I spent this past weekend in Sonoma, California attending A Wine & Food Affair. During the makeshift family reunion for my oenophile bunch of relatives, we covered about 20 wineries, tasting wines and an appetizer-sized dish from each. I highly recommend it if you are ever in the area. Being that my focus is public relations, I kept an eye (albeit a tad tipsy at times) on how each winery approached it.
Here are a couple things I picked up along the way, from the guest’s point of view. Some may seem a bit obvious to some of you. But it was enlightening to experience how a winery treats guests, and in turn, how it affected me. Here goes…
1. Social media matters: “It’s 2011 Dawn, who doesn’t care about social media at this point?” Oh you savvy bunch. But I was actually surprised how prevalent it really is. I hadn’t expected it from smaller wineries. Yet, upon some quick research on Twitter and Facebook, I came to find that even some small places are well-established in the social media scene.
I noticed some larger wineries placing their Twitter handles and Facebook addresses at the forefront, in font as large as the name of the place itself.
Dwindling are the days of relying on visitors to provide their email addresses in a guestbook for one-sided communication. Wineries are fully embracing social media.
2. Authenticity matters: This wine festival is illuminating because an array of wineries participate: big, small, commercial, family-owned. One thing I immediately noticed about each winery was how exactly its product was presented. How available was the owner/winemaker? Or was it just some anonymous staff person silently pouring? As a potential customer, I really appreciated the wineries that had the winemaker at the door, greeting guests, able to answer specific questions about the process of bringing their product to the bottle.
It wasn’t a nameless, faceless product anymore, it was one that was made by someone who cared enough to come talk to me about it. Now that was impressive.
3. Personality counts too: One critical factor that I found determined how I walked away feeling about a winery was yes, the wine, but also the personality. Some of these guys really knew how to engage the visitor. There were the sons at Battaglini who joked and made you feel like part of the family. There was Bob at Carol Shelton Winery whose energy made each guest excited to be there.
There was the hilarious owner at Holdredge whom, upon my request to describe some wines for me, he eloquently stated: “Zinfandel is like Pamela Anderson in a tight leather jacket, like ‘here I am’.” If that kind of description doesn’t make you want to buy wine, I don’t know what will.
4. Smart wineries cater to the customer: This one is kind of similar to the last two. But I have two wineries in mind, on opposite sides of the spectrum. One being a small winery, Frick, located near the house my family stayed in. My family was impressed by the uniqueness and quality of the Frick wines we tasted last year. My father had emailed the owner before our trip and he actually opened up shop on a normally closed day, for a special tasting for us.
On the other side of the spectrum is director Francis Ford Coppola’s winery. Hey, I loved The Godfather just as much as the next Chianti-sipping, Marinara-slurping girl. But his winery… it was suggested by one family member but quickly shot down by groans, the consensus being that it’s “the Disneyland of wineries.” At Coppola, I don’t think they’re jumping to make it a personal experience for you… unless you come to him on the day of his daughter’s wedding, that is.
5. Wineries know their audience: I spoke to one of the owners of Hart’s Desire winery, and he told me that even their wine labels are designed to be pleasing to the eye of their target audience. He’s used the work of a female artist who created images of women for the wine labels. Why? Because women account for the majority of wine sales in the U.S. According to owner John Hart, their rationale is based on the process of a product appealing “From eye, to heart, to hand.”
Correction: A Wine & Food Affair takes place in Northern Sonoma County, not the town of Sonoma.
Thanks, William Allen! (http://www.simplehedonisms.com/)