It didn’t take Nick long to understand what the man had told him. The problem was that he didn’t start trying to understand it until he spent a few days behind the tasting bar, well after starting his business.
The tasting room “customers” were not at all how he imagined wine drinkers would be as customers. Truth be told, he didn’t like a lot of them, the true tourists, the ones with time on their hands, money in their wallets, and not an ounce of natural curiosity; the kind that came to the Finger Lakes of New York looking for wine that tastes like a massive red from Napa Valley, California.
From not liking them much, Nick segued into having to figure out either how to sell to them or how to change their minds, if he was going to have a successful winery, that is.
One way to start, he thought, even as late as he was at it, would be to join the local American Wine Society (AWS) chapter. The organization had a reputation for mixed membership that included general consumers, home winemaker hobbyists, and professionals in the wine business.
True, there was a decided academic slant to the group, but that might have been for two reasons: the organization certainly appealed to home winemakers and a lot of those people turned out to be profs at universities, especially the ones in the microbiology department; second, thinking in the theoretical suits those who would tell others how to make wine commercially rather than to actually become entrepreneurs themselves—those kinds of people like to congregate and jawbone.
Still, the local AWS chapter had its share of general consumers. The cross section of people surely would give Nick experience in learning what consumers seek and how they can be approached.
AWS allowed members to bring guests to one meeting so that the guests could experience before joining. Nick and Theresa became the guests of one of the local winemaker members of the organization. The meeting was large—about 20 people—and the cross section of members went from grape growers to high school teachers to retired corporate people (mostly engineers) to college professors to winemakers, most with a spouse, a few as singles.
For each meeting, members were to bring a bottle of wine to share as an aperitif tasting before the meeting began and a bottle of wine for the blind tasting/evaluation that would take place after the business of the group was completed. The blind tasting was usually a theme that was announced in advance. For this meeting, the theme was Cayuga White, a local hybrid grape that at the time was readily available and popular in the Finger Lakes.
Nick had tasted a few Cayuga wines and liked some of them, but he certainly had no idea that he was an expert at the stuff. What Cayuga he had tasted inspired him to refer to the wine as “the Chenin Blanc of the East.” He also had no idea which was considered the best Cayuga producer, as he wanted to bring a bottle of the region’s best for the blind tasting. He took someone’s word for it and brought the Cayuga that John down the road from him produced.
In addition to the wines, people were asked to bring a dish to pass. At the end of the meeting and blind tasting, everyone ate the food and slurped the remaining wines. Usually, there was a semi-orderly mostly mad rush to the bottles as soon as the tasting ended because everyone knew that the top wines in the blind tasting emptied quickly.
Nick hated potluck dining and he saw it as a cultural failing to ask guests to bring their own food to your home. The food was served buffet style—something else Nick hated—but he could do nothing to change the local AWS custom, so he went along with it in someone else’s home but vowed to offer sit down wine and food evenings when his turn came to host.
With an evening of wine and conversation in front of him, Nick was excited at his first AWS meeting. He didn’t get to do much consumer study as everyone gathered for the greeting and then the meeting, but he figured that would come after he settled in, and so, after sampling an insipid home made wine that someone had brought, he found a sink in which to dump it, headed for a commercial wine to taste, and began to settle in...
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Copyright Thomas Pellechia
June 2010. All rights reserved.
June 2010. All rights reserved.