Napa Valley tasting rooms take a beating online

by TrevR on April 16, 2008

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A combination of things led us to this post.

Last Friday afternoon, we were reading through some of the most recent comments on this here blog. It’s always interesting when comments appear on posts from several months ago, it makes us feel good, because it means that something we’ve written and forgotten about still resonates with our readers.

Anyway, the comment that caught our eye was from “Cabrilla Azulada”. It was left on our review of the Chimney Rock Winery winetasting experience from back in July 2007. Here’s the pertinent bit of the comment:

Hmmm, we visited Chimney Rock recently and noticed a similar difference in how the tasting room staff reacts to club members (we’re not, otherwise we might not have noticed). CR does have one of those tasting rooms that is obviously set up as a significant revenue stream (the emphasis on the club, the abundance of logo and “lifestyle” merchandise, the higher $$$ for tastings).

A few minutes later we came across this article from Wine & Vines about the annual Napa Valley Grapegrowers “Ahead of the Curve” seminar that was held at Copia last week. Among other things, the article discusses the fact that Gary Vaynerchuk, he of Wine Library TV fame (btw, congrats on the new book Gary), was on-hand at the seminar and had some harsh words for those in our local wine industry. Here’s the key excerpt:

“The cost of entry to build your brand today is zero,” Vaynerchuk said, referring to the marketing value of blogs and websites. “Become part of the conversation, and don’t hide from consumers.”

Napa Valley’s consumer relations efforts are “disastrous,” he added, particularly in relation to younger adults. To them, Napa is viewed at “the big, bad guy,” he said, while other regions are seen as the “good guys.” Vaynerchuk advised vintners to spend time “in the trenches” to make sure tasting room staff members aren’t being rude or neglectful toward Millennials–otherwise, a scathing commentary might end up on the Internet the next day.

Pretty rough, but the point is quite valid in our mind. We’ve been advocating, as have others, for local wineries to get hip to the online world for some time now, but very little has changed in the past year.

Finally, we moved on to the San Francisco Chronicle’s latest Napa Valley winetasting review, this one of Silverado Vineyards. To Gary’s point about getting ‘in the trenches’ or risking negative commentary on the Internet, the Chronicle’s review included a discussion of a poor experience in the tasting room (although it must be said, we feel like the Chronicle played it safe by softening things up in the article). Judge for yourself, here’s how the review opens:

One could argue that visiting a winery is all about tasting the wine. But visitors often remember a tasting room best by the people they talk to while there.

There wasn’t much talk going on during a recent visit to Silverado Vineyards. While staff members at most tasting rooms say a word or two with each glass they pour – a little about the vineyard or the way the wine was made, perhaps a tasting note or two – we got almost nothing from our host.

And later, it continues:

Though our host wasn’t exactly rude, we had to pry yes or no answers out of her when we had questions about the wines we tasted.

Alas, it was probably because we were competing with a cluster of male law school students from the University of San Francisco. One complained that he couldn’t afford good wine because of the high cost of tuition. Later, while pouring his group a fresh taste, she purred, “One day you’ll be drinking these wines every day.”

Now, we know from first-hand experience (read: day-job) that many technology companies are ONLY NOW getting hip to the full power of social media and the online world, so it makes perfect sense for the wine industry to be even further behind. Apparently it’s going to take more and more tasting room visitors talking about blogs, podcasts, etc., a younger generation of wine marketers and publicists getting into the industry and continued ribbing from the early adopters for things to change in any meaningful way.

Kudos to all in the wine industry who are already experimenting with blogs, social networks, microblogging, podcasts and other forms of social media–you’re a rare breed! To the rest of you–it’s time to wake up and seize the opportunity to get a head start on your competitors.

[techtags: Napa, Napa Valley, wine, Silverado Vineyards, Gary Vaynerchuck, Wine Library TV, winery reviews, chimney rock winery review, blog, podcast, social media]

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About the Author

has written 726 posts on The Cork Board. He was born and aged in the Napa Valley and has a passion for wine, writing and social media, which led him to co-found this blog in early 2007. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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