Monday, July 09, 2007

Wine Tastings Gone Wild!

This morning the New York Times reported in their dining and wine section, New York Wineries Face Tastings Gone Wild.

NY Times writer, Corey Kilgannon reports that the North Fork of Long Island, New York has been fighting for 35 years to be recognized as a bona fide wine region. Washington State has been in the same fighting ring for almost the same length of time, as both states have been working hard to be recognized as quality wine producers. But for this tourist season in New York, visitors are being greeted with signs in front of wineries bearing messages such as “No Buses,” “No Limos.”

For New York wineries, groups in limosines represents intoxicated visitors who have little or no regard for the wines they are tasting, let alone other tasting room guests and property. At this time the state of New York is the nation’s third-largest producer of wine grapes, after California and Washington State. With Washington state being the second-largest, are we not too far behind the plight of limos filled with people who do not understand or respect the concept of wine tasting or have we already reached that point?

In the tasting room environment I have certainly seen my share of limo tourists that have left with me the impression that their outing is not about learning about the valley and her wines, but extreme drinking --- and free drinking at that! And why is it that several seem to show up five-minutes before closing and hang around like a free happy hour before their dinner reservations with little or no intention of purchasing?

So, what do we do about this problem? Should wineries not be pro-active in elimating this problem from their tasting rooms? Should wineries treat people in limos and buses with "love... and the customer is always right", as Michael Davidson President/CEO of Tourism Walla Walla suggested in the July issue of Walla Walla Valley Business Monthly, in spite of the fact that they (limo groups) are often distruptive to the serious wine tasting guest who truly wants to learn about the wines? Interesting comment from Mr. Davidson as his first tourism job was in a tourist-region of New York. Should the wineries of New York treat the abusive and drunken tourist with love and that the drunken and disrespectful tourist is always right? Davidson also comments that we should extend "sweet service" and reminds us about "biting the hand that feeds you." But - but - what do you do with a drunken hand? Didn't I read somewhere that "...if a drunken hand offends thee, cut it off..." - heh.

Should wineries start charging tasting fees? I know one winery that does not charge, but as soon as he sees a limo or bus pull up, he pulls out his tasting fee sign. Why does inappropriate behavior from wine tourists make the wineries look like the bad guys? Should wineries keep reminding and educating our guests proper protocol when wine tasting? Or ---

How about if tasting room guests take responsibility and remember that they are visitors on someone else's property and not ruin the party for future guests? How about if the guests understand the concept of wine tasting in public places and not act like sophomores at a frat party? Understanding the concept of wine tasting would certainly eliminate tasting fees and terse and unwelcoming signage. Or is the concept of behaving like a responsible adult too difficult to grasp?


wild walla walla wine woman said...

It appears that the Seattle Times also reported about New York wineries dilemas regarding ill-behaved wine tourists in limosines and buses.

Is the answer to hold limo and bus drivers responsible for their drunken "cargo?"

Anonymous said...

A better relationship between the limos and the wineries would go a long way. Not every limo-load is a problem crowd (in fact, almost all of the limo groups I have served have been great.)

The drivers should recognize that the wineries are an attraction that makes their limo service have value. If the wineries cut off that attraction the drivers will have less to offer.

But similarly a good limo group can represent a nice bunch of sales to a winery, so tossing off the limos can also be counterproductive.

I've noticed our local drivers make a good effort to stick with an itinerary established at the beginning of the day, and they make sure their passengers don't linger too long at any one tasting bar.

I'd hope that the NY (or WA) limo drivers could arrive at the same happy relationship with the wineries... but perhaps it is our small size that makes it possible.

Of course, ultimately it is the winery's responsibility to control their customers - whether they show up in twos or twenties - and show them the door if they become a problem. A well-handled "situation" will be recognized by other customers.

Anonymous said...

Tasting-room fees offer one solution to this problem, perhaps the best solution at the moment. But fees are not the ideal solution, I think. When a winery charges me $5 or $10 to taste their wines, frankly I expect to receive tastes of everything the winery makes, plus a library or reserve selection or two. Wineries that don't charge tasting fees can more easily get away with limiting the tasting selection.

Limiting the number of tastes is another solution, but tasting-room staff are then in the position of policing who has had how many tastes, which can be awkward if someone argues.

Two long-term solutions are, one, much more wine education, and two, creating a tasting-room atmosphere that doesn't encourage, if not over-indulgence, then at least loud behavior. Most tasting rooms are designed with a kind of belly-up-to-the-bar layout; perhaps a tasting table rather than a bar would discourage customers from assuming they can drink as if they're at a saloon.

Lenn Thompson | said...

I agree that the already-mentioned ideas can help this problem.

BUT, let me first say that it is NOT THAT BIG OF A PROBLEM. Yes, the wineries involved in the story may have had a couple incidents...but trust me on this, they are the kind of wineries where I'd expect it to happen.

These aren't high-end establishments. These are the festival/party/event-centric places that almost welcome the rowdy crowds.

I'm not saying it's all their fault...but there are more wineries in these parts that do a great job managing drunk idiots than there are that don't.

I did a full post on this:

wild walla walla wine woman said...

Thanks Jeff and Steve for your comments. You've presented some good insight.

I only work less than 20 hours a month at a winery and at this time we have no tasting fee. But it never seems to fail that I will have someone get upset with me because we are not pouring ALL the wines for tasting -- that can be 10-12 wines! There are several reasons why a winery may not choose to pour all of their wines:
marketing reasons (focusing sales on select wines and/or vintages), limited quanity, waste and the biggest - being responsible and not contributing to drunk driving.

Lenn, while rude wine tourists exist, I had to wonder about the extent of them stripping in tasting rooms and purging in parking lots and if perhaps these were very isolated events. In fact, I thought of you when I read this and was hoping to get your point of view on this. Thanks!

Unknown said...

I thought you might want to see the complete story that I wrote for the UB

“Sweet” Service Walla Walla
As part of a continuing travel trend more tourists will visit Walla Walla this year than in any year since we began tracking tourism numbers back in the late 90’s. The valley has become a magnet for travel and wine writers who sing the praises of our home, which in turn has steadily put us on the “radar screens” for visitors from near and far.

Walla Walla’s natural beauty, downtown, award-winning wineries, history, art and culture provides a wide range of attractions for vacationers, and our selection of restaurants is wide enough to suit any budget or taste. New hotels, bed and breakfasts, and guest houses are increasing our capacity to house visitors and many of these are introducing a new level of luxury to the valley. For these and other reasons, 2007 has the potential to be a memorable one for Walla Walla.

But if we really want it to have a long-lasting impact, then we as a community and as individuals have to do more than just say hello to the visitors we meet. If the future is to be anything like this year’s, our guests must leave with as many fond memories of Walla Walla as possible. To make that happen, we have to ensure not only that they feel welcome but also that they feel safe and are well-treated. These are things that all Walla Wallans deserve, too, but we live here: tourists have the option of simply not coming back.

In order for Walla Walla to retain its growing spot on tourists’ itineraries, it is time to look inward: how do we treat our visitors?

In my first tourism job in Montauk, New York, there was a bumper sticker that always made me cringe: If it is tourist season, why can’t we shoot them? Unlike Walla Walla, which has a diverse economy, Montauk was a one industry town (tourism) which made the attitude of some locals even more upsetting. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! When I first introduced the concept of customer service (with the help of the New York State Department of Tourism) you would have thought I was talking Greek. For years Montauk thought that its location on the ocean was enough, though it was only after a season of beach closures, followed by a rainy summer, did businesses begin to connect the dots between their “attitude” and a loss of business.

We must show our love, demonstrate our thanks and make tourists feel special. Collectively this is known as customer service, and simply requires more than basic consideration for other people and regular common sense among the community. If we want our guests to look forward to visiting Walla Walla again, it is time to step up to the plate.

All of these are things we should want for ourselves because tourism creates a better way of life for the community, but if they come about as a result of wanting to please those who are just here to visit, so be it. One way or the other, we will all be both happier and safer for making the effort.

Customer service is at the ♥ of the travel and tourism industry. If travelers’ expectations are not met or exceeded, they will not be a repeat customer, nor will they be our friends.
Experts recognize the key information source for visitors are the employees on the front lines in gas stations, convenience stores, hotels and motels, restaurants, attractions, etc. Plus, the level of customer service provided by front line employees affects the profitability and the "bottom line" of a business.

Under the leadership of Tourism Walla Walla’s Tourism Service Manager, Chris Erickson, we will soon be launching “Sweet” Service Walla Walla. In addition to reinforcing the economic importance of tourism to the valley, “Sweet” Service Walla Walla will help to develop the core service skills necessary to deliver superior customer service. We are planning to run a series of industry specific workshops for small lodging properties, tasting rooms, museums, as well as, going into individual businesses to spread the word of “Sweet” Service Walla Walla. If you are interested in participating call Chris at 509 525-8799.

wild walla walla wine woman said...

Thank you Mr Davidson for posting the complete article. I searched for a link (to save space), but was unable to locate one.

I believe in preventative medicine and feel that our number one concern is the comfort of our wine tourist who truly cares about learning about the Valley and her wines. How do we protect them from the tourist who does not respect the concept of wine tasting.

Has Tourism Walla Walla been in contact with the majority of the wineries to understand the weekend situations that wineries often face with limos and tour buses? Are you aware of these situations that continue to grow as our valley grows? Is Tourism Walla Walla and the Walla Walla Wine Alliance working cohesively with each other or separately? If separately, does each organization understand the needs and motives of each other?

Disregard for proper wine tasting protocol from limos and tour buses were not addressed in your article. California, New York have these problems and we are well on our way. Wouldn't it be terrific if Washington State could find the solution and be the role model for other growing wine regions in our nation?

So with that said, how do you want the wineries to sweetly handle limo and tour bus situations that make it miserable for the tourist who truly cares about our Valley and her wines?

You are more than welcome to contact me through email and thank you for responding.

Anonymous said...

In Bordeaux, the famous chateaux offer tastings -- but the arrangement is entirely different than in the U.S., and definitely discourages the kind of behavior Catie describes as seeing on occasion in Walla Walla tasting rooms.

In France, you make an appointment to visit the facility. You must take a tour. At the end of the tour, you are offered a taste of the wine, the only wine, the chateau produces -- one taste of one wine, that is. And because of the way the French wine industry is structured, most chateaux are not prepared to sell their wine out of a tasting room; you go down the street to a wine shop to buy what you want.

The system seems complicated and stingy to Americans used to tasting several wines for free at U.S. tasting rooms without having to endure a tour, but in my experience in France, their system focuses on education and quality rather than creating a party atmosphere. Other regions in France offer their wines differently than in Bordeaux, though not appreciably. Several of the caves in Champagne offer excellent group tours, for example, which cost a few euros to attend. At the end of these tours you're given a flute of the local product to sample. If you want more, it's for sale.

Most important, the net effect of this kind of tasting scheme in France is to emphasize the quality and specialness of wine. You never sense there that wine is merely an alcoholic beverage to get happy with. You're impressed, instead, by the respect the chateaux give their wine, and in turn you feel you, too, must treat it with respect.

I don't suggest the French system will adapt well to American tasting rooms. I suggest, however, that American wineries might take notes from the experience of their French counterparts.

Anonymous said...

You’re the luckiest person in this world if you have got a chance to taste the ultimate luxurious voyage in a limo. And if you win... that would be great, but now I see it's not so easy as it seems...

Anonymous said...

It's a pity to hear. I didn't know about it. Actually when I heard about such actions, I always doubted. And now I see that I felt right.

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