Please - No Wine Educators

VINFABULA - Wine Stories

VINFABULA - Wine Stories

“The stories we tell pale in comparison to those we glean from our customers day in, day out.” Jennifer told me this the other day in a Sonoma tasting room. I wish I could take her words and stamp them on the forehead of 80% of wine hosts around the country. She went on to describe a guest she was hosting the day before who “…was struggling to choose between a role at a new business in autonomous air transport and a company bringing carbon-neutral tiny homes to the US.”  A fascinating tasting encounter. However, the story is not so important as the fact that she elicited it, and was enthralled by it.

Our industry tells people things. On and on we drone about vineyards, soil types, clones, rootstocks, ML, new oak, passion, and sustainability. All justified because someone gave us the title of “Educator.” I bought a pair of running shoes a few weeks ago and I was not helped by a “Shoe Educator.” The last time I bought a laptop at Best Buy I was not helped by a “Computer Educator.” My waiter and waitress at Single Thread were not billed as “Food Educators.” All these people knew more about what I was about to buy or experience than I did, but they did not have the assumption that I needed to be “educated” tacked on to their job title. To be called a Wine Educator is to be dangerously encouraged to presume ignorance as a first point of contact with our guests.

There is nothing wrong with knowing your product inside out. Enlightening people and communicating our enthusiasm about what we make, or sell, is wonderful. The danger is that we use it as a screen to prevent the necessity for dialogue and curiosity; then it is a handicap. Try going into a winery anywhere, unannounced, and by yourself. Ask some intelligent questions during the pouring and spit the samples into the spit bucket. This is not average consumer behavior. It is typically the habit of someone in the wine trade. You will be mystified by how many winery staff will have zero curiosity about you. A friend of mine says he can spot undeclared wine people by the practiced air of their glass swirling. He said he just likes to watch their faces when he casually asks, “So what part of the wine business are you in?”

In any walk of life, if we have not reached out to connect in some personal way, we have missed a fundamental opportunity to find delight in our work and increase our chance to sell our product. This January I was at the Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium, moderating a panel topic that I put forward on StorySelling. (I was deeply humbled and honored etc.) One of the Sonoma panelists made the very astute point that, “We are not the story, we are just a part of their story, in their day of stories.”  The Heath brothers in their book called ‘Made To Stick’ talk about “seeds and lawns.” Their observation is that many businesses only talk about how wonderful their seeds are. 

Translated into wine that means we talk about how the seeds were planted, how passionate the business is about their seeds, how long the family has been growing seeds, how their seed got award a Double Gold for Lawn Seeds at the San Francisco Chronicle’s Seed Competition. What the Heaths said was that businesses forget to tell the customer how great the seeds will make their lawn look. How wonderful it will feel to have that lawn when their kids run across it on a summer’s evening. People used to come to the Wine Country and buy our seeds with just a prompt of a nice view and a club discount. Those days are over. If we want to be businesses that survive the receding wave of wine consumption, we should be thinking less about the seeds and more about the lawn. 

This begins with a positional change on how we view our stories. They should always be powerful and speak to something the customer would miss if we weren’t in their lives. But our audience is always in a conversation and not at a lecture. There is one simple way to test whether you have social intelligence like Jennifer on your staff. Wait till some guests finish a tasting and just go up and ask your host, “Tell me all about those folks who just left.” The depth and quality of the answer will tell you everything you need to know.

VINFABULA – “Improve your world with a fresh perspective story audit of your business. Then profit from selecting, aligning, and telling the right stories, powerfully.