The Importance of Staff Training and Development for your Tasting Room ~ a guest post by Mary Cressler

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Today, I am most delighted to introduce you to a very good friend, talented wine writer & educator, and industry colleague, Mary Cressler. Mary is the owner of Vindulge Wine Education & Consulting.

Mary and I met 7 years ago (!) during our early days in the wine biz, in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. It turned out that we not only were working together at an Oregon winery but we were neighbors. And by neighbors, I mean walking no more than 45 or so steps door to door from my house to her & her lovely husband, Sean’s door!

Our shared passions and close vicinity lead to many afternoon and evenings of wine tastings, cook-offs, movie marathons, dance parties and general good times but wine was ALWAYS a constant. We have shared tips, experiences and ideas and inspired each other in our careers (there is even a future collaboration in the works…stay tuned!).

Even though we no longer live in the same neighborhood (or even the same time zone!), we are in touch often (weekly) and continue to share our passion about wine and the wine biz.

Mary recently spoke at the 5th Annual International Wine Tourism Conference in Zagreb, Croatia on a topic that is near and dear to BOTH our hearts and I asked her to share her insights on this topic here today. Please enjoy!

Guest post by Mary Cressler, Vindulge Wine Education & Consulting

This past March I had the honor of speaking at the 5th Annual International Wine Tourism Conference held in Zagreb, Croatia on the topic of The Importance of Staff Training and Development for your Wine Business. As a former GM of a winery, and now consultant, this is a topic I have a deep understanding of, and feel equally passionate about. I was honored to have had the opportunity to share some of my knowledge with a receptive international audience, and am excited to share some of the key points from the presentation here on the M&B Concepts blog.

Why would training matter?

On a recent trip to Sonoma, I visited a winery I had never been to before. I knew of the wines and was excited to be there. We entered at exactly 4:00pm (the Tasting Room didn’t close until 5:00), and were the only people in the TR at the time. After walking around the TR for more than 5 minutes we were finally greeted by the winery employee who was folding what looked to be wine club pamphlets behind the counter. The other employee (yes there were two) was busy cleaning and doing other pre-closing duties. While tasting through the flight I made several complimenting comments regarding the wines I enjoyed (hint hint), but the employee proceeded to look down and continue folding pamphlets the entire duration of our visit. The wine was great, but I was really annoyed! When the flight was over she finally looked up at us and asked us her first question of the visit, “can I get you anything else?” “No”, I responded (even though I REALLY wanted a few bottles of their Chardonnay). And we left, disappointed. I walked in there ready to buy wines, and walked out empty handed and angry. The easiest possible sell was ruined by poorly trained and managed TR staff.

This is a scene I see ALL.THE.TIME. And one that was the primary driver of the presentation I gave in Croatia.

First Impressions Matter

They matter for same day purchases and wine club acquisition, among other reasons. Research published in Wine Business Monthly outlines the growing importance of direct to consumer (DTC) sales for wineries, and the importance of a well trained people lead the way. This same research suggests that only 20% of wineries are effective at selling wine club memberships. This is because YOUR employees aren’t comfortable selling them. In most cases they aren’t even mentioning them! Did you know that the lifetime value of a wine club membership can average $1800? Many of these people begin as a first time visitor to your TR.

Research compiled from the last several years also indicates that 2/3 of ALL sales from SMALL wineries (which is most wineries) occur DTC (vs. 20% DTC in med-large wineries). Of those three DTC channels, tasting room, wine club, and ecommerce, 60% of the sales occur in the tasting room [Source: ].

Slide Challenges to Maximizing DTC Potential

(*Side note, much of this research was published in 2008. This may seem dated, but little has changed in 5 years based on current research)

The biggest challenges to maximizing your DTC potential are resources, training, and having experienced people.

To state the obvious, tasting room employees are vital to the success of your business.

Your front line staff is critical for repeat business and marketplace differentiation, among several other reasons.

My presentation went on to discuss this topic in detail. Primarily, the importance of finding the right people to work in your tasting room — how to find them, how to train them, and how to build them into your strongest brand ambassadors and sales people.

Key points from the presentation:

Interviewing — Finding the right person starts with the interview.

Among several points I mention, I have to point out one of the most important — wine knowledge can be a bonus, but it is not necessary. Find the right person, and YOU can train them on the wine and your culture. All too often I see managers dismiss a candidate for not having a strong background in wine. That is a huge mistake! I often challenge managers to actually look outside of the wine industry to find good people (restaurant servers, flight attendants, hotels, and other industries that require good “hospitality” skills, services, and patience). Wine training can be taught, but you can’t train somebody to have the right personality for a hospitality job.

New Hire Onboarding/Training — it’s more than just turning on the lights.

Do you have a manual to refer to? I believe it is important to have printed documentation outlining expectations and what they will be held accountable for. Then hold them accountable for that knowledge.

Do you provide your employees with information (or a script) on your wines before they start working? How do you hold them accountable for that information? Do you quiz them? Good restaurant servers are quizzed on the entire menu before ever stepping foot on the floor solo. Why should it be different with wine?

A well trained staff leads to consistency and confidence.

Ongoing Development — Don’t just stop with the initial training.

Training and ongoing staff development never ends, and should be a critical part of your business. If you have the time and resources come up with a company wide training program. “But I don’t have the time or the resources, Mary!” Yes, I know, I hear that all the time. That is when you must determine the cost/benefit of external experts and consultants — that’s what they are there for!

Ask yourself this, do I:

• Provide incentives or bonuses to tasting room employees for job well done? Incentives don’t have to be costly — a bottle of wine as a “thank you” can go a long way.

• Give team leader responsibilities? Not everyone needs to be a “manager” but added responsibilities improves engagement.

• Invite tasting room employees to monthly (or regularly scheduled) meetings?

• Solicit ideas from my team? Some of the best ideas I’ve seen come to fruition at wineries came from (yes) tasting room employees.

• Give performance reviews? You would be surprised at how many wineries I know of that DON’T give regular feedback (in the form of a formal review) to their employees. How will they ever know what they are doing right or be motivated to improve on shortcomings?

Most importantly — Never stop training and developing. Use casual meetings as an opportunity to educate and develop your people. A few weeks ago Michele mentioned “Bubbles Friday” as a casual gathering of employees that not only resulted in team building and camaraderie, but also ongoing wine education! Bonus!

At the end of the day there are several things you can be doing to strengthen your business, but keen attention should be paid to some of your most important assets — your tasting room employees. Your tasting room employees are among your strongest ambassadors. Take care of them.

Hire good people. Train them well. Provide feedback. Build them up by encouraging ongoing growth and development.

All too often I hear from winery managers and owners, “I don’t have the time”. My answer to that is always, “Well then you don’t have time to succeed”.

You don’t have to do it alone. Seek out outside help. That’s what we are here for.



Mary Cressler is a Certified Sommelier, a Wine Location Specialist, and the proprietor of Vindulge: Wine Education & Consulting. She conducts wine classes and events and offers consulting for individuals, wineries, restaurants, and event planners.

She also writes about wine, food, and travel on her blog Vindulge. Mary currently resides in Connecticut with her husband, twin boys, and two Chihuahuas, but will be re-locating to beautiful Oregon this summer.

 Weekly Wine Feature

What’s In My Glass?~ by Michele Boyer


Adelsheim “Auxerrois”

(pronounced oak-sair-wah)

This is one of my favorite wine discoveries of the last 10 years and one that I LOVE to recommend, as most people don’t know what to expect, and it is a truly delicious and delightful wine that should not be missed.

A little “Oak-Sair-Wah” knowledge…

Auxerrois is a white grape variety with a hard-to-pronounce name (obviously). Most at home in Alsace, France but also grown in Germany, Austria, Italy and Luxemberg, there are just a handful of plantings in North America [this featured wine being one of them!].

As a wine, Auxerrois can be described as a more full-bodied and less crisp Pinot Blanc. The palate has plenty of lime and citrus flavors, often with a rich, musky profile and a zingy acidity.

Adelsheim Winery

Located in the Willamette Valley and one of the “founding wineries” of that region, Adelsheim is one of my favorite producers, as much for the people (amazing friends there), as for their wines. The Auxerrois was an absolute must-have every spring/summer for my ‘fridge since my very first sip! I absolutely LOVE the zippy acidity and tartness. Retailing at approximately $21, it’s a fair value as well.

Food Pairing

You can absolutely enjoy this wine on its own, as an apertif, but I recommend savoring a chilly glass while picnicking in a lovely field, with a basket of cold fried chicken. OR take your bottle of Auxerrois to the beach and pack your picnic basket with some fresh Crab Salad and water crackers….you won’t be sorry.

Have you ever tried Auxerrois? What’s your favorite “little known” wine variety? I would love to hear from you.

Cheers to a fabulous Wine Wednesday!

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