Isn’t this a great question? If you’re a Texas wine consumer, how would you answer the question? If you’re a Texas Winery/Vineyard owner or Texas Tasting Room manager/staff member, how would you answer the question?
Early last month, I learned a lot about my how’s and why’s related to this question. I attended Texas Tasting Room 101 – Texoma, a five hour class for tasting room professionals or those interested in working in a tasting room. It was terrific. The person asking the question, is the woman who taught the class, Donna Rene Johnston of Wine-Texas Friendly! whom many of you are probably familiar with if you’re on Facebook or hanging out in Fredericksburg where she can often be found pouring at the Lost Draw Winery’s Tasting Room. And if you’ve been visiting tasting rooms in the Hill Country for a while, or making a point to follow people in the booming Texas wine industry, you know Donna Rene or D.R. or Dee-RAY. She’s been around since 2010. She has also been tasting room management with Bending Branch Winery and Hye Meadow Winery.
The Facebook group she runs, Wine-Texas Friendly!, is an informational group seeking to promote Texas wines, winery events, and consumer participation in a friendly atmosphere. Even though I do enjoy her posts a lot, what caught my attention? She was the first Texan to earn a Tasting Room Management Certificate from the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University. She completed this in 2013. And among her other fun credentials is recently, she became a Level I Certified Wine Sommelier through the International Wine Guild. Also, I was thrilled to see “we” (meaning people in the wine industry in North Texas/Texoma) could attend a class in our area. Yes! Thanks to my friends, the Davies family at Arché hosting. My drive was less than an hour to attend and I enjoyed some delightful Grayson Davies wines during class and the company of approximately 30 North Texas Wine Region friends including making new friends.
As an update to what I do, check my revised bio for more, but, I’m hard at work growing an acre+ of Tempranillo in Texoma and also figuring out the best way to convert a small rustic old metal barn into my first tasting room. LOL!
When I received the nudge email I needed from my friend, Julie Fredrick Whitehead (Managing Partner, Blue Ostrich Winery & Vineyard) I made the commitment to attend. I was really interested in the topics Donna Rene intended to cover, and I wanted to mix and mingle with fellow wine industry professionals from North Texas. Topics included:
- A brief overview of the world of wine
- Wine in the U.S.
- Texas wine: past, present, and future
- Basic customer service skills – dealing with difficult customers, working well with others, and problem solving
- Closing the sale – tips for increasing per ticket sales, wine club sales
- Professional development – tools for creating a career in Texas wine
In attendance were owners and tasting room representatives from wineries reaching west to east in North Texas: OG Cellars, Blue Ostrich Winery & Vineyard, Arché (of course, hosted us), 4R Ranch Vineyards & Winery, Marker Cellars, Brushy Creek Vineyards and Winery, Firelight Vineyards, Eden Hill Vineyard, Homestead Winery, Castle Oaks Vineyard and Winery, Cooley Bay Winery (just opened in Van Alstyne), the TBD to open Hidden Hanger Winery (Cedar Crest Vineyards in Denison), and the yet to be named Hartman Winery in Sadler. I know I maybe missed a couple wineries represented here. Forgive me. I tried to say hello and capture the names of everyone there.
Let’s all return to the first question, “What can they take home that’s not in the bottle?” For our consumer readers, please know the community of winery owners and tasting room professionals across the state, want you to remember them and return to them. They want to build relationships and connections with the diverse group of people who are the Texas wine consumer. As Donna Rene, a native Texan, said, “We’re Texans. We do what we want.” And we in the wine industry want your “want” to be fulfilled by our messages, our stories, our uniqueness to be found with the opening of every tasting room door, and our wines!
For our wine industry professional readers, here’s a quick list of some of the key takeaways from the day that struck me as imperative:
- Greet visitors to your tasting room within 30 seconds
- Get wine in the glass ASAP
- “Teamwork makes the dream work”
- Use meaningful words in conversations and make them important
- Get technical only when your visitor asks for technical
- Keep smiling, even when a visitor mispronounces Tempranillo, Aglianico, Viognier, and yes even Merlot (mentally roll audio tapes in your mind of real Texas visitors and their interesting, sometimes humorous pronunciations)
- Keep smiling, even when it’s been a busy Saturday, you might be understaffed, and visitors keep opening the door when you haven’t had a break
- Keep your tasting room menus up to date and get rid of the old ones
- Be clear on the number of tastes available and the cost
- Use a variety of avenues to set yourself apart (avenues being Social Media, YouTube, Events, Podcasts, Wine Clubs, and more).
Wow, I could go on and on. I have four full notebook pages of notes.
Instead, I’ll share two comments from friends I reached out to for this post. Meredith Eaton of Firelight Vineyards loved Donna Rene’s reference to the Bible and Christ’s first miracle, turning water into wine, when she said, “Every time it rains on a grapevine, the first miracle of Christ is repeated.” Donna Rene reminded us to go back to the book by Tom Standage, A History of the World in 6 Glasses. I’ve since returned to this book and also found another reference (one of the many) to wine in the Bible, I love. “So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this!” Ecclesiastes 9:7
Sam Lumpkins of Homestead Winery stated, “My biggest takeaway was the importance of having a part-time or full-time staff member handle your wine club and social media.” Even without having a winery open yet, I do relate to this point for social media especially and for future, wouldn’t it be nice as a consumer to interact with the same person related to the wine club? From my own experiences as a wine club member, I do appreciate this specific contact at a couple of the clubs I belong to.
Two other important questions asked by Donna Rene to conclude: “What is the heart of who you are in the wine business?” and “What makes you different, and how do you get that message out?”
For wine industry professionals reading this, I’m fairly certain many of you will already know your responses. Many of you whom I know truly live your answers out loud, which I love. And for Texas Wine Lover website reading consumers, my wish is for you to have two, three, or more Texas winery favorites where you know the story, you know the heart of the owners, winemakers, or grape growers already, and it keeps you going back over and over, and it keeps you exploring the newbies looking for new stories, hearts, and connections to Texas wine.