Rioja's Best Practices for Excellent Customer Service in a Wine Tourism Business

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Introduction

  • Visitors are the lifeblood of a wine tourism business.  The business’s goal is not only to convert visitors into consumers of the winery’s brands, but into brand ambassadors as well.  If you provide an unforgettable experience for your visitors, they will pay you back many times over.

Your staff

  • A motivated staff is a key success factor.  Consider rotating your staff on a regular basis among the options you offer visitors – standard and deluxe tours of the winery, the tasting room, the gift shop and other experiences. This minimizes the possibility of burnout.
  • Working on weekends is a fact of life in the wine hospitality industry but we recommend rotating schedules so that staff doesn’t have to work every weekend.
  • Make sure your staff is fluent in the languages you offer, especially wine and winemaking terminology.
  • Encourage your staff to qualify in wine education programs such as those run by the WSET. In Rioja, staff should take the course on Rioja for wine tourism offered by the Rioja Wine Academy.
  • Train your staff to be able to answer visitors’ (both beginners and knowledgeable) questions about the winemaking process and to be able to conduct tastings for beginners as well as more seasoned tasters.
  • Consider offering your staff a share in the profits from the wine tourism side of your business or a commission from sales in the shop. That way they feel like a vital part of the business rather than mere shepherds of visitors. An additional effect is that staff turnover will be lower.
  • Encourage your staff to visit other wineries so that they can see what others are doing well (or badly).

The reservation process

  • The winery website is the best place to find out how to make a reservation to visit the winery.  The website should inform about:
    • how to make a reservation (via a contact form, an email, by phone);
    • opening and closing hours, days when the winery is closed;
    • languages spoken by the wine tourism staff as well as times when tours are given in a specific language;
    • the cost of the different wine tourism options offered by the winery;
    • directions to the winery.

The reception area

  • This space, that the Australians call the cellar door, is where visitors get a first (and therefore important) impression of what the winery has to offer.  It should be tastefully decorated with images of the winery and is most likely where the gift shop is located.  It is the place where winery guides meet visitors and should be spacious enough to allow for comfortable traffic flow. Toilet facilities should be located nearby.
  • The wine shop is usually located in or near the gift shop.  Wines, prices and special offers should be clearly marked.
  • Good merchandising is key. Products should be attractively displayed.  
  • Tasting areas for different groups should be located near the cellar door.
  • It goes without saying that visitors should be able to pay by credit card or in cash.
  • For purchases of several cases, a ‘dolly’ should be made available to transport the wine to the customer’s car or bus.

Visiting the winery

  • Offer several alternatives to visitors besides a visit to the winery, such as a basic and a premium tasting, a visit to the vineyards and an experience like watching a cooper make a barrel, a “blend your own wine” experience, or others based on the idiosyncrasy of the winery.
  • Use simple, precise and understandable language when greeting visitors and during guided tours.  For the non-professional visitors, avoid overusing technical vocabulary.  When using wine-specific terminology, it should be well chosen, interesting and clearly explained, if possible when standing next to a related image or piece of machinery.
  • Create a photo point or a special place on the property that is well lighted that will allow visitors to take pictures with an iconic element of the winery or experience.  Make the winery’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram hashtags visible.
  • Whenever possible combine the visit to the inside facilities with outside views where you can talk about the relationship of the winery to the natural surroundings (if in a rural setting) and wine’s economic importance to the region.
  • Offer information about walking, biking or driving routes through the region, the area’s historic patrimony as well as cultural events, traditional markets museums and gastronomic festivals that can complement the visitors’ winery experience.
  • Many visitors will bring children.  Provide a separate educational experience for them.
  • Make the winery accessible to visitors with disabilities.

Sales and post-sales

  • Visitors will appreciate the option of having the winery ship purchases to the visitors’ home.
  • A customer satisfaction survey should be made available.
  • Create a wine club and offer visitors the opportunity to join it to receive news, information about new product launches and special offers.

Sources:  Marta Echávarri (The Rioja Wine Academy), Liz Aldayturriaga, Tom Perry.