warm sense of belonging.
If you’re an avid Starbucks regular, your local barista knows your name, your very-specific order, and is ready with this knowledge every time you walk in the door. Whether you’re a fan or not, Starbucks’ business model for customer service is to anticipate your needs and deliver. If we emulate this example and remember our best customers, they will think of us as their winery and bring their friends to us as well.

3. Ask the right questions so we know how to fill their needs.
Are they brand new to the winery, or are they club members? What kind of wine buyer are they: Are ratings important to them? Are they value buyers? Are they new to buying wine? We need to learn this about each guest because it changes the conversation and tells us how to serve them better. Asking open-ended questions will help us better assess these needs.

4. Anticipate their needs and pay close attention to detail.
Do they need a pen, a napkin, a dump bucket, some water? What kind of silent cues are they giving that we can learn information from? Notice their buying signals and actively listen to feedback to better anticipate their needs as well as have a more effective, natural sales-close. People love to know they are being heard and understood.

5. Track customer preferences via POS-CRM.
If we have kept good customer records, we can anticipate our guests’ needs and desires. When guests make an appointment for their visit, we can look them up in advance and be ready with their favorites based on what they’ve enjoyed in the past. Keeping records about anniversaries, birthdays, children’s names and ages, pets, etc., helps build a picture about our guest and makes the experience more personal when we bring up these details during their visit.

6. Information distribution to the team and great teamwork.
Who is coming to visit? Are they celebrating a special occasion? Who is hosting this guest and what do they need to know? Everyone has a part in the school play. We are either serving our guests or we are supporting those who do. Keeping records about our guests also helps the entire team get to know who they are—whether they did the hosting or not.

7. Make it our personal mission to be of service and ensure customer satisfaction.
Rather than just recommending a couple of restaurants when asked, why not make restaurant reservations? You help the customer and build goodwill for your winery with that local restaurant (be sure to use your name and the name of your winery). Surprise and delight guests beyond their expectations with these concierge steps or by noticing silent cues and actively listening. These are great ways to show our service heart.

Our guests are coming to us for an adventure and an experience they will enjoy. We live the dream every day, so we need to remember to step back and appreciate it from our guests’ perspective. It’s not rocket science, but the smallest things we can do for our guests will go a long way. They will never forget this incredible experience at our WISE winery.


Source: WISE Academy,

Winery Job Index

August 2017 saw the Winery Job Index fall 1% versus a year earlier to 277. This was the first monthly decline since April, and on par with January’s index reading of 276.

Direct-To-Consumer Job Subcategory

Demand for direct-to-consumer positions, including tasting room and retail staff, fell 3% in August 2017 versus a year ago. The monthly index stood at 529.


Most of Wolffer’s traffic comes from the New York metropolitan area. Sagaponack is also served by car ferries from Connecticut. Promotion comes mostly through word of mouth and ads in local media, roadside signs and wine trail guides.

Tunney said the tasting room’s popularity is really all about the quality and variety of wines, which are sold by flight, glass or bottle. The biggest seller is a rosé blend, which changes by vintage. The winery calls it Summer in a Bottle Rosé, but it’s so ubiquitous that local fans have dubbed it “Hamptons Gatorade,” according Donnell Brown, president of the National Grape and Wine Initiative and a former Wolffer employee. Tunney added, “It’s part of the fabric of life here.”

A hard cider, No. 139 Dry Rosé, is now on tap in the main tasting room, which was revamped in March. Cheese and charcuterie plates and flat breads also are offered.

Tasting flights, served in small carafes suitable for sharing, are priced at $25 for four wines; the selection changes regularly. An in-house sommelier is available for those who want more in-depth explanation.

It’s a twofer: The main tasting room is open every day, year round. Nine months of the year, Wolffer’s nearby Wine Stand is open on Friday and Saturday nights—and it has become a popular pit stop for travelers, thanks to its vineyard and sunset views. From May until October, “Sunset Fridays and Saturdays” bring free, live music. Tables fill up quickly, so guests are encouraged to bring beach chairs or blankets, but not outside food or beverage.

Tasting room staff levels vary seasonally, from about 60 at peak season down to 20 for the remaining months. Some servers have been attracted through internships. In the summer, college students can amass “a nice chunk of money,” Tunney said.

Many share housing (a Hamptons tradition), but some commute for more than an hour, so Tunney’s first question to applicants is: “Can you make it happen?” She noted that there is a good pool of local young people who grew up in the area, and the year-round population is growing.

Tunney, a 10-year veteran at Wolffer, looks for recruits who enjoy wine and food, like the hospitality industry and are attracted to learning. Once these requirements are met, “I can teach them to speak proficiently about wine.”

Servers are rewarded with commissions for wine club sign-ups. Other sales incentives are offered, including more in the off-season. The winery maintains an opt-in email list.

Supplies and equipment
Consumer traffic is served using a point-of-sale system from Micro. It’s not tied in with the online system, and the winery is looking to upgrade.

In the winery tasting room, stemmed 18-ounce glasses etched with the winery logo are provided with samples. The more casual Wine Stand uses etched tumblers from Libbey. Glasses and serving ware are cleaned in a Hobart dishwasher.

The tasting room dates every bottle it opens, and none are kept for more than two days. The winery uses a manual pump to suck out excess oxygen from opened bottles.

Retail: Everything in the retail area is logoed, including sweatshirts, hats and glasses. But again, everything’s about the wine, which is the predominant sales item.

—Jane Firstenfeld

Wines & Vines contributing editor Jane Firstenfeld has been writing about the North American wine industry since the 1970s. If there are any questions you would like answered by future Tasting Room Spotlight participants—or if you would like to have your tasting room featured—email her here.

News Briefs 

Sonoma considers tasting room ban
The Sonoma (Calif.) City Council is considering a moratorium on tasting rooms at the historic Sonoma Plaza. City staff recommended the moratorium prior to the council’s Oct. 2 meeting, citing a statistic that 17% of first-floor businesses surrounding the plaza are tasting rooms.

Tasting room in colonial Williamsburg
Fans of wine and history will be excited to visit Williamsburg Winery’s new tasting room scheduled to open in colonial Williamsburg (Va.) this month. The location will offer tastings, wine by the glass and bottle service in addition to food options.

Theft at Paso Robles tasting rooms
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office received multiple burglary reports during August and September at tasting rooms in northern San Luis Obispo County, where Paso Robles is located. Officials encourage witnesses to contact the sheriff’s office at (805) 781-4550.

Hahn opens tasting lounge
Hahn Family Wines of Soledad, Calif., opened a tasting lounge in the Carmel Plaza area of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. The winery enlisted Belli Architectural Group and interior designer Wilson-Ishihara for the space, which is open daily from noon to 6 p.m. Tastings are $20 and include five wines. For details, visit

Two-EE’s Winery gets top honor
Two-EE’s Winery of Huntington, Ind., was named Best Tasting Room of 2017 by USA Today. Large windows offer guests a view of the wine-production area, and an outdoor area overlooks the estate vineyards. Two-EE’s came in No. 1 on the publication’s Top 10 list. See the other honorees here.

Tasting room opens in Gold Rush country
Uphill Vineyards opened a new tasting room at 46 Main St. in Sutter Creek, Calif. The location offers table and dessert wines daily from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. in the downtown area dotted with other winery tasting rooms.

Winery welcomes downtown tasting room
Rob and Marilyn Chrisman celebrated the opening of their new Avanguardia Wines tasting room in downtown Grass Valley, Calif., on Sept. 29. Avanguardia specializes in food-friendly red and white blends. Their new tasting room is a converted cigar factory that will be open Wednesdays through Sundays. Get details here.

Hospitality Products

• A new “active wine decanting system” from vSpin/Spiegelau simplifies aeration and decanting with patent-pending methodology to create a gentle, silent wine vortex, mellowing harsh tannin textures and releasing subtle flavors. See for details.

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