How to cultivate brand ambassadors on a wine tasting tour

Mar 8, 2013 | 2013 Croatia, Wine Tourism Conference

After a 34-year career in education teaching elementary school students through university graduate school students, Terry Sullivan began a new career as a travel writer specializing in the wine industry. Taking thousands of photographs and writing articles, Terry visited wineries and vineyards across the globe. Terry’s formally trained by the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and in winemaking from Washington State University.  Terry’s a published author of magazine and website articles and a co-author with his wife Terry of a book about wine journeys.

What’s the difference between an ambassador and a regular walk-through-the-door customer? 

The regular visitor may or may not buy a bottle of wine. Chances are that the winery will not see that customer again or hear from them. An ambassador will return to the winery whenever possible, often accompanied with other people. An ambassador tells friends and relatives about the winery and suggests they visit. Ambassadors reflect positively about a winery or wine tour and encourage others to experience the winery or tour. Ambassadors are a free source of advertising.

Is it a lot of work for wineries or tour operators to create ambassadors?

One of the main themes from last year’s IWINETC in Perugia was the importance of the experience. Most wineries and tour operators would claim that they are providing a great experience for visitors. Some things that differentiate one from the other is the mind-set of creating an ambassador. An ambassador is someone who will talk about your winery or tour favorably, rather than the single experience of visiting the winery or taking a wine tour. Providing a great pre-experience and a great post-experience takes more work on the part of tour operators and winery staff. The experience of the winery visit needs to change from a scripted monologue to dialogue. It is much easier to train staff to read notes about a wine then start a dialogue with guests. Dialogues are more memorable and what helps create ambassadors. 

As a travel writer, you are an empowered ambassador. Does that mean all ambassadors have to be travel writers? 

Ambassadors do not need to be travel writers or bloggers. They could be someone living in the community who encourages people to take your wine tour or visit your winery. When they have out-of-town guests, they will bring them to your winery or have them take your wine tour. 

Do you have an example of a winery or tour group who creates ambassadors well? 

Recently we visited Castello Di Borghese Vineyard and Winery in Cutchogue, New York. We noticed that each person who entered was quickly greeted. Many came in with groups. Talking with the couple next to us, we learned that they were wine club members and were very pleased with their membership. They like to come to the winery, with friends, and taste new releases.

Del Dotto, in Napa, has two wineries that both offer tours of the wine caves. During the tour the guide first learns the names of the attendees in the group and where they are from. The guide makes references to the people and where they are from throughout the tour. One begins to feel that they are important and not just another tourist. Wine tastings are from the barrels. Rather than following a scripted monologue, the guide asks the people what they think about the aroma, taste and finish. There are many responses. No evaluation of what is said is made so the guide is providing a safe environment for people to talk. The guide also asks the group which wines they liked, for example comparing two Merlots. This guided tour empowers people to taste the wines and talk about them. 

How do you know when you’ve created an ambassador?

Look for people who will return to your winery and bring other people with them. Look for people who have singled out your winery and decided to become a member of your wine club, if you have one. If the ambassador is a writer or blogger they will frequently write or blog about your winery or tour.

Terry Sullivan will be delivering a talk titled Experiences that Cultivate Brand Ambassadors in the Istanbul Suite at 15.00 on Friday 15th March

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