Wine Tasting in Napa Valley - It's All About the Experience

My wife, Sally, and I recently made our annual trip to Napa Valley to do some wine tasting and stock up on wine. It dawned on me that we go back every year for the wine but also the experiences. There really is a lot to learn about service from these wineries! So, here's a quick summary of where we go, why we go, and what we can learn from it all.


There are not a lot of major chain hotels in the Napa Valley area, so the way to go is a nice inn or B&B. We enjoy staying at the Napa River Inn in Napa. They've created a wonderful experience for their guests. A highlight is breakfast at the "Sweetie Pies" bakery, which is included in the room rate. They have two large community tables where you can often catch a hot tip from one of the locals that frequent the shop.

We tend to stick with the smaller wineries unless we reserve a tour since you get a more intimate experience (and often better wine). The taste of wine is so subjective, so I'll refrain from commenting on quality (they were all good in their own right) but here are a few highlights of the experience.

Sterling. You get there via a gondola ride up the hillside to the winery and tasting room. The views of Napa Valley are awesome from this suspended cable car! Sally and I took a tour this time and had a wonderfully insightful and informative guide, Robert. Lessons learned: a great environment needs to be matched by great people!

Dutch Henry. This is about as informal as it gets. We did our tasting in a small office because they were bottling wine in their normal tasting venue, their barrel room. The lady doing our tasting was a lot of fun and drank wine along with us. Now that's being committed to your product! Lessons learned: breaking the ice and being less formal often creates great service situations and can overcome a lot of other deficiencies.

Cuivaison. It's a well-known secret that most wineries will pour wines not on their tasting list if you show an appropriate level of interest. The guy serving us did a great job of asking questions and learning our preferences, and he poured several "off the list" wines for us to try. (It worked quite well - we bought several!) Lessons learned: Listen to your customers before proposing a product or service! You'll sell more and they'll be even happier!

Frog's Leap. This winery is appointment-only, but they have a very cool tour. Mindy, our guide, took us through their gardens and wine making operation and told some interesting stories along the way. For example, the founders lived on an old frog farm and "liberated" the grapes for their first wine from Stag's Leap, thus the name of the winery. Lessons learned: Involving your customers in your story can help build passion and a deeper sense of brand-awareness.

PlumpJack. No time for tasting here, just a quick stop to buy a bottle of one of our favorite Cabernet Sauvignons. They were doing tastings for $10, but we just asked for a splash of the wine we bought, which we were offered on the house. A woman standing next to us noticed our bottle of wine had a screw cap and that launched also sorts of questions that probably deepened her experience too. Lessons learned: It pays to make your customers feel like a VIP, even if they only bring a small amount of business. And, it never hurts to have something unusual about your product or service that is a conversation starter.

Peju Province Winery. Most wineries have you saunter up to the tasting counter like you are in a bar, but Peju does it a bit differently. A greeter welcomes you in a lobby/gift shop area and asks you to wait a few minutes for the next tasting. They gathered about eight of us and led us to our own wine counter where a very knowledgeable and friendly gentleman led us through our tasting. We all received more attention, had a chance to ask more questions, and likely bought more wine than if we had to elbow our way in to get a tasting. Lessons learned: It costs more to have extra staff, but giving your customers the attention they deserve should pay off handsomely through higher average order values.

Hess Collection. This winery is another big producer, but they're off the beaten path, so they don't get extremely crowded. The lady who helped us was very friendly and knew a lot about their wine. She shared her knowledge, such as having us sample a few different wines side by side so we could taste the difference. That helped make it a very unique experience. Lessons learned: Make sure your people are able to educate customers on your products or services. This enhances your customers' understanding of what they're buying and can deepen their connection to your brand.