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Ben Tex

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How important is the "pourer"?

by Ben Tex » Fri Jul 04, 2008 12:18 pm

I just returned home to Texas from a business trip to northern California. I went out a day early to spend in Napa Valley. It had been a while since I'd made the trip, and it brought back a lot of memories. One especially is how, when doing tastings at various wineries, the "pourer" can make or break the experience. Sadly, this message is often brought home through a negative experience. I went to one "boutique" winery on the Silverado trail, and was disappointed to see how un-welcoming the pourer was, how she made all who were there feel rushed, as if we were intrusions on her time. To me, and I'm sure to many of you, wine is about the experience. I know that had I purchased any, drinking it later would only have brought back the negative feelings. I wonder if wineries realize this, and monitor who they put in those positions. Fortunately, the good experiences outweighed the bad, and the day was a success. I'm curious if others have similar experiences, both good and bad?

Best,

Ben
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David M. Bueker

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Re: How important is the "pourer"?

by David M. Bueker » Fri Jul 04, 2008 12:26 pm

Ben Tex wrote:I'm curious if others have similar experiences, both good and bad?


Too many to list here, but two specific times spring to mind. In 2003 our very first winery visit in the Mosel was to the Christoffel estate, newly taken over (operationally) by Robert Emayel. We had made an advance appointment He rushed us through 4 wines, and then scooted us out the door without so much as a cursory discussion about the estate/wine making practices/etc. Worst visit of the trip, and the chief reason I will not buy Monchof (Emayel) wines.

The other bad one was at Domaine Weinbach (same trip) where we again had made an advance appointment which they forgot, then tried to blow off, then after again rushing us through some things initially refused to sell us even a bottle of wine. I had to nearly beg (in limited French) to pick up a few things that we really liked that were not available at home. I have not bought a bottle of Weinbach since then.

We have had a huge number of great experiences. Places like Chateau St. Jean, Coturri, Ravenswood, Vollenweider, Donnhoff, St. Urbans-Hof, Paumanok, Afton Mountain, Selbach-Oster etc. have been more than welcoming, and made for an unforgettable experience.
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Peter May

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Re: How important is the "pourer"?

by Peter May » Fri Jul 04, 2008 1:13 pm

The tasting counter experience is vital, and I can think of several wineries that would be doing themselves a favour if they closed theirs so they couldn't put off any more potential customers.

I think that too many open a tasting room thinking that is is just a shop or because they think that it is just something they have to do.

Visiting wineries to taste is today a branch of tourism with the sting that the visitors experience will affect their perception of the brand. The fact that a visitor doesn't buy even one bottle at the winery is neither here nor there. These days there are many inhibitors to visitors carrying wine home.

One bottle or even a dozen are neither here nor there. It is what happens when that vistor returns home. Give a good experience and you may gain a customer for the rest of their life, whereas a poor experience may mean they refuse to ever buy their wines again.

More than 30 years ago I had a visit to Chateau Batailley in Pauillac. I knew almost nothing about wine then. We were made to feel very welcome and for more than 30 years Ch Batailley has been 'my' claret. For many years I bought cases of it every year en primeur, I still buy it, there has never been a time when I haven't has some Batailley in my cellar.

There are other wineries tho, where my experience has been such that I have never bought their wines again. Illogical I know, but there are a hell of a lot of wines out there and when I see a 'friend' on the store shelf I'm going to buy it over one that I have negative feeling for.

But working in a tasting room must be really hard work. To be pleasant, to answer the same questions time after time, to treat the complete novice and the utter know-all in the correct manner is a job for a genius. And they shoudl certainly be paid more than they are.

Bottom line for a winery. Do the job properly or don't do it at all.
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Ian Sutton

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Re: How important is the "pourer"?

by Ian Sutton » Fri Jul 04, 2008 2:09 pm

Some good recent-ish ones in Italy

Drei Dona (Emilia-Romagna) - very welcoming despite a delivery driver having made a mess of the overhanging roof a few minutes before our arrival

Renzo Accommasso - Spent ages chatting to us about this and that (and humouring my very poor Italian). Still going strong after (IIRC) 60 years of winemaking.

Armando Brezza - Ok, a little easier as we were staying there, but home made food, prepeared in-situ to match the wines.

The other winery that springs to mind, is Kings of Kangaroo Ground outside of Melbourne & on the edge of the Yarra Valley. It's a winery & post office combined and the eponymous Ken King shares his time between the two ... which means he may break away after pouring a wine, to arrange for someone's parcel to get despatched. It's somewhat surreal, but he's working so hard, there's no complaints from either set of customers. In addition he was happy to talk us through the winemaking process, tasting along the way... "Oh - this wine has started fermenting already - here have a taste".

Bad experiences have fallen into two camps
1) Some sort of building work or other major activity - generally understandable, but Howard Park did a great job of ruining the good vibe from our first trip
2) Inexperienced or 'barkeep' style staff. It's different to working a bar and it's key to build knowledge & understanding up in cellar door staff, to give your wines the chance to shine.
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Mark Willstatter

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Re: How important is the "pourer"?

by Mark Willstatter » Fri Jul 04, 2008 3:24 pm

Peter May wrote:The fact that a visitor doesn't buy even one bottle at the winery is neither here nor there.


It's not exactly on-topic but IMHO you've over-generalized to the point of inaccuracy here. I'm speaking primarily of California, which is what I'm most familiar with but I suspect it would probably apply to wineries elsewhere well. What you say is valid if we're talking about a big, internationally-distributed winery. But reality is that in California many - probably a majority - of wineries with tasting rooms are small wineries that don't distribute in many US states, let alone internationally. Yes, the winery should be interested in visitors having good experiences but the motivation for, as you say, positively "affecting their perception of the brand" is to enhance prospects that they'll visit the tasting room again and buy more wine. In other words, the purpose of most tasting room is not to enhance brand perception but instead - believe it or not - to sell wine. This isn't restricted to California: you're right if I travel to Europe and visit Lafite Rothschild and they treat me badly, they no doubt don't care if I don't buy wine and when I go home, I'll probably not buy Lafite Rothschild. But if I'm visiting a Mom-and-Pop bodega in Spain, you can bet they're hoping I'll buy some wine; it matters not at all to them whether they've enhanced their brand because I won't find their wine on the shelf at home in the US. I think the Mom-and-Pop bodega is more representative of most tasting rooms than the big corporate version.

Of course, whether winery intends to enhance it's brand or to sell wine, a good visitor experience is in their interest. But I think you misunderstand the purpose of many, probably most, tasting rooms.
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Mark Willstatter

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Re: How important is the "pourer"?

by Mark Willstatter » Fri Jul 04, 2008 3:59 pm

Ben Tex wrote:I just returned home to Texas from a business trip to northern California. I went out a day early to spend in Napa Valley. It had been a while since I'd made the trip, and it brought back a lot of memories. One especially is how, when doing tastings at various wineries, the "pourer" can make or break the experience. Sadly, this message is often brought home through a negative experience. I went to one "boutique" winery on the Silverado trail, and was disappointed to see how un-welcoming the pourer was, how she made all who were there feel rushed, as if we were intrusions on her time. To me, and I'm sure to many of you, wine is about the experience. I know that had I purchased any, drinking it later would only have brought back the negative feelings. I wonder if wineries realize this, and monitor who they put in those positions. Fortunately, the good experiences outweighed the bad, and the day was a success. I'm curious if others have similar experiences, both good and bad?

Best,

Ben


FWIW, if you're looking for a positive tasting experience, Napa is not a destination that offers great odds of finding it. That's a generalization, of course - there are good experiences to be found in Napa - but wine tasting is so long established as adult tourism there (the "adult Disneyland", I've heard it called) that your chances of finding somebody who's actually involved with the wine are low. The odds rise, of course, if you visit a smaller, by-appointment kind of place.

I more or less gave up wine tasting in Napa twenty years ago or so when I discovered how much more pleasant it can be elsewhere. My observation was that there are places in CA where the wine can be good but the experience awful (Napa) or the vice versa (I found several of those in the Hecker Pass area, near Gilroy, south of the Bay Area). But there are areas where you can taste quality wine and have the opportunity to talk to someone knowledgable: Sonoma County, Sierra Foothills, Santa Cruz Mountains, Anderson Valley being examples. Like you, everybody from out-of-state gravitates toward Napa if they haven't visited before. But I'd suggest if you visit again that you consult here for suggestions. If it you're visiting the Bay Area and have just one extra day, think Sonoma or Santa Cruz Mountains.
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Rahsaan

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Re: How important is the "pourer"?

by Rahsaan » Fri Jul 04, 2008 5:07 pm

I haven't had any really 'bad' experiences that made me not want to purchase wines from a particular producer, but I've certainly had a range of experiences and the brisk cold ones where I can only speak with relatively un-knowledgable staff are definitely less desirable.

For what it's worth, I much prefer situations where I've made an appointment and have signaled my interest in more than just consuming alcohol well before I arrive. Have been to a few places in CA where you just show up and drink and it's rarely been very rewarding.
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Ian Sutton

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Re: How important is the "pourer"?

by Ian Sutton » Fri Jul 04, 2008 5:14 pm

Rahsaan wrote:For what it's worth, I much prefer situations where I've made an appointment and have signaled my interest in more than just consuming alcohol well before I arrive. Have been to a few places in CA where you just show up and drink and it's rarely been very rewarding.

Very much makes a difference IMO.
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Peter May

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Re: How important is the "pourer"?

by Peter May » Sat Jul 05, 2008 1:29 pm

Mark Willstatter wrote:
Peter May wrote:The fact that a visitor doesn't buy even one bottle at the winery is neither here nor there.
But I think you misunderstand the purpose of many, probably most, tasting rooms.


I don't think so. You state the case of a small winery that sells only through its tasting room. Its just as important for them to convert visitors into buyers and buyers into repeat buyers.

If they put off the visitor they may not even buy one bottle, but even if they do they will not return to buy more, they will not recommend it as a place to visit to their friends, in fact they may warn people to avoid it.

Its still a brand whether its an international company or a one man 100 case winery.
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Brian K Miller

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Re: How important is the "pourer"?

by Brian K Miller » Sat Jul 05, 2008 2:56 pm

"FWIW, if you're looking for a positive tasting experience, Napa is not a destination that offers great odds of finding it. That's a generalization, of course - there are good experiences to be found in Napa - but wine tasting is so long established as adult tourism there (the "adult Disneyland", I've heard it called) that your chances of finding somebody who's actually involved with the wine are low. The odds rise, of course, if you visit a smaller, by-appointment kind of place."

As a resident of the next door county, I'm not sure I would go this far, either. Sure, it may be an Adult Dsneyland, but most of the smaller ones still offer a decent experience. There are more Disneylandish places (Peju comes to mind), but overall I am impressed, on average, with how much effort many of the wineries put out.
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