Today I played tour guide. Okay, I was a tour guide. I met a group of 12 at a winery in Russian River Valley and guided them through three wineries. Along the way, I explained the growing regions of Sonoma County and California wine. The group was mostly from Sweden and for all but one of them this was their first visit to wine country.
From a tasting room perspective (which is, of course, where I come from) large groups have typically not ‘paid off’. In other words, they usually don’t buy wine. In some cases, it’s not the groups’ fault. A lot of times they were never asked to buy wine – a common problem in tasting rooms. A tasting room is a great place to go and enjoy many different wines, but it is also a business and they definitely rely on visitors purchasing wine. It’s the main reason the tasting rooms are there.
Now, to get you to buy wine, they should give you an ‘experience’. They should tell you about the wines, the winery and some cool stories to go along with it. All of these stops today did that, but missed the final step in asking these folks what they liked in their flight(s) and what they wanted to take home from the winery.
I guess I shouldn’t really be bothered about this, because when groups visit my tasting room, I know they will be asked to purchase something they enjoyed. And, time and time again, we’ll finish our days with much success. But I want these places we visited today to be around in the future because they were excellent stops and had some wonderful products to offer.
So many wineries shy away from larger groups and in most cases, I just don’t understand. I do understand a winery ‘turning down’ the rowdy party bus. The kind of bus that is filled with visitors drinking in between every stop. The group that is so drunk by the time they reach the first stop, they can’t even pay attention to what the ‘experience’ is about. No one wants those buses. But the majority of groups in wine country are respectful and understanding of consuming wine – like my group today.
It was really different to be on the bus with the guests. The chatter that happens on the bus is quite different from the talk that happens in the tasting rooms. It was more open and free. It was still mostly about wine, but in a more general sense. It wasn’t specifically from one winery’s perspective like most tasting rooms. It was interesting.
Anyway, if you’re in the business, don’t be so afraid of larger groups. Just don’t forget to ask them to buy what they liked. And if you’re not in the business, but enjoying a day in wine country with a larger group, look for wineries that are open to bigger groups. Some won’t be, but others are properly set up to offer the experience you’re looking for. Do a little research, make some phone calls and choose places that welcome you. You’ll have a much better experience.