In nearly every region of the world, wineries big and small open their doors and host on-site events in hopes of capturing direct wine sales.
These events often take the form of wine appreciation courses, cooking classes, pairing parties, festivals, art exhibitions, and live music concerts. Some wineries have even gone so far as to position themselves as prominent entertainment venues.
No matter what your strategy for generating foot traffic is, successful on-site events should be strategically developed to deliver tangible business returns.
Here are some tips for how you can use on-site winery events to grow your business:
Get your Goals in Writing
Establish specific, measurable goals for each and every event hosted at your winery. Never leave success up to a general feeling of accomplishment, instead translate it into cold hard numbers that allow you to objectively access whether your events warrant repeating or renovation.
Some common goals for on-site winery events include:
• Boost brand awareness
• Incentivize wine club sign-ups
• Increase direct-to-consumer wine Sales
• Capture importer and distributor leads
• Foster relationships with local media outlets and tourism agencies
Identify your priority outcome and let that outcome dictate the type, time, place, and nature of the event that you plan to host. Ask yourself: how will I optimize for this goal throughout every aspect of my event?
Your goal will determine who the ‘right attendees’ will be for each event. Certainly every host enjoys a full house, but it’s more important to have the right bodies in the room than just a bunch of un-categorized guests. Your outcome will dictate whether you welcome the general public, or whether you strategically target key players such as accredited trade writers and journalists, appropriate wine buyers, retailers, and sommeliers.
Form Follows Function
It’s far too easy – and far too ineffective – to start with some clever event idea and back pedal from a gimmick into a goal. Challenge your team to keep their eye on conversions and optimizing every event for one singular outcome. Only after you have identified the priority business benefit should you begin brainstorming event types and activities.
Peeking at what your competitors are up to is a great way to inspire your upcoming on-site winery event or event series. Challenge your team to emulate the essence of market trends, but strive to bring a new twist to the same old ideas. Here are some suggestions to get the ball rolling:
• Christmas tree illumination party
• Live music and food trucks once a month
• Weekly live music night featuring a local band or musician (keep entrance fees complimentary while offering wine tastings, bottles, and appetizers for purchase)
• Year-end pick up party with discount deals for wine club members (just in time for the holiday party season)
• Exclusive library tasting for wine club members only
• Seasonal food and wine pairing classes led by a local chef
• Special speakers, educational seminars, trade networking event
• Dinner with the winemaker
• Fall harvest experience, followed by a tasting
• Barrel tasting followed by a 3-course meal paired with sample flights
• Dog day at the vineyard
• Run the vineyards (5K charity race or 1-mile family fun run)
Create a Holistic Calendar
No event exists in isolation. Each is an extension of your brand and each should fit into the jigsaw puzzle of the year’s calendar of activities. Achieve this and you will bolster your business every time you open your doors for a special event, with each activity lending momentum to your bottom line business goals.
Does your annual calendar cater to each client segment, or has some target market been accidentally excluded? Does each event have a unique draw, such as live music, a movie screening, educational value, free food, or a charity tie-in? Do you offer something for every season of the year, or are there large gaps in your scheduling that leave audiences inactive for several months? Hook visitors with an invitation to whatever is coming up next and smooth the path for one-time participants to become habitual attendees.
Build Your Battle Plan
Whether your in-house staff is planning the event or you’re partnering with third party event planning professionals, the battle plan is the same and should include topics such as business goals, event location, budget, charity partnerships, invitations and marketing, trade and media lists, tasting books, stemware, staffing etc.
Take nothing for granted. Unvoiced assumptions can derail your event in a matter of seconds. Confirm exactly what stemware is provided, what flowers (ideally non-fragrant) will be used, what time vendors will arrive to set up, how product will be kept at temperature, how inebriated guests will be handled, and that all accounts are settled on-time in order to avoid day-of disasters.
Innovate your Invitations
Today there are a number of easy-to-use tools that make reaching the masses as simple as a mouse click. Services such as Eventbrite handle distribution and follow-up, but require a catchy message if you’re going to grab anyone’s attention. Depending on the size of your budget, you may consider advertising in a trade publications, on websites such as Tasting Table and Thrillist, social media platforms etc.
Keep an eye on your list of VIPs and if there’s anyone you haven’t heard from, follow-up with a personal note or phone call. You can also send electronic reminders and follow-ups in the final days before your event, just make sure you don’t cross the line between a friendly nudge and a frightful nuisance.
Keep in mind that publishing press releases or posting on events sites opens your event to a wide base of individuals, some of whom may not be ideal attendees for your more exclusive events. Anticipate “tasting crashers” and implement pre-registration or credential checks at the door so you can keep out those who come simply because their stomachs were grumbling for a free buffet.
Treat Club Members to Discount Prices & Exclusive Experiences
Strive to include a built in benefit for club members within every on-site winery event you host. Perhaps this takes the form of special discount club member pricing, a private happy hour before the live music begins, access to a private lounge, or back stage time with notable presenters. Market these exclusive benefits at the point of sign up and always strive to over-deliver on your quality treatment of your most valued customers.
Whether your on-site winery event was a success will harken back to the goals and metrics you laid down in the planning stage. Did your club sign-ups hit their benchmark? Did you collect a handful of promising leads for new importers? Did you reach your sales quota? If so, what do you attribute your success to and is the event worth repeating in the future?
Huddle Up for a Post-Event Debrief
After clean-up and a good night’s rest, gather your team to create a collaborative debrief document and harvest the lessons learned from your event. Whether your event is one in a long series, or an annual holiday celebration, it is easy to repeat the same mistakes on each iteration – but it is also easy to use each experience as one step closer to event excellence.
Invite candid feedback from your staff and take time to cover the good, the bad, and the ugly – what didn’t work, what succeeded, and ideas for improving the next time around. These debrief documents should contain everything from marketing to take down, to packing lists, guest contact information, and vendor reviews. Apply these learnings during the planning stage of your next event and you’ll be sure to capitalize on every experience.
Commit your event-planning team to implementing these simple strategies throughout the year and you’ll put your on-site winery events on track to big business returns. Getting your promotional events off the ground is often the most challenging part, but apply your learning and repeat your events and traction will take hold.