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Last weekend I visited the beautiful Rhineland – Phalz area, and enjoyed a wonderful morning at the Mosel Wine Museum in Bernkastel-Kues (http://www.moselweinmuseum.de). The museum is interactive, and takes you through the wine growing, harvesting and wine making process of the region. Quite an experience as most of the best Riesling sites around the Mosel are planted on extremely steep hills, which makes the vine tendering and picking quite challenging…

The highlight of the visit for me though was the amazing wine cellar (Vinothek) which is hosted at the Weinkulturelles Zentrum. A tasting of the more than 150 wines is available for 15 Euro’s per peson. When you pay for the tasting you receive a glass and a list of all the wines one can taste in the cellar. Most of these wines are for sale and all the pricing is also included on the list. In the cellar there several experts willing and able to assist the tasting public. The majority of the wines are (obviously) Rieslings, but there are also other white and red varieties available to taste and purchase.

Besides wanting to tell you about the high quality of  the majority of Rieslings I tasted on Sunday morning, I also wanted to share this story as the Vinothek (and the Museum) is another great marketing story.

A lot of the Weingut’s in the region are very small wineries, only producing a few 1000 bottles a year, and ideally these bottles are all sold “directly” to the public. However, most very small business’s struggle to run a constantly open cellar door… That is why the Vinothek is a great opportunity for them. The tasting cellars are located at café and restaurant of the famous Mosel wine museum in the very touristy Bernkastel-Kues, and bus loads of tourists visit the museum every day. These tourists afterwards take a stroll in the cellars, and about 1/3 of them will pay for the tasting, and another 25% will have a glass of wine at the café.  Hence the winery can attract a large tasting public without having to invest in a cellar door and if the winery invests in it’s relationship with the tasting experts, these experts will regularly recommend the wineries wines to the tasting public, resulting in a higher turnover for the winery.

Speaking of sales, I was amazed at the volume of sales at the cellar. I think this is directly related with giving the consumer the opportunity to taste and compare different styles of wine of a particular vintage, type and area (Eg 2009 Trocket Kabinet  Riesling) in one place; this ability to compare makes them more confident about what they like and what not and this generally will result in them buying several bottles of their favourite wine.

So my advise to small wineries would be to actively try and join a similar set up as this Vinothek, ie a place that attracts lots of visitors and offers consumers the ability to taste multiple wines from lots of wineries in that particular region. Experience tells me that a lot of wine regions have a multi-wineries tasting rooms, and these tasting rooms are often located on tourist trails. Look out for this in your particular region, find out what the fees are to be part of the tasting room, how much wine you would have to sell in order to break even and speak to other wineries in the tasting room to see if this is feasible.

Once you have decided that you want to join this particular tasting room, go and taste the other wines in the tasting room and compare them with your wines. Do involve the tasting staff in this comparative tasting and encourage them to look for similarities and differences with their other favourite wines, ask them what wines they feel would best feature in the comparative tasting and why. Actively engage them in these initial stages and be prepared to learn from them – by doing this you make them feel special and they in return will have warm feelings about your wines and will promote them actively.

Once the wine is part of the tasting room portfolio, continue to invest in your relationship with the tasting room staff, be part of any events the tasting room may organise and visit the property regularly and I am sure you will reap the rewards:)

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I would like to talk about one of the most profitable ways of bringing your wines to the market – ie by selling them directly to your customers. By bypassing the distribution tiers the winery can take a larger profit and still be competitive in comparison to its competitors. The different ways of selling directly are either through your cellar door, through your website or to wine clubs. However there is a catch… When people do not know your product they generally will be not too tempted to just buy it without any recommendations. Wine clubs work well here, you get invited, do a tasting and get the members enthused and at the end of the evening orders are being taken and you sell some wine. You may even get lucky and get some repeat orders – but sales in general aren’t going to make you rich…

This brings me to the third and most discussed way of directly selling your wine – cellar door sales. Its often been said and written that the cellar door is an essential interface between your brand and your customers – its the most common way to directly interact with your customers.

If you’re planning a cellar door or are keen to review your existing facilities, here are four key areas to consider:

1. Location:

Its important to either being close to, or preferably part of, a main tourist route, in a strong wine tourism region with close proximity to other wineries. And if possible do make sure you sure that you are on the tour buss’s winetrail  route. Also invest in good directional signage into your property and a strong entry statement that will entice visitors to stop. Its also important to invest in adequate parking for your visitors.

2. Branding

Invest in brand consistency through signage, buildings, grounds and facilities. Make sure the entrance, grounds and facilities are professionally presented and that you a clear point of difference – something which defines your wine brand. Having a reputable restaurant at your tasting room site will add to your winery becoming a destination in its own right.

3 The people factor – great service

It’s  paramount to invest in great service and to make the customer feel at home.  One way of doing this is by conducting tastings in a jargon-free unpretentious manner – a common criticism of the wine tasting experience for many visitor, yet make sure that the person conducting the tasting has a thorough understanding of the growing and making of YOUR wines and an overall sound wine knowledge. They will need this to answer  your customers questions and to make recommendations.

4. Create lasting memories

The key to sucess is create a lasting positive impression with your customer of their visit to your cellar door.  Word of mouth promotion, either direct or through social media,  based on positive experience is a potent way to grow your business.  There are many ways to evoke positive memories in visitors: there are the wines themselves and the tasting experience, food on offer, architectural features or the opportunity to observe a working winery.  It is a combination of these and other things that create the winning impression.  Different people will respond to different aspects of their visit so it is important to focus on building a complete experience that reflects and complements your brand.

Once people have some awesome memories from their visit to your winery, they will look for your wine where-ever they are. Which brings me to the next topic – availability of your wine in a wide range of places – which is generally created through distribution channels – but that’s next weeks topic

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