winery visitMy wife and I have averaged about 80 winery visits per year over the past 5 years so maybe I’m jaded. And I will fess up to being peculiar so maybe my preferences are atypical. But this recent rundown on Wine Searcher of “advice” from architects and designers about how to improve the winery experience is more horrifying than helpful. Architect Scott Corridan has this advice:

I don’t care about your gardens, signs and cookbooks,” he continues. Everyone has those, but he might actually be open to purchasing them if he understands your brand and if the story behind it is truly compelling….Branding a winery, and setting it apart from its competition, is the single most important thing executives can do, he said. “I want you to get the message, feel the brand and have that oh-my-god-fill-in-the-blank moment [when you visit the winery].

Ah no. I don’t want to “feel the brand”. Branding is marketing and I don’t want to feel “marketed to”. The wine will speak for itself. And unless you’re revolutionizing winemaking, I can’t imagine what message you want me to get. Don’t tell me how much you love your vineyard or how committed you are to sustainability. Everyone says that. You’re making wine not memes.

As to a story. Well, some wineries have compelling stories and some don’t. Most winery stories are some version of “successful engineer and family are tired of the corporate world and find the wine lifestyle attractive and so they work hard, save hard, and study hard to open their winery”. The details of that story can be compelling and original but too often it’s just more of the same. What matters more than the story is whose telling it. Winemakers and family members can usually make their stories interesting since you can connect the personality with the narrative. If it’s winery personnel reporting the story it’s going to be much harder to bring out the personality that animates the story.

The moral of that story? Make the people whose story is being told available in the tasting room. It’s time consuming, no doubt, but that is what makes generic stories more relevant and memorable. To be honest, I seldom remember a winery’s story unless I spend a lot of time writing about it. What I remember are the people I met at the winery and their wines, if they were distinctive.

Mr. Corridan continues, complaining that most wineries are lacking a warm welcome.

Hands down the [Napa] Valley fails at the greet…It is not a Millennial, Gen X or Boomer thing. We all need a human being [to guide us at the winery] because maybe I am not smart enough to be tasting these wines or I need someone to hold my hand and tell me where the bathroom is.

This lack of a welcome is true of the large wineries in Napa who cater to the limo crowd. I can’t say it’s true of the small wineries I visit there. But the general point is correct. A warm welcome is important, although assuming people are too stupid to drink your wines or find their way to bathroom probably isn’t the right attitude to adopt. The biggest problem with “the greet” is that some wineries get too busy and don’t have sufficient staff or space to handle the customers. Correcting this doesn’t require fancy design; it’s about efficiently staffing and organizing your tasting room.

So what do these luminaries think is the solution to the cold, impersonal greeting?

Since most wineries fail at the “greet”, several of the architects suggested replacing the human hello with the sensual flitter of light. Quimby suggests using warm light as an opening for your experience, which can take the intimidation out of your arrival at a winery.

Wait. What? So instead of hiring warm, competent people to welcome guests you want to replace them with a light show? Maybe I really am too stupid to drink your wines. I’m not getting this “solution”. But then here is the real genius suggestion:

At Ron Sutton’s dream winery guests would be greeted with humans bearing tablets and all their information, including credit card data would be taken down. That tablet would then become their guide for the visit.

Once guests are in the tasting room there is a bar in center where the wines are displayed. Then the tablet kicks in and all wines have sensors, so when visitors pour them the winemaker appears on the screen to describe what they are tasting. Then they can rate the wine and decide if they want to buy it. Dealing with the tablet also allows customers to ask questions privately and not to potentially be embarrassed about what they don’t know.

The tablet will then invite them out to the vineyards and regale them with information about the grapes they are viewing. The winery would also have a cinema room where winemakers can tell their family stories and guests could have private parties.

Once visitors exit the winery into the store “the tablet knows what you bought and everything has been paid for. You are now attached to the winery and know the winemaker.” What is more, the marketing department has all their contact information.

Ohfergawdsake. To solve the problem of impersonal tasting room staff we’re now to be greeted with a drone snatching my credit card and then given videos to watch while we drink the wine.

I sure hope the wineries who attended this fiasco didn’t pay too much for this advice.