Some Wineries Get It..And Some Don't.....

And that it is the personal touch.
When I try a new winery’s wine and find I really like it, I’ll usually send them a copy of my TN with a compliment on that wine and a note that I look forward to trying some of their other wines. Often gives me braggin’ rights that “I followed them from the very start”.
I’d say that in less than half the cases I’ve done this over the last year, do the winery’s staff/principals bother to respond to such a missive with even a mere “thank you” or such. You’d think that these days, when wine sales are really hurting, that when a potential customer drops into their lap outta CyberSpace, they’d have the courtesy to acknowledge such. Don’t make much sense to me.
Same story with tasting rooms. I’ll often walk into some tasting room I’ve never visited and the staff act so bored and disinterested; like they’d rather be anyplace else than serving a potential customer. Oftentimes, they’ll give you this rather jaundiced look like they know you’re just there to get a free toot off their wines.
And then at other tasting rooms, like DryCreekVnyds or Jaffurs or Eberle or Qupe; they go out of their way to make you feel welcome and are genuinely glad that you dropped in to try their wines.
How some wineries are able to instill that attitude in their staff, and others don’t, really puzzles me.
End of rant.

It all boils down to the idea of one person who has some level of authority (owner, winemaker, tasting room manager) who can spread the attitude and then the outcome of great service.

This is after all, a romantic and upscale retail operation. Treating people great means they come back. Acting like they are a pain in the ass means they won’t.

And then there’s Rafanelli…

You know I appreciate it - and you HAVE followed me from the very start [cheers.gif]

I hear you - I oftentimes think it is the little things that will set some of us apart, and this just amazes me. I understand people are busier than ever, but when did good old fashioned kindness get thrown out the window [scratch.gif]


A couple of years ago I was part of a small group VIP tasting and tour of one of my favorite Napa wineries. Although my relationship (and purchase history) with them was relatively young at the time, the member of our group who set up the visit had been for several years what I believe most any winery would consider an important customer. Nonetheless, we were treated from the start as a seemingly necessary evil in our host’s day. What surpised me the most was learning toward the end of the visit that the host was simply a hired gun–apparently a free-lance operator who was a “part of the family” of whatever winery needed an additional tour host that day/weekend/week. (That he admitted it to us perhaps spoke volumes about his attitude and commitment to the winery.)

I certainly can appreciate the need to temporarily increase staffing on a seasonal basis, but I believe better choices should have been made on how to utilize the temporary personnel.

Fortunately, this was a one-time issue and all other visits to this winery have been superb.

Visited 3 of the 4 between 5 - 15 years ago. Just an ordinary customer who had positive staff experiences at all three.

I don’t know what the tasting room worker secret is. Good inexpensive help used to be hard to find and motivate (and may still be?). I try to be sympathetic because it’s a job I wouldn’t want and it’s likely that 99+% of the people served have nowhere near the experience level of a “Tom Hill”. But in this economy, one would expect that hired help would be much more eager and that any snubbing would be significantly reduced…from the top on down.



This is an interesting post, and I have an example directly relating to one of your TNs…

I’m a Burg/Rhone guy with little experience, but budding interest, in California wines. A couple weeks ago while on vacation in Northern California, my wife and I visited producers in Sonoma valley with a couple friends. During the planning of the trip a few months ago, I read one of your TNs on Arnot-Roberts’ syrahs and was intrigued by the Northern Rhone-like descriptors. Based on your TN alone (then later reinforced by Jeb Dunnuck’s review and the Asimov article), I contacted them to set up a visit. Nathan Roberts was kind enough to slightly re-arrange his schedule to accommodate us, even with a couple young children in tow. It was a fantastic visit. The wines more than lived up to expectations, and Nathan seemed appreciative to have people genuinely interested in his wine and wine-making philosophy, which he was eager to discuss.

By the way, thanks for posting those TNs several months ago; they led me to a great find!


Glad you had a great experience there, Steve. Nathan & Duncan are absolutely first-rate guys and not at all surprised they
would go out of their way to accommodate you.

Being in the service business, I always give a place the benefit of the doubt (unless I am paying super top dollar) that everyone has a bad day…so I am always willing to give a place another try…

If the service is lousy the second time, it’s going to be tough for me to return…

…you mean like LaTour Vineyards shooting me a personalized email thanking me for my first order with them and mentioning Mr. Tom Hill himself? Pretty much guarantees future business from me.


That’s why it’s fun visiting and tasting with board members such as:

Larry @ Tercero
Merrill @ EMH
Craig@ Sojourn
Adam@ Siduri/Novy
Brian @ Loring

You’re not treated as a customer, but as a friend. This makes for an enjoyable visit. [winner.gif]

Hi Tom:

Thanks so much for posting this thread. We couldn’t agree more. Some wineries really know how to do it. Our experience with the Pax’s Agharta (and especially Gloria) has been absolutely phenomenal. Feels like we are part of a really warm and caring family. And they make extraordinary wine! But sometimes you don’t even have to do that well. When we were in Italy last year, we visited a friend of our family who’s father grows the grapes and makes his own wine. When we visited his cellar it was so obvious to see his passion – walking through the vineyard, crawling on the ground to get the right soil to smell, using the thief with the delicate touch of a craftsman. Just a man filled with a passion for his life’s dream. Granted, it tasted like Shop’n Save vinegar, but spending the time with him, seeing the sparkle in his eye, and the generosity he showed us just made for a great day. Wineries like that should be praised and saluted. What you are seeing is a love for their craft and the deepest respect for their customer. Who could want more than that (other than a beautiful red vinegar)? Thanks again for posting.


+1 They’ve taken a lot of time with friends of mine / family. I don’t know anyone that has walked away anything but elated.

So dropping Tom Hill’s name gets you top notch treatment in south CA. Cool! I’m going to do it.

Now whose name can I drop to get me that kind of treatment in Bordeaux?? Maybe they’ll fix me something casual . . .

I have just sent all of my staff off to try many different cellar doors all over Australia, some of our experiences have been awesome (we have gone in un-announced) and some have been so incredibly bad. We thought we’d benchmark our cellar doors service and see if we could improve it.
It’s been a very interesting and worthwhile exercise.

I can tell you, as the beneficiary of some recent hospitality experience, that your chief winemaker’s a very personable bloke and a credit to your winery.

Yup…I’ve had some pretty great visits w/ some of those folks.
It’s one thing when they’re fellow board members and know you from that context. They’ll go out of there way to host you.
You have some street cred.
But it’s the treatment of the…what did the BP guy call them?? …the “little people”??.. that’s important.
When I’m crusin’ about in wine country and stop into a tasting room…unannounced…one of the “little people”…I keenly observe
the treatment that I, and other “little people”, are given. I don’t brag that I (used to) post on eBob or anything. I’m just there
to try their wines and learn a little bit about the wnry. Sometimes they’ll pick up on this interest and fully engage you (assuming the TR
is not slammed)…other times not. Sometimes they’re just totally clueless about hospitality and the personal touch. Remember one TR down in Paso
where the young lady (obviously hired for her looks) was positively irked that I distracted her from her video game with requests for a pour
of the next wine. Needless to say, no sales from that visit.

Interesting points all to which I’ll add the following story…

I was doing research for winery project awhile back and part of this involved interviews with owners and marketing directors. One interviewee must have cancelled on me four times before I threw in the towel. Two months later he filed for bankruptcy. My point: when you’re circling the drain, trying to survive brutal business conditions, or simply in over your head, seemingly ordinary tasks-- like returning phone calls and fulfilling obligations–fall by the wayside. This partly explains some of the lapses one sees with with customer service, training and follow-through, but does not provide an easy excuse!

Tom; I’ve seen you in action when you go to a tasting room or meet a winemaker for the first time (I will never forget our visit to Jason Drew when he was still in Lompoc). You are quite the inquisitor, not capable of being satisfied with mere tastes of what’s in the glass, you want the whole gestalt of approach, goals, philosophy, background, everything but name, rank, and sexual orientation (though nothing would stop you from asking the last). I say that-as you know-with absolute love and respect. While I agree with you, we all know the countervailing argument(s). Joe Heitz was Joe Heitz, but who can argue with '84 and '85 Marthas? Patty is Patty but Dave is Dave. And I could go on and on. When it comes to tasting rooms with no appointment and no advance word, you certainly understand all the crap the employees see along the lines of the famous Miles scenes in “that movie”. I you are saying that you have sent favorable notes to the proprietor/winemaker and only seen responses 50% of the time, I am surprised. All said, though, this all boils down to the inherent degree of subjectivity bias in wine. The person who loves a certain wine because they associate it with a great memory can not be told that he or she is wrong. They are not wrong. They are simply subjectively biased. The person who says that a certain wine can’t be enjoyed to it’s fullest without consuming it where it was produced with the local food and/or walking the vineyard etc. is likewise not wrong, and in that scenario we have argued whether such is context bias or context experience or both.

Having worked in and run a few tasting rooms …

Meeting with an owner is always different than meeting with $12/hr part-time bar help. That doesn’t mean it should be bad. There are a couple really simple rules to keep reminding the staff:
– Greet everyone with a smile and a hello when they come in.
– If someone is waiting for a place at the bar when it’s crowded acknowledge them.
– No side converstations behind the bar when there are customers.

I feel for the people who do this job along Highway 29 in Napa. I couldn’t do that day-after-day. I also have new respect for bartenders and what they must put up with.

People responsible for tasting rooms need to get it. There are places that made a great first impression on me that I still love ten years later. And there are a couple where the hired help did something so poorly that I will never buy wine from them–ever.

Best thing to do if you want to take the time is an email to the winery explaining what and when.

btw, I don’t think you should be treated any better because of the economic times. Treatment should always be the same regardless of how busy they are, how you’re dressed, or whether you’re the first or last cusomer of the day…