Is your brand in a holding pattern, waiting for a destination winery to be built? Perhaps your brand makes wine in a warehouse district with little organic foot traffic. Maybe there is a mountain range between your winery and where your target market is located. Whatever the barrier, more and more “storefront” tasting rooms are popping up across the country—retail spaces in downtown areas acting as a tasting room for wineries/brands that are not easily accessible (or not yet built).
One of the biggest challenges of a storefront tasting room is that guests can perceive it as a wine bar, not a branded experience with a desired outcome. With clear intent and focus on purpose, messaging and business objectives, storefront tasting rooms can be very successful.
After venerable wine producer Cuvaison built new production facilities, a barrel cave and tasting room in the Carneros district in 2009, the now-71,000-case brand sold its original property including a full winery license in 2015. In 2016, Brandon Chaney and Anthony Zabit, both of whom live out of state, reopened the rustic hillside tasting room nestled on a tree-shaded property along the North Silverado Trail and named it Fairwinds Estate Winery.
Terry Lehenbauer, a former Silicon Valley finance executive, was appointed Fairwinds’ outreach and development manager. For the first year, she was virtually alone in the tasting room. Fairwinds produces some 1,500 cases of wine annually. One-hundred percent is sold direct-to-consumer, with an average bottle price of $40. In lieu of national distribution, Fairwinds is promoting sales in local restaurants.
First, start with a clear purpose or intent. Are you hoping to build your club and mailing list until you move into a permanent location? Will this be your only brand experience coming to life? Is the focus to sell wine ounce by ounce, or by the case through bottle sales and wine club memberships?
At WISE, we have observed several variations in the major winegrowing regions around the country—some with more success than others. However, with clear programming (offerings), messaging and goals for the team, wineries can achieve their goals and business objectives. For example, one storefront tasting room partnered with a popular restaurant (a good fit for their brand) while it waited for the destination winery with an onsite tasting room to be built. The draw of the food and wine pairings helped establish the brand message and what guests could expect when the new tasting room opened. The messaging was always clear, with progress updates sent to wine club and mailing list members. The winery opened to great fanfare and was instantly busy when it opened! Others choose to have more of a wine bar atmosphere, which works well for their business model and their long-term goals.
Purpose can vary greatly, so make sure you have clear intent for your goals and business objectives, then give your chosen strategy enough time to prove out one way or the other.
After determining the purpose or objective, focus on the differentiated brand message. WISE recently toured a few towns with a high number of storefronts (from 10 to 300-plus) in close proximity to each other. In some tasting rooms, a new business could move in the next day with no changes being made to the space; there was no story being told through creating a sense of place. It’s not enough to be a “boutique, family-owned winery producing world-class wines”—far too many wineries can claim this, so it’s not unique.
To differentiate your brand, consider three things you want guests to walk away knowing. (We’ve found that three is the right balance between too much to remember and enough to give staff variation on brand messaging.) How does your tasting experience make that come to life? Does everyone on the team understand those points, and do they have a deep repertoire of stories to support these brand points?
The challenges of selling wine without a vineyard or winery within 200 miles are very real. What props can be leveraged? Old barrels, farming equipment, photography and artwork can all help tell the brand story, which is all the more crucial when there are 45 neighbors within walking distance all telling their own stories. Is the team sharing memorable stories that use these props in the tasting room to help support the brand messaging?
Servers in the busiest tasting rooms we observed understood that everything speaks—from staff employing strong storytelling to décor that creates an engaging vibe and supports the brand messaging. That, in turn, drew in more traffic and laid the foundation for brand loyalty.
Business and Sales Goals
Finally, in a storefront tasting room, don’t underestimate the power of the WISE Triple Score (1. Ask for the order, 2. Effectively present the wine club, and 3. Collect contact data). Truly successful brands put an emphasis on asking for the order, warmly inviting guests to join the club, and collecting contact information to grow their brand. These conversions create traffic through repeat visits and referrals from engaged guests. All too often, we experienced a lack of dedicated sales efforts. It is critical to any DtC-focused brand to do this, but it seemed even more so in a crowded neighborhood, where few were doing it. Don’t assume every tasting room is asking for the order or pitching their club. Listen to your guests and respect their choices, but remember that we miss 100% of the shots we don’t take. Create a culture of asking for the Triple Score, complete with incentives and accolades.
Bottom line: Many of the best practices for destination tasting rooms apply to storefront tasting rooms, which are not without their own challenges. Establish and follow a clear objective and purpose, create an environment that tells the brand story, and focus on the WISE Triple Score.
Source: WISE Academy,
Winery Job Index
DtC Job Subcategory
Demand for direct-to-consumer positions, including tasting room and retail staff, dropped 6% in January 2018. The index reading of 394 remained strong relative to recent months, however.
DtC shipments approached $126 million in January 2018, up 25% versus a year ago.
Fairwinds provides custom-crush services for other wineries, and some clients choose to sell their vintages in the joint tasting room: Valley Floor Vineyard, Kenefick Ranch and Canard Vineyard. In addition to selling wine through the tasting room, Lehenbauer said these partners can host onsite events.
Thanks to a grandfather clause in the winery purchase, reservations are not required for tastings, and events are permitted throughout the grounds, including the 22,000-square-foot barrel cave, which accommodates as many as 150 guests.
Since opening, April 2017 was the busiest month, with most visitors showing up on weekends. About 60% of drop-ins arrive in response to social media, which is ramping up, Lehenbauer said. She is active with Napa Valley Vintners, Visit Napa Valley and other organizations, and Fairwinds works with tourism companies like Platypus Wine Tours that bring clients for tastings.
Located outside the limits of the Calistoga township, the winery was not evacuated during the October firestorms, though it was closed for a couple of days. When the tasting room reopened, the Red Cross and other responders brought supplies that the winery distributed to local residents including its neighbors.
One advantage of Fairwinds’ full winery permit is the ability to host summer music events. These typically feature local North Coast artists, normally staged under a temporary pavilion, but can be repositioned within the cool barrel cave if the weather is uncomfortably warm. Four concerts are scheduled this summer, plus an annual October harvest festival.
Fairwinds advertises for staffers on Winejobs.com, when needed. The full-time tasting room staff of four is bolstered with additional servers for concerts, when guests are served flasks of wine for $10; burgers and other food items are available for purchase during events. During normal tasting hours, cheese and charcuterie plates are offered, adding profit to the bottom line, Lehenbauer said.
Retail and supplies
Retail items are not emphasized. In fact, only elegant Winebreather Carafes (demonstrated in the tasting room) and reusable, insulated wine carriers are sold ($99.99) that will securely transport a case of wine under airlines’ 50-pound check-in baggage limit.
• The tasting room’s point-of-sale service is provided by WineDirect and linked to the reservation/club system through CellarPass.
• Argon is used to preserve opened bottles.
• Glasses are all Reidel, which also provides monthly towel service.
• A Swash stemware washer and a Barmade glass polisher keep things sparkling.
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.
Las Vegas hosts first winery
Patty Peters and Michael Schoenbaechler launched Vegas Valley Winery, the first winery in Clark County, home of Las Vegas, Nev. The site offers wines made from California grapes and is located next door to the Grape Expectations wine school, which teaches clients to make their own wine.
Jamala Wines returns
Grapegrower and winemaker Mark Cargasacchi opened a tasting room for his Jamala Wines, formerly of Lompoc, Calif., in downtown Palm Springs. His wines are sold 100% direct to consumer. The new tasting room is at 119 La Plaza and is open Wednesday through Monday.
Weibel to supersize tasting room
Weibel Family Winery got the blessing of the Lodi Planning Commission to move down the street to a larger tasting room space. The new location is at 9 N. School St. in Lodi.
New Tasting Room Products
Bright and cheery
Looking for easily transportable tasting room merchandise? Colorful Bendiware stemless silicone wine glasses are suitable for home consumption. The BPA-free, freezer-proof and dishwasher-safe glasses retail for $19.99-$34.95.
VingDirect of Sebastopol, Calif., launched a new and improved VingPortal featuring a tasting room performance tracker, benchmarking dashboard tool and resource library to provide results-driven data for family wineries focused on direct-to-consumer wine sales. See details at http://vingdirect.com/.
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