note: This post is written as advice for winemakers offering tours. If you are looking to participate in a wine tour, you can learn about our winery visits and wine tastings.
By looking at feedback we receive from our clients through social media and review sites like TripAdvisor, we’ve learned a surprising lesson about the top priorities for travelers visiting a winery. Almost all reviews highlight a casual, relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.
TripAdvisor reviews about hospitality and atmosphere
- “Joe, Liz and Ryan are excellent hosts, and we all immediately felt relaxed in their company.”
- “The O’Connell family is warm, friendly, and kind.”
- “Ryan: some guy JUST LIKE ME, yet with an encyclopediac knowledge and passionate interest in grapes (and all that goes one with them!). There is no pretension or snobbery here – just big smiles and AMAZING wine.”
- “Ryan, Joe and Liz made us truly welcome”
- “As well as the gorgeous wine the other outstanding thing at O’Vineyards is the great hospitality and wonderful food.”
- “Instantly I felt at home.”
- “Then we relaxed in the cellar”
- “Not to worry”
- “The owners Liz and Joe were so friendly and inviting. From the moment we arrived we were greeted with smiles and friendliness.”
- “C’était une très agréable visite pour nous, surtout parce que nous n’étions pas les seuls à nous amuser–eux aussi!”
These are all excerpts from tripadvisor reviews we’ve received in the past year or so. I think TripAdvisor is more than just a new arm of marketing/PR. These reviews are really helpful because they give amazing insight into the psychology of our visitors.
A recurring theme that leaps out of our reviews is a focus on feeling relaxed, welcomed, and unpretentious. Some reviews include detailed accounts of visiting the winery, tasting from barrels, looking at vines, and other more technical aspects of the tour. But virtually all the reviews talk about atmosphere, hospitality, friendliness, relaxing, and so on.
This was an exceptionally important realization. We were very focused on providing good information, great wine, good tasting conditions, and so on. Of course, these things are important, but we now learn that putting your guests at ease is even more crucial. The wine doesn’t have to be at exactly 17 degrees centigrade and served in finest crystal. But you do have to be smiling, welcoming, and fun to be around.
Quality of food and wine
All that said, it is really important that the wine tastes great. The quality of the wine is mentioned in virtually every review. And literally everybody who ate my mom’s cooking at the end of the tour has mentioned how good she is in the kitchen. So food is exceptionally important.
Don’t be pretentious
The point of this post is to share surprising lessons from TripAdvisor reviews. We’re not surprised that people want good food and wine.
We were sort of surprised at how much of the reviews are devoted to explaining that we are nice people. Being friendly and unpretentious is super-important!
Since I know a lot of really friendly people in the wine trade, and because I’m pretty confident about my wine knowledge, I had forgotten how intimidating this world is. And a lot of our visitors share horror stories about visiting wineries and wine shops where the wine tasted great but the service was awful. Usually these stories focus around a person who clearly knows a lot about wine and serves delicious wine, but treats the visitors like dirt just because they’re not as knowledagable or rolls their eyes at simple questions. And even if these stories constitute a minority of wine experiences, they scare people to death!
A quick look at our reviews reveals that people are really worried that the atmosphere won’t be relaxed or welcoming. And so they are very pleased to discover it is!
So don’t be a jerk! Smile a lot. Remember that nobody is born knowing a lot about wine. And even very well educated people don’t know everything. And smile again. Your guests will appreciate it!
More practical advice
Aside from smiling, there are a few things we’ve started doing differently because of this discovery.
- Communicate on the fact that our wine tour isn’t for snobs.
- Feature customer testimonial from people who say “this was my first winery tour and…”
- Feature customer testimonial with words like “welcoming” and “relaxed”
- When guests arrive, put them at ease
- Tell them to interrupt you
- Insist that they can ask questions
- Look at everybody in the group while you talk, even (especially?) children
- Don’t get too distracted by technical elements of the tour – if serving the wine at just the right temperature in a specific type of glass is impossible, don’t worry. Never neglect your guests to attend to some detail they don’t even care about.
- Small doses of self-effacing humor help, but don’t get too morose
- If you’re too busy to give a good tour, let your guests know beforehand. Explain what’s going on and ask if they’ll put up with these circumstances. Offer them a free glass of wine if they’re unhappy. Small groups are generally willing to wait fifteen minutes if it’s with free wine. 🙂
We were already doing simple stuff like smiling and being nice. But taking these extra steps has resulted in even better feedback and even happier visitors. And I assume this is how we got so well ranked on TripAdvisor!
After reading hilarious ironic praise for poorly designed restaurant websites, I feel inspired.
First, I’m going to start making blog posts for some of the restaurants around Aude. Some of them have no websites. A few have the sort of crappy, flash animation intro, easy listening muzak-laden, unreadable font colors, and generic sounding mission statements that we love to hate. And some of them actually have great websites. Anyway, I’m going to make short posts with the restaurant’s name, the opening hours, the reservation policy, address, and phone number. And I bet this will be exceptionally useful to all the foodies in Aude. Or maybe I’ll just be like a second rate tripadvisor. I don’t know. But it’s worth trying out.
Second, I’d like to mimic this tumblr’s “How to make a less horrible website” instructions. Let’s determine some guidelines to make a tiny winery website that actually answers the needs of an online visitor. It won’t be as simple as the restaurant since almost everybody visits restaurant websites for the same reason… But we could at least come up with some basic guidelines.
On the tail of posting the “winemaker drinks dirt” video, I’ve been having lots of conversations about how I choose my content. Between O’Vineyards and Love That Languedoc, I’ve done very silly videos, very informative videos, straight documentary, and very casual “slice of life” videos. And people weigh in all over the place. Some think that I should only do the goofy stuff that goes viral. Other people think that it’s demeaning and that I would be better off focusing on serious things. Some people think I should do more tastings, and some other people think I should avoid becoming “the French Gary Vaynerchuk” or “the French other-famous-wine-guy”.
I think that a fair amount of wine blogs tend to focus on vineyard/weather updates or promotional stuff that the winery is participating in. There are some local event posts. I want to have all of that too. After all, my readers are here for a vineyard blog (not a personal blog). You’re not here to read about my pet dog’s eating habits or my relationship status.
So there are a lot of choices on blog subjects and I have to decide what to post.
How do I decide what to post?!
I really don’t know. I guess it’s a careful balance of entertainment, education, and narcissism. Ya. To some extent, I want to entertain you. To a great extent I want to entertain myself. And I’m a huge nerd so I need things to be hyper-referential and very well-informed. Even my goofy gag videos like dirt-drinking are super-nerdy. Or maybe I’m flattering myself (but that just proves how important a part narcissism plays).
Anyway, if I only wanted to make the greatest number of people laugh, I should run a generic meme blog that just links to videos of kittens sneezing and babies biting their siblings. But I think I’d be bored out of my mind and sort of ashamed of that blog. I really like wine and I have a lot of access to wine-related content so I blog about wine. If I get an idea/opportunity, regardless of how silly or serious it is, I try to pursue it. And there you have it. That’s my process.
The less I obsess over what to include and what to exclude, the closer I get to just being myself. Thankfully, it seems people really appreciate that. Thanks for following all of our adventures at O’Vineyards regardless of how silly or serious they get.