Experience more important than wine

According to Wines of Great Britain’s inaugural industry report, anticipated revenue from wine tourism in the UK could reach £658 million by 2040. Speaking at the WineGB annual trade and press tasting, author on wine tourism, Steve Charters MW delved into what opportunities wine tourism offers to English and Welsh producers and the assumptions and expectations from consumers.

Primarily the level of experience on offer is key. Producers operating wine tourism offerings should realise that they are selling a romantic day out, a convivial afternoon for a group of friends or an important business agreement above selling the wines.

“You can be very skilled viticulturally, or an accomplished winemaker but it doesn’t mean that you will be good at receiving people, being responsive to their needs and providing them with the experience they expect,” said Steve Charters MW. “I have seen too many wine businesses who make great wine but do not put the effort into receiving visitors.”

When visitors turn up at the winery they want responsiveness, they expect someone to deal with them quickly and cellar door staff need to be able to deal with a wide range of customers from wine experts to those who have never visited a winery before.

“Most people don’t know the etiquette and are scared about making judgements about wine,” said Steve. “Your job is to make them feel like the cellar door is a safe environment. The wine is less important than the experience and although consumers are very good at detecting bad wine, they are not very good at distinguishing between good, very good and outstanding.”

The story the estate can tell, the access to information, the level of service and the memories will have far more of a profound impact than which awards the wines have won.

“What keeps people buying is the quality of service, not the quality of the wine,” said Steve. “The key is to lock them into your estate. Only at the very end should the aim of tourism to be to sell more wine. If you offer a bad experience they may buy a few bottles out of a sense of obligation but if you increase the service and they buy 12 bottles every year for the next 20 years, that is the success and the real aim of what you are doing.”

Not considering the development of wine tourism as a short-term sales fix, producers should also look to keep younger generations happy to ensure the longevity of the brand.

“Crucially, young people should be your business,” said Steve. “A 25-year-old who is just getting interested in wine could be buying your wine for the next 50 years. They are the customers you want to target. Too often wineries assume that young people are just there to drink and can be palmed off with sub-standard service, but that is really bad for the long-term image of the winery.”

Wine tourism strategy should also fit into the local area, and producers have a responsibility to not operate in a vacuum, seeking to work with other local businesses, particularly food and accommodation sectors, to make sure everyone benefits.

Tourists are also curious to learn more about the industry and providing them with information on the English and Welsh wine scene can help deliver this. Wine tourism should be a cooperative effort and, as has already been seen in Hampshire, Kent and Sussex, producers should try to work together to promote their regions.

Finally, protecting standards and guaranteeing a basic level of quality and service is something all producers should be aiming for.

“The broad objectives over the next five years are to raise the quality and reputation of UK wine tourism,” said Mark Harvey chairman of WineGB’s tourism working group. “In 2018 we are trying to create a charter of standards to give producers and regions an indication of what is needed to develop a successful wine tourism offer at producer and then also regional level. The idea is to share that with the members of WineGB throughout the year.”

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