They Don’t Look Like Wine Buyers


We all make assumptions. I suppose way back when it was because we didn’t have the time to decide if that large hairy saber tooth tiger was dangerous so, based on previous experiences, we had to assume it probably would be. It’s like your prospect of a wine sale when friendly Canadians walk into a tasting room. They are so nice and cheerful and announce their arrival and ‘Canadianess’ with such enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the wine host is thinking about the almost near certainty that they can't ship any wines home to Alberta because the taxes are so horrendous. Or certain ethnic groups in large family parties who disgorge from a minivan, cameras in hand, ready to record every moment with nary a blessed thought in their minds about wine. We jump to conclusions. Based on previous odds we make sales assumptions. But it’s not a good practice.

Three charming ladies from an Asian cultural background told me not long ago about how, from their perspective, there are two wine experiences in Wine Country. The middle-aged white male wine experience, and the three Asian ladies experience. Being left waiting for service, cursory attention, rudeness and lackluster wine presentations, is apparently what they usually get. One of the ladies told me about how she was at a Silverado Trail winery and asked to “Re-taste the Cabernet.” The winery host felt the need to correct her and said, “Actually we say, re-visit the wine.”

I wish I could cast the first stone, but I can't. I told Sonny not to take those two ladies on bikes at 4:45 pm on that Saturday afternoon… He decided to at least chat with them and pour a couple of wines because they had made the effort to get to the winery. Ended up being one of the stronger and more fruitful relationships between customer and winery we had during my tenure. This is similar to deciding what we think a customer can or can’t afford, or what they might choose to spend their dollars on. My muse always used to say, “No-one ever got insulted by you assuming they can afford to purchase more than they might be able to.”

Calistoga Dale told me once that he got the number one slot in wine club sign-ups month after month. He had more free dinners on the company than he could count. He is a quiet man and not a gregarious theatrical type, so I asked him what the secret to his success was. What honey did he drip in the ears of his guests, how did he leverage the “benefits of membership?” Did he push hard and give it the car lot treatment? He said it was nothing particularly clever. He just calmly presented the option to everyone, irrespective of who they were, or what he thought of their abilities or inclinations. That’s all it took, no prejudgment. How many of us have made an internal judgment on a customer and, because of it, not presented a wine, a sale, or a reason to affiliate?

By the way, the three delightful Asian ladies were also pushing a baby stroller. Turned out it contained a special needs cat called “Barbara Walters.” At their Bay Area pet hospital Ms. Walters always gets announce over the speakers by that same name when she arrives. The reasons to hit the snooze button just kept mounting.

There is a joke in Scotland about the difference in assumptions between earthy Glasgow and the more genteel Edinburgh. They say that when you are in Glasgow and arrive at someone’s house near the early evening mealtime (Known as “Your Tea.”) you’ll be invited in warmly. The counterpoint is that in Edinburgh the hostess will open the door and early in the encounter suggest heavily, “You’ll have had your tea?” What I glean from all this is that our assumptions are firmly placed to suit ourselves and our convenience. By not challenging them we can clasp our dearly held prejudices to our chests with no chance of being wrong.

It was sobering to speak to these open-hearted Asian ladies about all this because I am one of those white middle-aged wine industry men who make all these assumptions. At the end of the tasting, they said they enjoyed the wines tremendously and (was it to prove a point?) bought two cases.

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