Ten years of visiting vineyards, ten years of looking for beautiful wines in any given state’s wine making, and ten years of hearing the same thing. Sweet wines pay the bills. It doesn’t matter which state on the east coast I’ve been in, I’ve heard very few exceptions to this statement from winemakers or winery owners. I’ve also witnessed first hand the customers who ask for “the sweetest wine you have”, without stopping to taste anything else the winemaker might have to offer. So the numbers don’t lie, the sweet wines do pay the bills, but are they serving the best interests of wine consumers and a state’s wine reputation? The disheartening looks from some winemakers and other customers tell me there’s another story that is yet to be told.
|Cabernet Franc – courtesy of Red Wines|
There are some universal truths to a successful business:
There are businesses that can be successful in spite of themselves, lacking one or all of these characteristics – but those exceptions are not the standard most business owners want to emulate. We go into business because we feel strongly that we can do something better than or at least equal to what other businesses in the space are doing, we feel we have a good product and people want to buy it, and we have passion for our chosen business and want to share that with our customers.
What’s a winery owner to do?
Plan a tasting menu for your winery. Set that menu to include the best you are making in the wines you want to promote (the dry wines you are putting so much effort into). Include one or two of your sweet wines to show off those products, and add your ice wine for an additional charge if you need to recoup those costs.
If you want to promote a tasting menu of your sweet wines, reverse the process. Put a few of your dry wines into the tasting. White to Red, dry to sweet. Don’t serve sweet white wines before your dry reds. It kills the tasting, and customers will never realize how good those red vinifera wines really are.
Educate the customers, don’t just serve them. Pour each wine into a proper glass as you discuss it – where it came from, what it should taste like. Sell the wine as you watch the customer experience it. This doesn’t have to be overdone, but a wine with a story sells better than a wine without. Don’t risk the customer confusing your prize winning chambourcin with your award winning Cabernet Franc, or your Pinot Grigio losing its flavors and aromas because its in a plastic cup far away from your tasting associate.
Talk to your customers about your wines, make them excited about drinking the wine you made. That may mean spending more time educating your staff on your products and how to gauge a customer’s knowledge level, but it will increase the sales for those wines you hold near and dear to your heart. Today’s consumers have done research on your winery before walking in the door. They want to experience the engagement of your staff and if the staff is excited, that feeling is definitely contagious in the tasting room!
Why do I recommend these steps? Because I was a sweet wine only drinker until a tasting room associate got me to taste other wines… now I drink both!
Readers, tell me what you’d like to see in a tasting room. What turns you on, or off, when you head out to taste the grape?
If you are a winery or tasting room manager looking for information on how to best set up a tasting program or train your associates in customer service directed to the educated consumer, contact Southern Wine Trails for assistance.