Garrett Sathre started a company called West Wine Tours (Instagram @Westwinetours) with his wife just over 2 years ago. They take tourists around in vintage Volkswagen buses to wineries in Sonoma, Napa, and the Russian River Valley. In the past two years between their four buses, they have given over 5,000 people rides. They have learned a lot about the consumer end of the wine industry while interacting with the people on their tours.
Garrett decided to share his valuable insights because he wants to see the wine tourism industry continue to thrive. We hope you find his insights valuable.
Who Are Garrett's Customers?
Our demographic is primarily 25-45 years old.
What I like calling “the future consumer” of wine. I am going to start by breaking down our customers. I can break most of them down in FIVE groups; Vacation New Parents, Successful Young Women, Wine Lovers, Wine Millennials, and finally, everyone else. Then I would like to talk about what I have seen that works and doesn’t work when marketing to each group.
What I see in the wineries has not yet caught up to the consumer. The few places that are doing it correctly are smashing it. I am afraid that if our area (Sonoma and Napa) does not change how we market that we will die. I have already seen and heard the fascination and mystique with other wine areas, resting on our “history” is not enough anymore.
People are hungry for something else and that is the goal of this paper. I am not a writer so forgive the elementary nature of the explanations.
Group one. Vacationing New Parents (35-45 years old).
This is a large group that probably accounts for half of our tours. Most of the time it is the couple’s first time away from there little ones, and they are trying to maximize every single minute of the day, enjoying the freedom that they have not felt for years.
These customers have a small social media impact (100-300 followers) BUT have a VERY strong word of mouth impact with their friends and relatives. They are a powerful bunch in spreading the word to other like-minded soon-to-be on visitors. We get a ton of referrals, follow-up, and bookings from the VNP group. They will typically join one or two wine clubs on their trip. If we get them on their third day of tasting and they have not yet joined, we know we have future wine club members on our tour!
Key Characteristics Of The VNP Tourist
- Enjoy wine and drink it at home regularly
- Know their favorite wine
- Have been to their local wine regions on day trips
- Understand the basics about wine and are very inquisitive about the process of winemaking, harvesting, and the local area
- Do not care about rare, expensive, fancy, elegance and overspending on stones imported from Italy to pave a winery’s path is off-putting and nonsensical and a turn-off
- Don’t want to be “wowed”, they want to be your friend and when you go back to Michigan they want to have you over for dinner
Group Two. Successful Young Women (25-40 years old).
These women usually travel in small groups and have been friends since college. They are typically from upper-echelon schools. A typical group may be composed of one doctor, one attorney, one CPA, two teachers and the one friend they love to have around who vapes and is still trying to get it together.
Key Characteristics Of The SYW Tourist
- They are likely to have money to spend and to be a little wild when out with a group
- This group has a larger social media following (500-800) but not dynamic. This group has a smaller word of mouth circle
- SYW’s enjoy taking curated photos standing in lines with beautiful backdrops and at tables full of wine glasses
- They are normally more difficult to sell memberships to but will have “day of purchasing power” and will purchase 1-3 bottles per winery, one to drink that night and two to take home
- There may be one friend in the group that joins every single winery we go too, just because she can
- They are not interested in the winemaking process as much BUT are very interested in the industry, sales, gross income of wineries, profit, marketing and how wineries are a money making business
Group Three. Wine Lovers (40-60 years old).
This group has been here before. They came here in the ’90s and once in the earlier 2000s. They are already members of wine clubs in the area. They are very set in their wine ways.
Key Characteristics Of The WL Tourist
- Are not into trendy
- Like older men and women pouring, they don’t
- Do not want kids to sell them expensive wine
- Like script writing on labels
- Listen and appreciate when people that about “scores”
- Subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast and Wine Advocate
- Are not “Wine Collectors”
- Know a lot about the winemaking process
- Are interested in the story of the owners
- Impressed by the imported Italian stone
- NEED to be “Wowed”
- Love single varietals
- Thrive in the 20-42 dollar range
- Believe that high-price wine is hype
- Join wine clubs if the fit feels right, but it has to be perfect
Group Four. Wine Millenials (21-26 years old).
Phones out, boomerang setting on, Cheers! This group accounts for about 1/5th of our tours. Not huge a huge market yet. WM’s are usually sharp dressed and travel mostly in groups. A lot of time they will book two or even three vans. These are major foodies and like damn near everything that is put in front of them. They are here to party mostly and freshen up their social media feed. They travel a ton and truly do enjoy the day, but are not typically interested in conversations with the drivers or wine educators. They have dinner reservations, their trip has been planned and curated based on the potential to take amazing pictures.
Key Characteristics Of The WM Tourist
- Know nothing about wine but are eager to learn (as long as it doesn't require a long conversation with a wine educator)
- Have decent reach on social media (1,000 – 3,500)
- Will spread the word about your winery but only attract their own
- Love going on tours and taking photos
- Want to do something unique - drink out of a barrel, walk in the vineyard, smell the soil
- Know the cool spots
- Follow wine bloggers
- Will join wine clubs for the parties but will not join a wine club no matter how good it is if they have never heard of it.
Group Five is a mish-mosh of Travelers, and Solo Travelers, Budget Travelers.
This group is will not purchase anything. They need to keep their bags light and they live out of the country. They have some of the best stories and are a blast to hang out with but are here to check a box and keep moving. They are an amazing way to check in on the pulse of the world, they are inspiring and know what is going on around the planet. They are amazing to make business relationships with as they are at the cutting edge of travel and understand tourism across the globe better than anyone. They have probably tasted all over Europe, South America and Australia. Ears wide open when you get them!
I know this is all a generalization. There is plenty of cross over, especially in the WM/VNP which is your super hip and savvy new parent, they are in marketing or a business development group, they are smart as hell but still grounded as new parents.
But the real question is HOW DO WE SELL the winery tourism experience to these groups and what groups do we want visiting wine country? The key take away for me is: the wine consumer is changing but wineries have not.
Examples of what everyone wants.
This one is very difficult. How do you talk to 500 people a day and stay authentic? That’s difficult, I get it. BUT it can be done. Be yourself!
Start by thanking people the second they walk in the door for coming into the winery. Tell everyone what they should expect upfront and make them feel special right away, “The tasting today is 40 dollars we are going to taste 5 wines and I am going to try and sneak one special one out for you to try too”. Say it proudly.
Tell them purchasing benefits right up front, “if you buy two bottles the tasting is on us, if you join the club tasting are on us all year!... Kind of”
Take the mystery out of what is going to happen. The most uncomfortable time for a wine taster is the second they walk in the door, knowing what’s about to go down makes it so much easier. Let them get to know you as a person, not you as a wine pouring droid. Everyone except the WM’s want a personal connection. “Hi my name is Joseph, instead of asking you where you are from for the ninth time today, I am going to tell you I am from Indiana but live Rohnert Park now and I am taking wine classes at the CIA, and this winery pays for them! Do you guys want to hear about why this place is kick ass?” . *Explosion* Mind blown, Never have I seen that happened, not once.
ANALYZE YOUR CROWD
Know who you are talking to. Do these people care about scores? (Probably not, and that needs another 2500 words to breakdown). Do these people want to take an amazing photo? Do these people want to learn about wine making? Who am I talking to?
This is important and never done. Every winery goes straight to their stump speech about who they are, why they have the best juice, that they were almost here first, how nice their barrels are, how elusive their winemaker is etc, etc. This needs to change. I am not saying don’t talk about your history, it's as important as anything. What I am saying is, tell us something we want to hear as opposed to what you tell everyone. Make your consumer feel special.
DE-MYSTIFY YOUR WINEMAKER
The man/woman behind the curtain. Everywhere we go we hear “our winemaker…” Do your employees know your winemaker? Do your employees understand their wine-making philosophy, why did they want to make wine, what is it that drives them, what is their favorite wine, their best accomplishment to date, proudest moment?
In restaurants your servers know the chef very well, why is this different in the wine world? Have all your staff spend time with the winemaker, get their own perspective to tell their own stories to relay to the consumer. God forbid the winemaker might actually spend time with us peons but maybe find one that will. Just an idea…
People care less about how the wine tastes than the image it’s associated with.
LET PEOPLE TASTE WINE IN COMFORT
This is a big one. If it is beautiful outside, taste outside. If it is a scorcher, taste in your barrel room. If you have people jamming up to a counter to taste your wine like a brewery in Times Square, knock down your counter with a wrecking ball and re-think your plan.
I understand this is easier said than done and “this is how we’ve always done it” BUT it’s time to change. Not one single person got in the van and said I hope we can stand at a crowded bar and taste wine today. Take advantage of your property, get creative, have some fun teaching your staff the five different tasting configurations, change it up.
LET PEOPLE SEE YOUR WINERY
I can’t tell you how many wineries I go to that have the most beautiful barrel and wine-making facilities and never take groups in them. These areas are where you are making your customer feel special, where you are selling memberships, where memories are made. But they are off limits ninety percent of the time. If you are on a vineyard give walking tours, give ATV tours, give tours, give tours, give tours, keep people moving. Memories are made = Wine club members.
People are here for a NEW experience if we keep doing the same thing we will become dinosaurs.
MARKET TO YOUR CUSTOMER
This starts by knowing who it is you want to attract. I know the second people get into the van which winery they will love. Maybe you could have different experiences set up for different groups? Or just focus on one group with real precision.
It is important to know who your group is and watch them and see how that group is changing, stay on social media and recognize trends, dissect what your group is searching for and what they are doing, stay ahead of it, get creative. This is always something that I have done with my companies and it takes work, but there are trends and patterns that groups are consuming.
I feel like this is a good start. And there is so much more that can be said but this is a good jump off. I could also further analyze group by group on what works but that will be done at a later time. Thanks for your time and reading, love to hear your thoughts firstname.lastname@example.org