You can't evaluate what you don't measure

Tasting Room with People

Once we get into December, things really slow down for us.  The cellar, which has been on a three-month sprint, has put most of the year's wines to bed.  In the vineyard, the vines are going dormant, we've seeded the cover crop, and there's not much to do but hope for rain and wait until pruning begins in January. In the market, most restaurants and retailers have made their buying decisions for the holiday season and aren't really interested in seeing anything new.  Our tasting room, which might see 600 people a week in high season, drops to a third of that.  So, it's the time where I try to look back at what we've done for the year and evaluate how well we've done it.  I talk to other wineries, and industry experts, to see whether what we've observed is part of a larger trend, or if we're an anomaly.  In almost every one of these conversations, I hear the comment that we track data that most wineries don't.

Now, I'm something of a data geek.  I hate not being able to test a hypothesis out against real numbers.  And I hate it when I feel that the data that we're capturing doesn't represent the critical decisions that customers make.  Because that's the important thing about data: it lets you know, beyond anything anecdotal, whether you're doing a great job or not.  Are we taking great care of our tasting room customers?  Are we offering them wines they want to buy?  What about once they are club members?  Do they feel special?  And do we keep evolving along with the rest of the wine community?

I feel like many of the things we track are pretty fundamental, and am always surprised that not every winery feels the same way.  And, in fact, most of these aren't particularly wine-business-specific, and would apply to any retail business.  Here are the things that I think are baseline information:

  • Your real traffic. Most wineries track the number of transactions, the number of wine club signups, and the number of tasting fees.  Fine.  But there's lots of context in here that can slip through the cracks.  Do you track the number of people who don't pay a tasting fee, whether because they are club members, because their tasting fee is comped on a purchase, because they are industry members, or because they share a tasting?  You should be.  If you're not, how do you know how to evaluate a day where you make $1000 in sales to 20 customers?  If you only have 20 customers walk through the door, that looks a lot better than if you had 100.  Plus, traffic is remarkably consistent year-over-year, and knowing how busy certain times of year are helps you staff appropriately.
  • The percentage of your traffic that purchases.  For us, this is easy, since we comp the tasting fee on even a single bottle of wine.  And so far this year, just over 12% of our visitors have paid tasting fees.  I'm happy with this level.  But knowing what percentage of your visitors liked things enough to make a purchase (or, conversely, couldn't find anything that they wanted to buy) is a great indicator of how you're doing.
  • The percentage of your traffic that joins your club.  Absolute numbers of club members are, ultimately, what impacts the bottom line.  But percentages are more informative.  They are the best indicator of how often you really turn someone on to what you do.  And they help you know whether you're maintaining the quality of your experience when things get busier.  If you're not, check your staffing levels.
  • Your average sale per customer (or per transaction).  You can measure this either way, but knowing how much your average customer bought is critical.  Fundamentally, that's your report card on how well you did.
  • Where your sale originates.  Is a purchase made in your tasting room, by phone, or online?  Knowing that you've sold $20,000 in the last week isn't nearly as useful as knowing that you had $14,000 from your walk-in traffic and $6000 in response to an email you sent out to your mailing list.
  • How long your members stay members.  Or, conversely, your cancellation rate.  Now, every club is going to have a certain amount of turnover.  Customers get older, have health issues, lose jobs, and move overseas (or to states you can't ship to).  That happens.  And I'm really proud that our median duration of membership is nearly triple the industry average of 18 months.  But unless you know what your baseline turnover rate is, and are tracking closely enough to see a spike, you can't be quick about finding out why and addressing what you find.
  • What percentage of your emails get read.  If a customer hasn't opened one of your emails in some time, this is a red flag.  It could be that you don't have the right email address to reach people.  It could be that what you're sending out isn't compelling.  In either case, you should want to know.  Of course, also check on anyone whose email bounces back.  It's much harder and more expensive to make a new customer than it is to keep an existing customer.  Put in the time it takes to keep your lists current.
  • The percentage of your visitors from whom you capture contact information.  Becoming a club member is something that a small percentage, at best, of your customers will do.  Industry averages hover around 3%; we feel like with great wine and great service, you can push that up to around 10%.  But that doesn't mean that the other 90% of your customers are a lost cause.  Many of them purchase and would begin an ongoing relationship with you, if you can figure out how to do it in a way that would be welcomed.  An occasional email letting them know about a tasting or dinner near their home?  Or one that provides some useful insight into what's going on in the vineyards or at the winery?  Probably welcome.  Finding a way to start a conversation makes it more likely that they'll return to see you again on a future visit, that they'll want to buy the wines you make when they see them at their favorite restaurant, and that someday they'll become regular customers.  Do you have a mailing list in addition to your club list?  Do you provide information people want to read?  And do you segment your list by region so you can target emails properly and not overwhelm people?  You should. 

You'll note that most of these data points are percentages.  So without counting your traffic accurately, it's very hard to get the rest of the data right.  Consider adding a button on your register to ring up a visitor who doesn't purchase.  That means that the data is all contained in your point-of-sale system, and you don't have to reconcile paper tallies or Excel spreadsheets with your sales totals.

Whatever your method, having this information isn't just an opportunity to check yourself against your baseline.  It creates a shared vocabulary that will allow you to evaluate your performance against your peers, and to interpret the data that's available through industry associations, seminars, and articles. And more than that, it's how you know if you're succeeding at your fundamental goal: to create an experience, and an environment, where your customers want to begin, and sustain, a mutually beneficial relationship with you.


5th Annual December must! Month at Tablas Creek

By Lauren Phelps

We have a saying in Paso Robles, “it’s not the wine industry, it’s the wine community” and this sentiment is never more apparent than during the holiday season.  During these winter months our community of winemakers, wine lovers, and growers rally together to make a significant impact locally through donations and volunteer work.  And we concentrate our philanthropic efforts, multiplying the benefits through must! Charities- a local nonprofit organization that donates 100% of its proceeds directly back to specific community projects in North SLO County. 

Must Donation
Our 2017 must! Charities donation

This December is our 5th annual must! Month fundraiser where we donate $1 for every bottle sold (online, by phone, and in the tasting room) throughout the month.  In total, Tablas Creek has donated over $31,000 from funds raised during must! Month since 2012.

2017 must
December Tasting Room List

Often we are asked by guests in the tasting room what must! Charities does and how buying a bottle of Tablas Creek wine during the month of December supports families in need.  To put it briefly, must! Charities brings together hundreds of individuals and businesses in a collaborative effort to pool funds and resources together to give bigger and better for our community.  Must! strategically selects the most essential projects to fun and supports them with large, lasting contributions that make sustainable change in North SLO County.  Some of what they have supported in recent years includes: 

  • Food Bank Coalition's Children's Farmer's Market Expansion- The $27,000 Cash Investment over the last 12 months added an additional 9 sites to the north county and provided over 170,000 pounds of fresh produce for children and families.
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters-  4 year, $253,000 - $273,000 commitment with Big Brothers Big Sisters of SLO County with financial and business expertise that will grow the North County reach from the 10% that it represents now, to a realistic number based on community need. 
  • CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates)- must! charities is committed to a 4-year, $262,551 collaboration with CASA to address the 120 children remaining on the waitlist in North County.

Haas Quote 2
While we're proud of the donations we make each year, it's not all we do. Tablas Creek team members volunteer with local organizations such as CASA, local youth sports, Paso Robles Youth Art Foundation, Prado Day Center, and Community Counseling Center.  Last year we helped freshen up the Boys and Girls Club in a hands-on service project.

BGC Collage_sm
2017 Tablas Crew Work Day

We couldn’t do any of this without the support of our wine loving community.  Thank YOU for helping us continue our mission to be positive ambassadors of the Paso Robles wine community.


Talent in The Tasting Room; Q&A With Leslie Stuart

By Suphada Rom

Leslie Stuart, Tasting Room Lead and environmental advocate, is passionate about all that is Tablas Creek and what that means. What is it that makes her so special to all of us here at the vineyard? Read on.

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Mexico City. I'm the youngest of 4, and was born about 10 years after everyone else. I grew up in the north part of the city, which is more like a suburb and it has everything you could possibly need. I love Mexico City, it's a really cool place. It's very vibrant and full of culture. It's funny, during spring break I would actually beg my parents to stay in town instead of going somewhere because during that time, everyone who lives in the city goes to the coast. That's when there's less traffic and you can go anywhere in the city in half the time. 

Leslie mexico
 

So when did you first get into wine?
When I first moved to northwestern Mexico. In the county of Ensenada, there is a little wine region known as Valle de Guadalupe. At the time, I was working for an architect and she had a real estate development with a huge focus on wine. She hired me and from the beginning she said, "Here's the room that will be a wine store and you'll be in charge of it." So I was in charge of this wine shop, like starting it from zero. Everything from contacting winemakers, wineries, bringing new wines in, along with doing the marketing and advertising. I was just sort of thrown into the wine world and I fell in love with it!

How did you learn about Tablas Creek?
So, my husband Nathan (Tablas Creek's Shepherd) is from Paso, born and raised. Three years after we got married, we wanted to try out living up here. We would visit and I just loved how quaint it all was, especially the west side. We actually got engaged on one of the back roads out here in the Adelaida! When we were here and I was applying for my green card, I spent some time researching the local wineries to see where I could continue my career in the wine industry. Nathan suggested I look at Tablas Creek. I checked it out online and I fell in love with it. From everything I searched I thought to myself, "when I get my green card, I definitely going to apply to that place!" Then I came and interviewed, tasted the wines and I was like, "Oh my gosh!". I was hooked. I've been here since 2013 and I feel the same as I did when I first came- like, this is a place I can thrive. 

Maya and leslie

What is your role at here at the winery?
My role is a Tasting Room Lead. I help train and coordinate the great people we have working here sharing our wines and our story with our guests. Recently, I started a series of "Saturday Morning Talks" that take place about once a month for our tasting room staff. When we were smaller, these happened informally, but as we've gotten busier I thought it was important to make sure that we keep the conversation going between the people who make our wine and those of us who sell it. We started these monthly chats on Saturdays, basically so we can have someone from behind the scenes, like from our vineyard or cellar, to come to the tasting room and talk to our staff. Our tasting room staff is so enthusiastic and I was really excited to connect the front lines of our tasting room to the other workings within the winery and all the way out to the vineyard. People like our viticulturist Jordan, our winemaker Neil, and our shepherd Nathan have come and shared their passion for what they do here at Tablas Creek. They share a little bit about what's going on right now, a little bit about what they do, where we are currently as a winery, and a projection to where we're going to be. I think it's so important to link the two departments together- a little bit goes a long way!

What is your tasting room philosophy?
I think just being natural and not pretentious. Those are the two words that come to mind, and that's what I feel most comfortable being when I'm with people. Just being myself, and for the staff to be themselves, as well. When you have someone in front of you, I mean, they're tasting the wines that we are crafting here. When I'm talking, I try to plant a seed of excitement about us and about what we're doing here- and I think the only way we can accomplish that is by being easygoing and authentic. 

Leslie nathan maya

What is one of your favorite memories here?
Oh, there are so many! I think one of my favorite memories was a few years ago, when I was working in the office. There was a guy from the Brazil press that came to interview our founder, Bob. They were talking and tasting, and Bob requested that I come and pour wine for them during interview. I so enjoyed just being there, and watching how natural Bob is. He's so approachable and honest about the wine and the vineyard. Just seeing this amazing businessman sitting there being so humble and approachable was incredible.

When you're not working, what are you doing?
Ha! When, I'm not working, I like to work out and do yoga. I have two dogs, Maya and Jo, who also work with my husband, Nathan, on the Tablas Creek property. I love my family and we like to spend our evenings together. I love to cook, and for me, at the end of the day, even if it was long and stressful, I'll come home and cook something because I love it so much and actually, it gives me energy!

Yoga

Speaking of food and wine, do you have a favorite pairing?
My latest one was garden artichokes and our 2016 Vermentino. We steamed them and I made a creamy citrus-cashew dip to go with it. It was perfect with our Vermentino, and one of my favorite pairings. It was so nice, and we just sat and ate our dinner on the porch and enjoyed the sunset.

Besides Tablas Creek, do you have any other favorite wines/wineries?
Well this last Christmas, I went back to Ensenada to visit my friends and family- with friends, as well! Neil (TCV Winemaker) and his family joined Nathan and me, and we went wine tasting at our favorite places. There's a handful of wineries in Mexico that I love. One that comes to mind is Tres Mujeres- she makes awesome white wines, like Carignan Blanc- it's so good! There is this honesty about her wines that I really love.

How do you define success?
I think life is too short, and, to me, success is doing or pursuing the things that you are passionate about in life. And it might sound cliché but your destiny is not in the future, but your destiny is today. Deciding what you are going to do today to move within the freedom you have been given will lead to success.


Biodynamic Bon Vivant: Q&A with Gustavo Prieto

By Suphada Rom

When work doesn't feel like work and is a joy, you know you've got it made. By this measure, Gustavo Prieto lives an incredibly fruitful life, balancing passion in his work with a zeal for adventure. From cellar to vineyard to tasting room, Gustavo's role at Tablas Creek is as fluid and multifaceted as the seasons themselves. 

Gustavo feeding lamb

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Chile and moved after high school to attend university at Cal Poly.

What did you study at Cal Poly?
I studied fruit science there for five years. After that, I moved a lot, always working in the produce industry. I was in Holland for four years, moved back to Chile for eight years, then finally back to California for good in 1999. In 2000, I decided I needed a break from that industry, and just did some consultating on the side.

When did you get into the wine industry?
I got my first winery job in 2005, working for Wild Horse during harvest and I just loved it! That was my first harvest and after that, I decided that I wanted to continue working in the wine industry. I worked a harvest at Bianchi on the east side of Paso Robles, then after that, I started hearing a lot of conversation about Tablas Creek and I got really curious about it. In 2007 I was able to get a position in the tasting room and have been here ever since. When I first started I was primarily tasting room, but that grew into doing more out in the vineyard and the cellar. I had a lot of experience with farming and produce, so Levi (our then viticulturist) asked me to help him out with some cool new projects. We wanted to get a staff garden going on the property, as well as planting more trees for the orchard. I also work in the cellar during harvest season.

Gustavo eating cherries

Why is planting trees and a garden important for the vineyard?
It's important for diversity in the vineyard. I mean, we've been growing grapes here for a long time, so growing other crops gives us the opportunity to be around other types of agriculture. Neil introduced the idea of planting fruit trees to bring something else that we didn't already have into the vineyard. By bringing in the fruit trees, we are breaking up the monoculture that is just growing grapes. And we have so many different kinds of trees! Mostly apples, but we also have pears, plums, peaches, nectarines, quince, pomegranates, fig, cherries, and persimmons. 

In the last few years, I've been able to work on a garden, to both diversify the vineyard and provide our staff with good organic produce. In the summer, we have fresh tomatoes, corn, zucchini, squash, melons, radishes, basil, and more. Again, all that adds to the biodiversity in the vineyard. Same with the animals that Nathan's working with and the bees that Jordy introduced. We have this place that is rich and diverse in other elements. We aren't just growing grapes- we're doing much more than that. 

What is your vineyard or garden philosophy?
My philosophy is to bring back Mother Nature. Mother Nature is so savvy and I truly believe will always outsmart us. It's very resilient. I think that's what we, globally, need to get back to. Nature dictates what we do out there. Let the process flow as naturally as well as we can, by guiding in an efficient way. In the end, nature will reward us with what we want to achieve, and in our case, that is to produce good quality grapes on a healthy vineyard. We do that by not using any chemicals. You see, nature in itself helps to keep the population of bad insects under control. It's not about eliminating them, but more about the beneficial insects keeping them under control and not letting them get out of hand. 

Gustavo Grapes

You're coming up on your 10 year anniversary here- what has been your most memorable experience at Tablas Creek or in the wine industry in general?
One of the many highlights was going to France in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, I went to work for Chateau de Beaucastel for harvest. That was amazing! I enjoyed that so much. Everything was great, I worked in the cellar doing everything related to cellar work, helping and supporting them with anything they needed.  Also tasting wines over there, I mean, I can still taste them! It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and through working for Tablas Creek, I was able to have such an incredible experience. 

I was also able to spend some time in Burgundy. I even took a class in Beaune. I loved going to France so much that I repeated the experience and worked for Pierre Gaillard in Languedoc for harvest and that too was an amazing experience. Spending time in the southeast part of France, it reminded me a little bit of Paso Robles, you know? Less tight and rigid, less regulated, and less traditional. You have more room for exploring and creativity, too. So much great potential there, as there is here.

When you're not at the vineyard, what are you doing?
On my days off, I like to bike. I live in Santa Margarita, so I can leave my house and bike for hundreds of miles without seeing cars. I also enjoy working on my bikes. Sailing has always been a passion of mine. My wife, Heidi, and I spend time working on our garden; I love doing that. We compliment each other very well in that area; she knows a lot and really, she's the one who started me on gardening. 

Gustavo sitting

Do you have a favorite food and wine pairing?
Well, I'm from Chile, so I love empanadas! To me, empanadas are traditional and a staple. It was a staple in my house every Sunday. We would have empanadas and red wine, most likely a Chilean Cabernet. I love Chilean wines. Old world producers coming from the southwestern part of Chile, with dry farmed vines. Old vine Carignan is very interesting to me. I've also seen Mission blends coming out and getting popular.

Finally, how do you define success?
Success is all about happiness. If you have success and no happiness, I think you've gone nowhere. Stability is important, too. Stability with your family, friends, and yourself. I don't see success from a monetary aspect, it's all about what makes you happy!


Creating an Experience Worthy of Being Called the "Collector's Tasting"

By Lauren Phelps

It is a very rare treat to pour an aged, library wine for guests in our tasting room.  Wines that have been carefully cellar aged have a rich and complex quality that many California wine drinkers have yet to discover.  After a few years of bottle aging our Esprit de Tablas wines are impossibly complex, with layers of complementary flavors ranging from dark cherry and plum to leather and spice.  I have exhausted myself and our guests attempting to explain with words and gestures the benefits of bottle aging,  imploring my audience to "forget about our wine at the back of your closet" or "write a special occasion on the bottle" and keep it aging for at least five years, upwards of thirty in the right conditions.  As you might imagine, my passionate attempts at persuasion are mostly met with doubtful gazes and guilty confessions about their lack of will control.  

Tablas Creek Vineyards 7

Our traditional tasting list guides guests through our new releases, which for many wines mostly conveys the wines' potential.  It's easy to judge these fresh, young wines as they are, without a perspective as to their long and developing lifespan.  It's like writing the biography of a teenager.  I would never suggest guests not enjoy our wines in their youth; they are lovely young as well.  I would simply caution tasters from only experiencing the wines before they've had a chance to fully develop.  I often suggest having a few bottles of the same vintage on hand and tasting one every couple of years to watch them mature and change over time.  [We provide a vintage aging chart on our website to help take the guess work out of when to open our wine.]  Alas, we cannot all have closets full of Tablas Creek wine on hand for such experiments and that is why I am excited to share our Collector's Tasting Experience (previously known as our "Reserve Tasting").

Tablas Creek '16 (4 of 8)edited

In our Collector's Tasting Experience, I can finally take a deep breath, relax and allow the wines to speak for themselves.  It's an intimate, seated tasting, focusing on wines that we've cellared for some years, and typically including multiple older vintages of our Esprit de Tablas. This allows guests to experience first-hand how the bottle aging process deepens and complicates the youthful flavors, while also often revealing  the secondary flavors a young wine just hasn't developed yet.  It is so satisfying to watch the recognition stretch across my guests' faces as they recognize how dramatically these wines develop with age.  I hope this tasting experience will encourage guests to purchase current release wines and hold them to their peak maturity, but we also have a small stock of these library wines to offer to the guests who've come for this special tasting.

Tablas Creek Vineyards 5

Whether you are a long-time member of our wine club or have recently discovered Tablas Creek, we hope that you'll find the Collector's Tasting to be both a memorable and worthwhile experience. We offer two sessions Sunday-Friday at 11:30am and 3:00pm; Saturdays and holiday weekends we offer one session at 10:00am. We ask that reservations be made at least 24 hours in advance. The cost for the tasting is $40 for non-members/ $25 for members, and each tasting fee is waived with $250 purchase. To reserve a spot for this tasting, please contact us at visit@tablascreek.com, or just give us a call at (805)-237-1231.

It is a honor to share these wines with our fans who appreciate them and those who are also passionate about the Rhone movement in California.  Please don't hesitate to call the vineyard or email me with any questions you may have (lauren@tablascreek.com).  Cheers!


On being a kid-friendly winery

I was pleased to see us mentioned in Mother Magazine's Paso Robles Guide, published online today. I was even more pleased to see Paso Robles recognized:

Mother Magazine Paso Robles

We moved out to Paso Robles in part because we were ready to start a family, and we haven't been disappointed.  From the great downtown park to a terrific library system, the different children's museums to an active youth sports community, it's been a great place to raise our two boys.  But I think that the kid-friendliness of the food and wine community has been noteworthy as well.  It's been fun to see the enthusiasm of the servers in the restaurants we visit, taking the kids seriously as they learn how to navigate their way around a real menu. And the bartenders we ask to make up fun kids' cocktails. We've never felt like we attract dirty looks by bringing the kids into the many great restaurants here, and for that we're grateful.

So it's really nothing more than paying it forward to do what we can to help make parents who visit Tablas Creek with kids feel welcome.  And, having been a parent in the shoes, so to speak, of our visitors, it's easy to remember how grateful even simple accommodations made us feel.  What do we do?  It's not rocket science.

  • Offer an activity for kids while parents taste. In our case, we have a kid-sized coloring table in the corner of our tasting room, with pictures of grapes and vines that they can color.  Heck, you don't even need to be a kid to use it, though if you're more than about 5'2" your knees may complain.  But giving parents the chance to focus on your wine instead of corralling a bored kid who otherwise is underfoot is good for your customers, your bottom line, and your sanity.
  • Offer events for families to do together.  Clearly, many or most of the events you're going to offer as a winery are going to be focused on wine drinking (or pairing, or making) and won't be appropriate to kids.  But much of what a winery does is agriculture, and it's important and typically fun to get kids involved in how things are grown and made.  We use animals as a part of our biodynamic program, and have created events to bring families out to meet the animals and learn their role in a healthy vineyard.
  • Be inclusive where you can.  We take as many people as are interested out on tours to see the vineyard, our grapevine nursery, and the winery.  All of this is interesting to kids, in my experience.  Have them taste different grapes and see if they can describe what makes them different.  Explain why you plant, or graft, or farm the way you do.  It costs nothing, builds goodwill, and gets kids involved in important conversations.
  • Be involved in your community.  The work that we do here is only one way that we interact with our customers.  Many of them live in our community, and most of them visit.  We have made it a point to get involved in the community activities that enrich the life experiences of kids who grow up here, from creating a partnership with the Performing Arts Center, to donating wine to raise funds for art in schools at the Paso Arts Fest, to creating a program with must! charities to support the Boys' & Girls' Club here in Paso and a local expansion of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  There are so many ways to make a difference... and many of the most compelling focus on kids.

It's really not the case where in making your winery family-friendly you have to choose to somehow make it less adult-friendly.  In general, thinking of the needs of kids who may be (unwillingly) accompanying their parents when they come out to visit you is going to make for a better experience for not only their parents, but also the kid-free customers who might otherwise be caught in the crossfire.

And if you can create an experience that involves an alpaca, some donkeys and a whole passel of sheep, so much the better.

Levi at meet the animals
Former Viticulturist Levi Glenn at our "Meet the Animals" family event a few summers ago


Rethinking Group Tastings

You all know the group. Maybe you've even been a part of the group. Fourteen friends -- or maybe family -- out for a day in wine country. The van has been reserved for the day, so everyone can partake in the tastings. Your friend -- or cousin -- Phil is the master of ceremonies, and the life of the party. Most of the group likes wine, but only a few are really into the details. For everyone else, it's a fun day out, a chance to socialize and catch up. A few wineries make a great backdrop for the day's socializing.  Look familiar?

Wine Group Tasting Stock Photo

For a winery tasting room, or for our more serious visitors, these groups are a challenge.  They can come unexpectedly and monopolize the attention of one of our tasting room servers.  They tend to be loud and mostly interested in interacting with each other.  And while we can always find a way to fit another 2 or 4 people into one of our tasting bars, fitting in a new group of 10 or 14 isn't always possible.  Our focus has been on making sure that the core visitors who are our bread and butter are well taken care of, and over the last year or so we've been letting groups know that while we'd love to host them at a time when the tasting room is relatively quiet, we often can't accommodate large groups during our busy times.

Why? If we're looking at what the relative benefit is to us of a large group vs. a more traditional couple or party of 4, it's not close.  On average, large groups buy about 20% as much wine per person as smaller parties. We comp our tasting fee on the purchase of even one bottle, which has meant that less than 10% of our traditional tasters even pay it.  Historically, looking at our large groups, around 85% end up paying the tasting fee. While the tasting fee (barely) covers our costs, it's hardly possible to base a business on charging customers $15 for an hour of entertainment plus 6-8 tastes (between 1/4 and 1/3 of a bottle) of wine that averages $40/bottle.

At the same time, I hated the thought that we were turning away potential new customers.  Sure, they might not buy anything on this visit, but who's more likely to buy later -- either on a return trip to Paso Robles, or when they see Tablas Creek on a restaurant list or retail shelf -- someone who's spent a fun hour out here, or someone who's been told that we couldn't accommodate them and then went and had a fun hour at some other local winery?

So, while I knew that we were making the right decision about where to prioritize our efforts, I was never happy with the outcome.  Until now.

Those of you who visited before March of 2011 will remember our old tasting room, on the west side of our winery building. The below photo is from 2006 or thereabouts, with a second room (off-camera to the right) that had in very early days (pre-2005) been our conference room holding three additional tasting bars:

Tablas Creek Tasting Room Interior

We decommissioned this tasting room when we moved into our current space in 2011.  At that point, we turned the conference room back into a conference room and the original tasting room went back to being the office entrance it was between 1997 and 2002 while we waited for inspiration on what to use it for.

That inspiration is here.  Please welcome our two new group tasting spaces:

Old New TR Set

Seated Room Set

These spaces give us two options, one seated and one standing, for hosting groups. It gives each group a dedicated pourer and its own space. It allows them to be as focused (or as unfocused) as they like without impacting anyone else's experience.  It keeps their mini-buses and limousines from displacing our customers' cars from our parking lot.  And it allows us to keep our main tasting room focused on the experience of the couples and smaller groups who are our most important customers.

These new rooms are available to groups of 10 or more on weekends.  We ask that groups make a reservation (you would, wouldn't you?) but if we get a walk-in group and have the space available, we'll bring them back to the group space.  All the details for our group tastings, including tasting fees and available times, can be found on our Visiting Page.

I hope that this will make everyone's experience better, allow us to continue to take great, personal care of our visitors, and mean that the times when we have to say we just can't accommodate someone who wants to come visit are truly few and far between.  Meanwhile, if you've been a part of a particularly good group tasting somewhere, or you have any suggestions for our new program, I'd love you to leave a comment.


Customer service lessons from an overcrowded restaurant

On the Monday between Christmas and New Year's, I called into a favorite local restaurant from my 8-year-old's soccer practice to get takeout. I had volunteered to provide dinner that night for the large group of extended family who were in town for the weekend, who were relaxing and watching football back at my house while I collected Sebastian. The restaurant I chose isn't fancy, but it's the kind of solid neighborhood place that forms the backbone of a lot of communities. Good food, an unfailingly helpful staff and no fuss. We eat there (or order from there) a lot.

FC797B68-F820-4860-9EE3-24DFA6F07B09

This experience was pretty much a nightmare. When I called, I was asked if I could hold. Sure, no problem. But when no one came back to the phone for a minute, then two, then five, it became clear that whoever had answered had put down the phone to take care of whatever else she was working on, and then forgotten about me. I hung up, and called back. Busy. I tried again. Busy. Over the next twenty minutes, I called another half-dozen times, getting a busy signal each time. The phone was evidently still off the hook. I was about to abandon the attempt -- worried at this point I wouldn't have any food for the assembled dozen people, but without a plan B I could think of -- when the phone rang through, and was picked up. I ordered, and she let me know that because they were so busy, I should count on a half-hour for the food to be ready.

I had been planning to pick up the food on my way back home from practice, but at this point, the ordering had taken so long that I figured I should drop Sebastian back home to play with his cousins and then head back out to get the food. And it's a good thing I did. I arrived at the restaurant about a half-hour after ordering, and it was absolutely slammed. Every table was full, there were people waiting at the entrance, and the bar was full of patrons waiting for orders they'd called in. It took another twenty minutes (which felt like an hour, at this point) before I got my food and headed home to a very hungry household.

I'm a regular customer, and knew enough to cut them some slack after dozens of good experiences. But, I thought, what if I had been one of those people in from out of town, and this was my first visit? I wouldn't be writing this blog; I'd be writing a review on Yelp (if I were that sort of person) or at least telling my dozen or so assembled friends and family what a disorganized mess the restaurant was.

I realized later that this experience held two clear lessons for restaurants, winery tasting rooms, or really any other retail business with an ebb and flow of customers.

  1. Keep good records, and use them. Clearly, the restaurant was surprised by the traffic they saw on this Monday night. Should they have been? Probably not. That week is always one of our busiest of the year in the tasting room, with what feels like an entire week of Saturdays. The restaurant has been there for several years, so they should have data from past Christmases. Maybe they had someone call in sick. Or maybe things sequenced badly for them, with several big groups arriving all at once. Things happen. But they're a lot less likely to take you by surprise if you're looking at past history. This year, we saw 931 people at the Tablas Creek tasting room that very week. That was a lot. But since we had 836 the same week last year, we were prepared. Similarly, after being blindsided by exceptionally busy weekends thanks to other wineries hosting wine club events, we started a calendar in conjunction with other wineries out near us that we all share. Now, we know when to expect the overflow from an event at Justin, or Halter Ranch, or Adelaida.
  2. Staff for your peak times.It's easy and logical to look at your staffing costs and decide you can save a little by aiming to be appropriately staffed when you're averagely busy. But I think it's usually a mistake. Customer traffic rarely comes in an even flow. It comes in rushes and pauses, and a rush when you're unprepared can put you behind for some time after. But, more importantly, if you're staffed for your average traffic you're guaranteed to be providing the worst service when you have the most people there. Far better, in my opinion, is staffing for when you're busy, and being creative with your staff so they're not unproductive when customer traffic is light.

These lessons were always important. Research has shown that a bad customer experience gets retold many more times than a good one. But with the increasing popularity of review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, and the easy sharing of information over social media, it's more important than ever. Go back to my initial experience. If I had written this up on Yelp, how many customers do you think would have read it and decided not to chance a first visit? How many of those customers might have become regulars? Suddenly, the cost of the extra person to work the floor, or answer the phones, doesn't seem so substantial.


The 11th annual Tablas Creek Vineyard pig roast dinner

By: Lauren Phelps
We hosted our 11th annual Pig Roast dinner on Saturday evening, August 15th and wanted to share some of the images and a bit of information about this event.  Over 120 guests joined us for a family-style meal on our terraced patio with wines paired from our cellar.  The meal was collaboratively prepared by our very own Winemaker, Neil Collins and local Chef, Jeffery Scott

Tablas_Creek_20150815_182833_2000It was a beautiful evening, and relatively mild for August in Paso Robles.  As the sun set behind the tasting room the breeze brought in cool marine air.

Tablas_Creek_20150815_193044_2000Our very own Darren Delmore and his brother who make up the duo, The Delmore Boys set the tone with their Americana guitar tunes.

Tablas_Creek_20150815_190304_2000Many Tablas Creek team members and their families attended the event including, Neil Collins, Chelsea Franchi, Jason Haas and Nicole Getty.

Tablas_Creek_20150815_190617_2000This year, Neil roasted the 350 pound estate-grown pig for over 12 hours using a modified iron-cross roaster with oak from our property. Chef, Jeffery Scott contributed incredible appetizers and sides using locally-sourced and organic ingredients.

TABLAS CREEK PIG ROAST

SATURDAY AUGUST 15th, 2015

CHEF JEFFERY C. SCOTT

 UPON ARRIVAL

CHILLED SUMMER MELON CUPS
GINGER CRÈME FRAICHE

  TABLAS ESTATE LAMB CRUSTADE
MOROCCAN SPICES, ROSEMARY HUMMUS

DINNER FAMILY STYLE

 HEIRLOOM TOMATO & WATERMELON
FRENCH FETA, SOFT HERBS, BALSAMIC CREMA

TOASTED PEARL COUSCOUS
PINE NUTS, SULTANAS, CURRANTS, FENNEL CONFIT

SHEEP’S MILK YOGURT TATZIKI

MASON JARS OF CAPONATA

HUSH HARBOR RUSTIC BREAD

________________

 EMBER ROASTED TABLAS CREEK ESTATE PIG

AMARETTO-APRICOT GLACÈ

 LOO LOO FARMS GARDEN PAELLA
PORCINI STOCK, LINGUICA, ROMESCO

 CUMIN GLAZED CARROTS & CHARRED SUMMER SQUASH
ROASTED GARLIC, LOCAL GOAT CHEESE, LEMON THYME

______________

BLUEBERRY-PEACH COBBLER

OLIVE OIL GELATO, CINNAMON BASIL

Tablas_Creek_20150815_184259_2000

We paired the meal with the 2014 Grenache Blanc, our 2014 Dianthus, the newly released 2013 Mourvedre and our flagship red wine, the 2011 Esprit de Tablas, that we brought up from the library.

Tablas_Creek_20150815_194257_20003

We'd like to thank all of the guests who joined us and invite you to view additional photos by Patrick Ibarra Photography on our Pig Roast Dinner Flickr Album

Also, we are thrilled to announce that the Cooking Channel's, Man Fire Food will be airing an episode on September 15th highlighting our pig roast dinners! We're really looking forward to watching it.

The date for the 2016 pig roast has not been set yet and we recommend periodically checking our Upcoming Events page for more details.  We give priority invitation to our wine club members and seating is very limited.


Through the glass doors: 360° views of Tablas Creek Vineyard, courtesy of Google

By Lauren Phelps

When you have a limited amount of time to visit a new place for example, how do you decide where to visit?  If you’re anything like me, you type the name of the location into Google and see what pops up.  Well, today if you Google "Tablas Creek Vineyard", a new feature is available that gives you an insider's look (literally) into the tasting room, tank room and surrounding grounds which should help visitors fine-tune their itinerary.

The new tool is a part of Google Maps, which has expanded beyond the basics of maps and directions in recent years.  First they added reviews of the businesses, through Google+.  Then, they added the option to "see photos", which are taken from our Google+ business page.  Now, they've added a new option, to "see inside":

Search Result_475

Once you've clicked on this option (try it here full screen, or use the smaller windows below), you can cruise virtually around the main tasting room, venture into the private and semi-private tasting rooms, and even wander our patio.  You can rotate your view 360° in any of the rooms or locations.  It's a fun and novel way to get a sense of what you'll see when you visit.  An interior view:

From the outside:

Another benefit of creating the virtual tour is the still photography that the team that Google sent out (Evolving Photography) took and uploaded to our Google+ account.  A few of my favorites are below:

Tablas Creek Vineyards 17
Tablas Creek Vineyards 27_475
In many ways, what Google did overlaps the Virtual Tour that we produced in-house a couple of years ago, though the virtual tour takes people out into the cellar and vineyard, and adds narration by our Winemaker, Neil Collins.  But the benefit of having this tour be a part of the Google page where people searching for us land is enormous.  Even though we love it, we've struggled to get more than a few dozen views per week on our virtual tour.  We're hopeful that lots more eyes will see Google's "see inside".

Our new view is part of a concerted effort by Google; Wine Spectator posted an article today noting that we're one of 78 wineries (and 10 breweries) in California for whom Google has completed this expansion of their "street view" footprint.

We hope that the Google Tour will join our Virtual Tour as interesting and useful tools that will give potential visitors another reason to visit Tablas Creek Vineyard.  Please, let us know what you think.