Wine Tasting Room Success: The Right Referral
In regions like Napa, Sonoma, Anderson Valley, Finger Lakes and other wine producing regions where visitors have great choice which tasting rooms they'll visit and which bars they'll belly up to, the best piece of marketing a winery tasting room can employ is other tasting rooms.
Put another way…referrals.
The couple or group of couples standing at a winery tasting room bar and happily sipping on wine, talking about what they like and don't like and thinking about how much wine they want to bring home or have shipped home is a most coveted prospect for other wineries. These happy, lucky wine drinkers have already committed to a day of wine tasting and wine buying. All that's needed now is a little push from the tasting room attendant in front of them to get them down to your winery.
One of the things I've noticed since moving to Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley is the much more sophisticated approach Napa's hospitality community takes in its tasting room marketing. But what is even more interesting is the methodical way by which many hospitality professionals find just the right group of winery hospitality professionals to create a Referral Circle: a group of five to ten wineries that refer visitors to one another.
While these five to ten wineries that refer visitors to one another often compete over the same "Cabernet Sauvignon dollars" out of necessity (it is Napa, after all), they do tend to look for referral partners that are not too far away, produce other types of wines that they themselves don't, that provide excellent customer service and that have a reputation for quality at a similar level to their own.
Interestingly, this Referral Circle that is created among wineries is not something that is methodically constructed or even formalized in any way. It appears to be developed over time as relationships are developed and as potential referral partners demonstrate their ability to send over good buyers. The Circle will change over time too as it becomes clear that one partner is not sending over good prospects or fails to send any at all.
What seems clear is that over here in Napa these semi-formal Circles are understood by hospitality professionals to be critical to their success. One Director of Hospitality and Sales in Napa Valley I spoke with said straight out that they would probably give up their 90 point wine reviews before giving up their referrals.
While the various referral circles in Napa Valley overlap, one criteria is most critical for keeping your tasting room within the circles: customer service.
"Without a doubt it's going to be bad customer service that gets a winery taken off my referral list," said one hospitality professional. "If the customer service that my client gets at another winery is poor, it may as well be my own staff that is not providing good service since it will reflect directly on us and our wines."
How referrals are given out varies. Some referrals only happen when the customer is already in the tasting room. Others happen at the time the tasting appointment is made over the phone or via email.
It should be noted that Referral Circles are most vitally important and most common among the "By Appointment Only" tasting rooms in Napa Valley, which represent the majority of tasting rooms in the Valley. While these tasting rooms often get "drive ups", most of the tasting happens after a reservation is made a day, weeks or even months in advance. Some tasting room directors will send their list of "recommended wineries" out to the client in advance of the tasting date so the client can make other reservations without the Referral Circle.
These days marketers and tasting room professionals are asked to give a great deal of thought to Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other third party endorsement/Social Media tools. But what's clear is that the simple, old-fashioned, peer-delivered, one-on-one referral remains the most valuable and reliable that a winery can get…and give.