Visit us on the web at or call us at 866.453.9701 Tasting Room News
  A newsletter for managers of tasting rooms, wine clubs and DTC wine sales
  April 3, 2018
  »  Featured Suppliers
  »  Newsletter Archive
WISE Bites   Tasting Room Spotlight
10 Tips for Successful Tasting Rooms  

Unusual Urban Winery-Brewery Operates in Downtown Napa

With the arrival of Daylight Savings Time, we know that it's just a matter of weeks now until busy season starts. Let's get ready to shine with these 10 tips.

1. Great greeting
We only have one chance to make a great first impression, so we need to make sure that our greeting is exceptional. Studies show that if guests aren't greeted or acknowledged within the first 15 seconds, they typically rate their experience lower. Your first impression is an important one, and recovering from a bad start is almost impossible. Start off every experience on a positive note. If our tasting room is by appointment, we already know who is coming, so we can list the names on a welcome board they will see as they enter.

2. Referral source
The best ice breakers build rapport by finding out what brought our guests to our winery and is a natural part of the initial greeting. Understanding where your guests heard of you - and what specifically brought them in today - helps allocate marketing dollars to those who send qualified guests.


The city of Napa, Calif., is now a tasting room hub but St. Clair Brown is a rarity. Its location on Vallejo Street has a facility for wine and beer production and a tasting room across a narrow street just next to the tracks of the Napa Wine Train.

President Laina Brown has 19 years of experience in the industry and met co-owner Elaine St. Clair when the two were working at Domaine Carneros winery. The two went on to manage the direct-to-consumer program at Black Stallion prior to its sale to Delicato Family Vineyards in 2010.

Following that deal, Brown and St. Clair decided to strike out independently and founded the winery-brewery the same year. It opened to the public in 2013. St. Clair is both winemaker and master brewer, producing 1,000 cases of mostly Napa Valley wines that range in price from $25 to $95 as well as a range of beers.

Featured Suppliers    


Increase Wine Sales With Wine-A-Rita 
Wine-A-Rita mix + wine + ice = a FUN & DELICIOUS frozen wine drink! Boxed mixes for retail sales & bulk for serving. 7 flavors.

Copper Peak

Wondering How Wineries Should Approach Non-Wine Merchandise?
Read our report & learn how your merchandise can resonate with your brand story while being a strong part of an overall customer experience.

» Learn More   » Learn More


 "WISE Bites" continued.


 "Tasting Room Spotlight" continued.

Did a nearby winery or restaurant recommend us? Then we can thank our referrers and reciprocate by sending guests to them too. Remember to note the source of each guest so that we have that key information in our database. Perhaps even more important, these relevant open-ended questions set you up to easily build rapport and then tailor the rest of the experience based on your guests' interests.

3. On stage vs. backstage
On stage refers to the performance concept, where "on stage" is the guest experience - everything the guest sees, hears, touches, smells - and "backstage" is all the things behind the scenes that need to take place in order make sure there is a great on-stage performance. Backstage issues are usually physical (i.e., smudged glasses, bathroom that needs servicing) but they can also be verbal (inappropriate attitude or comments in front of the guests). Our tasting experience is an on-stage performance and we must rehearse to be ready. Our guests are here for the pixie dust. Don't spoil it for them by allowing them to see our backstage nuts and bolts.

4. Service heart
Do the hosts really want to be of service? Is service in their DNA? We can always tell if the person at the bar loves to be with guests. Did we go out of our way to make the visit extra special with some element of surprise and delight relevant to their interests? Did we offer water, a pen, a dump bucket? Let's make it our personal mission to ensure that each guest leaves with the feeling of wow!

5. Build rapport by asking open-ended questions
Use relevant open-ended questions to positively profile and understand each guest, and then adjust the experience accordingly. Are they new to wine? How do they enjoy wine? Are they celebrating a special occasion or here on vacation? These are questions that tell us how to best serve each guest. To move customer satisfaction higher (as well as get more natural sales), more dialogue (less presentation mode) is needed. This can only be done by asking open-ended questions.

6. Use analogies & storytelling
These skills help to educate and entertain guests all at once. Make wine accessible to those who are learning by explaining concepts in terms of something they already understand. For example, we plant roses to act like the canary in the coal mine to warn us of pests in the vines. Analogies make visitors feel comfortable (instead of intimidated) as they learn new things and concepts. Analogies are especially effective for visitors who are new to wine. Storytelling helps to share interesting, relevant things about the wine and winery. The best tasting room performers - the best sales people - are all great story tellers because they weave a good tale. Including stories and analogies engages customers, gains trust, and earns sales.

7. Sell the brand first, the wine second
Let's face it, we all have great juice, so the story of what makes us unique will be the differentiator. Our brand needs to be compelling and unique and it will come alive with great stories. We need to have a bunch of stories that illustrate what our brand is about, so that we don't risk sounding like we are reading from a canned script by repeating the same story over and over again. Selling the brand and the experience first with compelling stories will help naturally sell the wine and make it more memorable to guests.

8. Leverage silent selling tools
Non-verbal sales tools facilitate more sales and support our brand standards. Every single guest should receive a list of wines being tasted with descriptors, pricing and room for notes plus a full price list, order form, club brochure and a pen. Wine club brochures and email sign up cards should be staged on the tasting bar and at other locations in the tasting room. This will help remind us to talk about these important topics.

9. Follow professional sales steps
Use features and benefits to sell the wine, the wine club and the email list. A feature is what something is. It's a factual statement about a product or service and alone won't usually close the sale. A benefit appeals to the customer's emotions by conveying what's in it for the customer, which makes the sale. Don't save the conversation about these topics until the very end of the experience. Warm them up by planting sales seeds and noticing buying signals throughout the experience. As we pour a wine, we can tell our guests what to pair it with. Food helps us sell when we can offer a wine that pairs beautifully with their favorite dishes. Mention that it's a club exclusive or club favorite to entice them to sign up. Talk about the great deals sent by email so that they want to sign up for the list.

10. The friendly farewell
We want our guests to leave us with the intention to return and bring their friends, so let's invite them to come back soon. Manners matter! If our guest has purchased, let's make sure we thank them, and perhaps carry their purchase out to their car. "No problem" is not an acceptable substitute for "you're welcome." Every guest should be given a friendly farewell with a suggestion to come back and visit soon.
Summer will be here before we know it. Are we ready? 

Source: WISE Academy,

Winery Job Index
DtC Job Subcategory


Direct-to-consumer positions, including tasting room and retail staff, saw demand rise 8% in February 2018. An index level of 560 places it among the strongest subcategories, second only to vineyard labor demand.

DtC Shipments

Direct-To-Consumer Shipments

Mid-sized wineries (50,000 to 499,999 cases) led DtC shipment growth rates in the latest 12 months, gaining 21%, while limited production wineries followed closely with 18% growth.


Adopting a direct-to-consumer business plan, which took a year to create, they chose the urban location because city regulations are less limiting than the notoriously strict Napa County rules, which no longer permit drop-in tasting rooms. They purchased an existing building for production and leased a vacant property to build the tasting room and adjacent garden.

150 guests on Saturdays
Typically, 1,500 to 2,000 visitors stop in every month, peaking from July through October, as in most California wine destinations. Saturdays are busiest, hosting as many as 150 guests. One advantage to the city location is that St. Clair Brown can serve until 8 p.m. Plans for the brewery were delayed until 5 months ago, due to different rules, but eventually the plan won approval thanks to the tasting room's food program, Brown said.

Prepared on site, the food program consists of not-so-tiny "small bites", available a la carte at prices from $5 to $18.

St. Clair Brown does not buy advertising, but networks personally throughout the valley. Social media and word-of-mouth are the biggest sources of visitors. Nearby hotels also refer guests, many of whom are within walking distance from the tasting room. The winery hosts live music and art exhibits.

Most days the tasting room is staffed with two or three servers. When needed, most new hires are referred by existing staff. "When we need somebody, they come our way," said Brown, who personally handles training for the small core staff to minimize costs and keep the message and culture consistent.

She and St. Clair contemplate adding another taproom in the middle of the brewery and will also put wines on tap as well for environmental reasons. Currently beer accounts for about one-third of tasting sales.

Servers receive bonuses for club sign-ups, and the clubs (including the beer club) now have a total of about 400 members. Servers do not wear uniforms, in order to express themselves more while maintaining a professional look.

Supplies and equipment
The POS is Square, widely used by small businesses and designed to support the seasonal food program. It's not integrated with the membership tracking system; Brown prefers to have two solid systems that provide the accurate data she requires.

When the tasting room launched, it started with "high grade crystal" for service, but soon reverted to standard wine and beer glasses. Brown said she prefers something that is both elegant and sturdy, and the tasting room's predominantly outdoor serving areas now have just a quarter of the breakage of the fragile and costly crystal.

They're not fancy, but the glasses are polished with microfiber towels for a beautiful finish. A high-temperature Jackson dishwasher cleans flatware and serving plates.

—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 

Schulze to manage hospitality at Wheeler Farms
Wheeler Farms in St. Helena, Calif., hired David Schulze as its director of sales and hospitality leading guest experiences at the Biodynamic farm and custom crush winery. Schulze previously worked at Joseph Phelps Winery for 10 years as retail sales manager.

San Joaquin updates winery ordinance
Officials in San Joaquin County, Calif., home to the Lodi AVA, approved a new winery ordinance that would require wineries to hire parking attendants at events needing overflow lots, increased the permitted attendance for marketing events to 300 people and will allow outdoor, amplified music until 10 p.m. Wineries will also be able to host up to 80 people at smaller events. 

New Tasting Room Products

New line of wine carriers
A Napa Valley company developed a new, "fashionable and functional" option for bringing a bottle of wine to a friend's house or out to dinner. The Stellareese Collection is a new line of wine carriers designed by Rachel Stellareese Davies who owns Stellareese Wines with her husband Geoffrey Davis. The new line of carriers includes tote bags, handbags and travel gear such as backpacks and messenger bags.

Bluetooth-enabled Coravin
Coravin unveiled a Bluetooth-enabled dispenser that it developed with Model Eleven to create wine experiences incorporating food, film, music, moods and special occasions. The Coravin Model Eleven features a color, LED display and connects via Bluetooth to the Coravin Moments app to help users optimize argon usage as well as let consumers learn more about the wines they are enjoying or review recommendations based on previous wines.

Please send suggestions to



Newsletter Archive    
March 2018 February 2018   January 2018 December 2017
Visit us on the web at or call us at 866.453.9701Visit us on the web at or call us at 866.453.9701Join us in FacebookFollow us on TwitterCheck us out on YouTubeJoin Our LinkedIn Network
  Unsubscribe from Tasting Room Focus
  Wines & Vines • 65 Mitchell Blvd., Suite A • San Rafael, California 94903 USA