Strategies for Attracting Wine Guests During Winter

Winter is here, but are your customers?

The weather in California is predictable for most of the year, and the cooler temperatures in Texas make the winter months more enjoyable than summertime, when the scorching heat leads many to hunker indoors or head for a body of water. But in wine regions where snow and freezing temperatures aren’t strangers, customer engagement is important when you’re trying to get folks to visit your tasting rooms.

Venues like Gervasi Vineyard in Ohio have an advantage. The winery — which is situated on a 55-acre estate that includes guest rooms, restaurants along with a brewery and distillery — uses all of its available tools when engaging customers year round, especially during winter.

Gervasi Marketing Director Andrea Hartman said Gervasi enjoyed a successful summer and fall season, but moves all its events indoors in October.

Activity-oriented events are a success, she said, as is live music.

“We have already started our Cucina Demonstration Cooking Classes, which have been very successful, and we have a full lineup of winter events,” she said.

Events revolving around holidays and events involving Gervasi’s on-site restaurants have also been helpful for the winery’s bottom line.

“We offer live music throughout our restaurants even into the winter months. Guests have really enjoyed the ability to listen to local talent while dining,” Hartman said. “Our wine pairing dinners are very popular. We will be having a Comfort Food and Wine Pairing Dinner, Winter Wine Pairing Dinner, Chocolate Wine Pairing, Galentine’s Day Wine Pairing, Couples & Cocktails – Valentine’s Dinner, and Bourbon and Bites. 

“All of these events will take place in January and February. We typically hold these events and have found they are very popular because our guests love the opportunity to try our wine paired with a delicious meal or small bite.”

Willamette Valley Vineyards CEO Jim Bernau said the winery — which is expanding with a new tasting room and additional restaurant locations — utilizes its facilities and creativity when seeking to engage customers year round, and this comes in handy during the winter.

“The ultimate experience in a winery is barrel tasting, and we offer a barrel tasting experience in our cellar learning about wines that are still young and how they’re developing in the barrel,” Bernau said. “Learning about different varieties or different clones directly with the cellar team is the ultimate experience for the enthusiast. It’s hands on for them.”

Willamette Valley Vineyards’ commitment to offering a unique experience while maintaining the integrity of their wines led them to do some research and development.

Bernau said his winery’s Pinot Noir Clonal Blending Experience engages guests by allowing them to blend their own Pinot Noir while also allowing them to taste wine from the barrel without potentially compromising the integrity of the final bottled product.

Bernau said the barrel blending system it uses is Willamette Valley Vineyards’ own invention.

“Guests love to taste wines from the barrel, but traditional barrel tasting can introduce oxygen and possibly bacteria when opening multiple barrels and using the wine thief to capture the wine,” Bernau said. “We designed a closed system with wines dispensed directly from French Oak barrels that removes those risks.”

The winery gives its guests the controls to be a winemaker by crafting and tasting their own custom blends.

“The consumer can go and make very fine adjustments as they taste different clones,” Bernau said. “Can taste them each separately so they can understand their qualities, and then put them together to learn how they interact with each other. Oftentimes, they find “2+2=10.” They experience what the winemaker experiences and get aromas and flavors that surprise and delight them.”

The machines are hooked to computers that record the customer’s preference, allowing them to replicate their cuvee on future visits.

“It’s fun for the consumer because they have a record of what they’ve done and they can come back and bring friends,” he said. “It’s not a one off. They can come back and further explore seven different clones of Pinot Noir. Think of the combinations, permutations and different percentages of combinations. This is a way of telling the most important part of the Oregon wine story, an introduction of naturally occurring clones from Burgundy that has really made Willamette Valley Pinot among the best in the world.”

In addition to the Pinot Clonal experience, Willamette Valley VIneyards offers more traditional customer-engagement experiences too.

“In our off season for tourism, we’ve scheduled a Pinot and chocolate tasting, where guests sample different Pinots and different chocolate stations and they love it,” Bernau said. “We’ll string lights up down in the cellar. It’s a very romantic experience, so you’ll see a lot of couples.”

In New Jersey, General Manager John Cifelli said it was business as usual during the winter.

“We are essentially back to normal and our customers appreciate that,” Cifelli said. “We are keeping tasting room capacity reduced, but not out of COVID precaution. We have learned our patrons prefer a more intimate, leisurely tasting room visit and the ambiance that comes with it. Our club member holiday cocktail parties were as well attended as ever this weekend.”

Willamette Valley Vineyards also utilizes off-site tastings in retail locations as ways to attract new customers to their product and their facilities.

Bernau said working with retailers and vendors that conduct tastings has been an effective strategy.

“People will learn about wine brands in a restaurant or in a retail shop or liquor store, and then they want to make a pilgrimage to the winery,” Bernau said. “They want to see the source. They want to learn the rest of the story. Customers at the winery end up being loyal customers at the shop, and it works both ways.”

Working with independent demo companies is not the hardship one might think, Bernau says, because his ambassadors get to train the demo workers.

“Retails require it here (in Oregon),” he explained. “But it enables us to recruit a lot of people and turn them into disciples for Oregon.”

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