DTCWW Good to Great Series #8 – Rethink Winery Events

[November 29, 2023 – Sandra Beals]

As our clients prepare for 2024 visitation, now is the time to rethink the WHY behind winery events. Today, most wine brands don’t have the luxury of hosting the same event five years in a row as loyalists want to be intrigued and inspired when reengaging.

There are a handful of iconic wine brands that have built repeatable formulas such as Cakebread Cellars with their annual “Family Harvest Festival” event that sells out each October. Now, celebrating their 50th harvest, this event has become a must-attend for members and special guests. I remember my first time attending this incredible event and was in awe to see Dolores Cakebread serving as a greeter at the entrance. Her heart of hospitality made every guest feel welcomed and excited to be a part of this annual gathering. This wonderful memory has stayed with me for many years as it has so many others as we reflect on the late Dolores Cakebread. She and her family communicated CARE in their thoughtful actions and words. What can we learn from this remarkable example?

Here are top five tips for rethinking your winery events for 2024 success:

#1 Define the WHY of each event. Take time to design an Annual Event Calendar with care. Determine if the event is purely an appreciation or education event VS a revenue generating event. Associate proper measures of success based on the event focus. For member events, decide on the ideal size and setting for each event. Too big can create a feeling of disconnect and confusion unless guests can be broken up into smaller groups for scheduled barrel tastings, tours, winemaker meet-ups, etc. The event theme should be spot-on based on your unique brand differentiators, access points, and guest interests. Leverage seasonal themes to intrigue and compliment the unique nuances of the wine industry. For example, “Spring Garden Parties”, “Summer Winemaker BBQ Competition”, “Fall Harvest Celebration”, “Winter with the Winery Family”, and so on. Listen to what your customers want by asking about their suggestions for an ideal event at your winery or perhaps offsite. This question should be included in surveys and a feedback note can be included in your post-event thank you email. Depending on your wine region, there may be a plethora of offsite venues and excursions that can extend your winery offerings as long as they are complimentary. And, don’t forget to schedule one or two introductory style events for non-members to connect with a fun and festive way. Include some of your VIPs to help share their memories and appreciation of your brand. Pro tip: don’t overdue it. Quality over quantity when designing your annual event calendar. The calendar should include these sections:

  • Event Name/Theme
  • Date
  • Winery Location or Venue
  • Audience
  • Max # of Attendees
  • # of Staff Required and Titles (Winemakers, Owners, etc.)
  • Schedule of Events
  • Budget
  • Measures of Success

#2 Be INTENTIONAL about how your team hosts guests. Create an event schedule and share it with the invitation and confirmation communications. Luxury buyers like to know what they are opting into when investing time. If the event is private or has limited capacity, message that with the invitation. For very small, VIP style events, move away from an email invitation and reach out by phone – this goes a long way with your top lifetime value customers. At time of arrival, match your event guests with the ideal host to deepen connections. Reserve tables for each host to easily gather assigned guests and communicate thoughtfulness. Always use name cards at each seat when assigning tables – have some fun with this and include a Welcome or Cheers message. Be sure to ask invited guests to indicate if they would like to be grouped with friends/family at time of RSVP. Also consider grouping one long-standing member with newer members to encourage important storytelling. Always ensure that your winery events offer accommodations for disabled guests and ask this question with RSVP.

#3 BUILD COMMUNITY by introducing your Brand Loyalists to one another. Once guests are grouped properly, it is the hosts job to be the connector. Take a moment to introduce guests to one another as this is where long-term relationships can be formed. Each hosts should take time ahead of the event to review guests CRM details, past visit history, preferences, home location, etc. Encourage hosts to create a meaningful conversation starter for their group such as “Tell me about your last wow wine”, “Tell me about your favorite place to vacation during the summer”. Include a few self-guided activities that allow guests to interact based on the vibe. Photo Booths, Guess the # of Corks Station, Winery Trivia Chalk Wall, Interactive Art, etc. are fun and low commitment ideas to consider.

#4 RECOGNIZE & REWARD long-time members and VIPs. Long-time brand loyalists should always get first access to event tickets so be sure to communicate this important point. At time of event, there should always be a master of ceremony who addresses the audience with a warm welcome and sets the tone for the gathering by confirming the event schedule. Ahead of a member event, pull a list of 5+ and 10+ year club members and give them a shout out during welcome remarks. Perhaps you have some dignitaries or celebrities to recognize – be sure to do so in a meaningful and appropriate way during the course of the event. There are ways to recognize and reward without being exclusionary. Other ways of recognizing and rewarding include design of unpublished events for private clients, outside of the traditional membership program. This may include special guest invitations to join the family or winemaking team at a car show, benefit dinner, or game suite.

#5 Include a SURPRISE & DELIGHT. At time of event wrap up, position staff at the front to provide a fond farewell and handoff a bottled water or small treat for the ride home or back to the hotel. If bottled water isn’t on brand, then go with a biodegradable package of cookies, etc. Other ideas can include a keepsake photo in a winery branded photo card. Seed packets and gardening gloves packaged in a branded gift bag with a note from the family is a wonderful surprise ahead of planting season. When designing your unique surprise, make sure it is on brand and authentic to reinforce brand value.

These are just a handful of tips for how to go from good to great with your event planning in 2024. These are not one-size-fits all approaches so be sure to make them your own based on scenarios and unique audiences. Reach out learn more about DTC Wine Workshops to schedule a coaching program or staff training.

About Sandra Beals

Sandra Beals, founder of DTC Wine Workshops and the DTC Consultant Network, is a subject matter specialist and public speaker on the topics of direct to consumer wine sales and consumer engagement strategies.