How Can Small Wineries Be Big In The “Experience Economy"?
Everybody says that people want experiences. I agree. Who doesn’t want a memorable experience they can tell over the dinner table, in a chat, or on social media?
Everybody says we live in the experience economy. People want to spend their money on experiences, not for things. The truth is, this isn’t new. As kids, we learn that a hug and a kiss stays in our memory, while that plastic Christmas toy is soon forgotten.
But what experiences do people value when it comes to wine and wine tasting? Are we giving them what they really want?
On the one hand, we read about the Disneyland-like experiences in Napa and Bordeaux. Millions of $/€ invested in new activities where wine is the fuel and the connecting dot of the entertainment and fun. Anything you want is possible if you have the money—yet this means that having a fancy restaurant or an art gallery on-site isn’t amazing enough to attract visitors anymore.
On the other hand, many wineries that have invested in tasting rooms and visitor centers in the past haven’t updated their services to keep up with the changing desires of wine tourists. They have remained stuck in the “We’ve always done it like this” mentality. They take people around the vineyards, the winery, show here, show there, then pour a tiny sip of their wines, tell them what they are drinking and finish by talking about the price of the wines. From start to finish, the objective is to get visitors to spend more money, not creating memorable experiences.
There is something else that no one likes to talk about—the thousands of small wine business that can only dream of a tasting room, or a visitor center, or the money to invest in donkey rides, hot air balloons, cooking classes, and other similar visitor experiences. In Europe, in the heart of the winemaking traditions, these wineries are so small that there isn’t anybody to welcome visitors, let alone staff a tasting room.
This reality is very different from the sensationalist articles big magazines like to write about. There is a huge gap between the need to create experiences for wine drinkers and the resources we have to execute them.
That doesn’t mean small wineries can’t participate in the “experience economy.” As a small winery co-owner, I would like to share some suggestions about how small wineries can offer experiences that won’t cost their 5-year revenue.
1. Don’t do it like the big wineries—do what they don’t! Go and visit your big competitors and experience for yourself how they treat visitors. Study how they conduct tastings, walk in the wine tourist’s shoes, and experience what they experience. Find out what not to do and how not to treat visitors at your own winery. This will give you a point of difference. We don’t take people around our vineyards; our winery is tiny, so there is no point of wasting their time with it. What we show them is the local culture through a wine and food pairing they won’t experience elsewhere. Salami from the neighboring farm, cheese from the local cheese aging store and local fresh fish from the Adriatic are all things that add value to their visit. We welcome them with music, generally from the 80s, we welcome one group at a time, and they get our full attention. The combination of all these things creates a unique atmosphere and experience that other wineries around us don’t offer.
2. Give them your time because they are giving you theirs. Don’t rush through the “tasting to-do-list.” The point isn’t to get your visitors out the door as fast as possible but to hook them with relatable stories and create an experience they will remember. Do a little research about who they are, where they come from, and greet them in their own language if they are foreigners. Pay attention to them and make sure you let them ask questions about who you are. Give enough of your time for their enjoyment, because that’s what they came for. They want to learn about you and your stories so that they can tell those stories to their friends and families while drinking your wines.
3. Be funny, be entertaining, and tell them about all the misadventures and mistakes you have made. Those are the stories they want to hear because those are meaningful and memorable stories. They could probably care less about your passion and tradition and quality stories because they can’t relate to them. When your visitors are laughing and having fun, they aren’t checking their phones, and that’s the ultimate sign that they are enjoying the experience!
4. Sell without selling. Don’t make it explicit that you want to dig deep in your visitors’ wallets. Don’t be focused on the final transaction in sales and/or club membership subscriptions. Make it a human-to-human experience. Listen to what they say and what they ask before you start talking about yourself and your wines. Ask why they chose you instead of your neighbor’s winery. Treat them individually. Make them feel special, and they will thank you in many different ways. Our experience has been that putting them at the center of the experience makes it so much easier for us. In the end, they are the ones asking for our price list. They ask if they can leave a positive review on Trip Advisor, Facebook, Google, or wherever. Give first before asking for their money.
We value things when they are meaningful for us. And we generally value what has personal relevance to us. Getting people to love your brand is less about product benefits and more about creating unique, memorable experiences at every possible opportunity. Some wineries invest heavily in crazy experiences. Others, like my small winery, invest in creating meaningful experiences through simplicity.
The truth is that simplicity has become a new luxury. People crave to walk barefoot on the grass. They want to listen to birds singing, to be close to nature and love the novelty of trying local farmer food that can’t be found in supermarkets.
Often, all they need is to be in a simple, welcoming, and unpretentious place where they can be themselves. And that’s something you don’t need a big budget to achieve.