Sheldrake Point Winery – Finger Lakes, NY

winery tour

Sheldrake Point Winery is on the western shore of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes wine region. My significant other and I were immediately struck by the beautiful grounds with a nice view of the lake. An interesting tidbit is that you can visit the winery by boat – boats up to thirty-five feet in length can tie up at one of their dock spaces.

Upon entering the winery, we were impressed by the welcoming warmth and cheerfulness of the person behind the tasting bar. We enjoyed trying the various wines, which were accompanied by some education about each one. I am always a fan of learning about the wines I am tasting, and I am always open to trying something different. Although I am much more of a dry wine drinker, I found their sweet Ice Apple Wine dangerously drinkable.

The person pouring the wine also shared some entertaining stories. We learned that her husband is a chef and she is quite the foodie. When asked if she was so into food before she met her husband, she exclaimed that she absolutely was not – she mostly ate tuna fish and potato chips!

The principle of liking was in play here – the principle that people tend to say yes to or make purchases from those they like. Being knowledgeable, warm, and engaging, and finding some commonality with customers (wine is a pretty obvious commonality at a winery and often food too) leads to a great winery experience. Of course the enjoyable wine and beautiful view didn’t hurt either but the excellent customer service really made the experience.

On a side note, we tried to get ourselves invited to dinner at the house of the person pouring the wine and her chef husband but apparently great customer service only goes so far…

Auburn Road Vineyards – Pilesgrove, NJ

vineyards

A busy tasting room can certainly be a challenge. So when my significant other and I walked into Auburn Road Vineyards on a Saturday afternoon and saw a packed tasting bar, we were not sure what type of winery experience we would be getting. But there was certainly no cause for concern, as the two women running the tasting bar had it covered. They seamlessly took turns with each of the customers, ensuring that one of them was always pouring the next taste when a glass emptied. This strategy seemed to work better than the often used one in which the person who starts the tasting finishes the tasting.

In addition to their attentiveness, the staff also imparted their knowledge of the wine. This educational aspect of the winery experience can often be lost, especially in a busy tasting room. We had just come from a couple of other wineries where the staff were attentive and friendly but their pours of wine were accompanied by these descriptions: “This is the Chambourcin.” “This is the Cabernet Sauvignon.” Learning something about the grapes, the way the wine was made, or even the name chosen for the wine can enhance the winery experience.

We learned at Auburn Road that they grow most of their own grapes but use Cabernet Franc and Grenache from Lodi, CA in their Winemaker’s Blend. We also learned that their Eidolon wine (a red blend) was named for the Walt Whitman “Leaves of Grass” poem; apparently the Whitman poem took seven years to perfect and so did this blend. A great story to engage the customer. They also infuse a little humor into their wine. Their peach wine (white wine blended with Jersey peaches) is called “Give Peach a Chance” named after the John Lennon song. Although I am not usually a fan of sweet wine, this one was crisp and refreshing and made me think longingly of summer.

I often find the story behind a winery interesting as well, especially in New Jersey where several of the winemakers did not start out their careers in the wine industry. Auburn Road is a good example. The staff member told us that the winery has six owners who were professionals in other fields but working long hours in their positions left limited time for their families and they wanted to make a change. She noted that some of the male owners started out making the wine but it turned out one of the female owners was better suited for the job. So they have a self-taught woman winemaker and created a successful business. An inspiring story.

Being attentive to customers in a busy tasting room without losing any of the interesting educational aspects of the tasting as well as using a little humor can lead to a truly excellent winery experience that engages customers and encourages sales and a return visit. We gave peach a chance and bought that bottle, and we will certainly be back.

Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars – Finger Lakes, NY

winery tours

Set upon beautiful, well-manicured grounds, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars has an impressive tasting room and a lovely view of Seneca Lake. They offer a standard tasting and a specialty tasting (my significant other and I shared both).

I was impressed that the tasting room staff really took the time to offer a great learning experience to the customer. For example, we selected three different Rieslings to try and the staff member leading our tasting poured all five of their Rieslings so we could appreciate the similarities and differences. She also set up some side-by-side tastings showcasing different vintages and oak versus stainless steel aging.

The staff member’s generosity with both her knowledge and the wine was much appreciated, as she shared her expertise in a warm and friendly manner that made us want to learn as much as possible from the tasting. Further, our experience with the various wines ultimately helped us to decide on which wines to purchase. A win for the customer and the seller.

After our tasting, we found the two picnic tables on their grounds and had lunch. An amazing view, friendly and knowledgeable wine staff, and a unique learning opportunity all made this a fabulous winery experience.

Foxen 7200 or “The Shack” – Santa Barbara County, CA

The Shack – the name alone holds some intrigue. This Foxen Vineyard tasting room was recommended to us by another winery. Several questions immediately came to mind – is it really a shack, what does that look like, how is the wine? My significant other and I decided we had to know the answers and we headed for the Shack.

Foxen Vineyards was founded by long-time friends Bill Wathen and Dick Doré in 1985. The Shack, a blacksmith shop built in the 1860’s, was Foxen’s original tasting room (they opened a large solar-powered tasting room in 2009). The Shack features Bordeaux and Italian-style wines whereas the newer tasting room has more of a Pinot Noir and Rhone-style focus.

Yes, the Shack is a shack (see photos below). It has a roof and is mostly enclosed but one side is open leading out to tables on a patio where the mountain view is beautiful. The wine was great; poured by knowledgeable Foxen staff who bolstered a friendly atmosphere. We particularly liked the Cabernet Sauvignon from Happy Canyon (part of Santa Barbara County).

I didn’t miss any amenities or opulence of a fancier building. In fact, the tasting room atmosphere with its laid-back and comfortable vibe fostered warm interactions among the customers. Perhaps due to the simplicity of the setting (in addition to the friendliness of the staff and the tastiness of the wine), everyone turned to each other to chat.

We spoke with two brothers, one of whom had recently lost a close friend. We listened to the story of his friend, who sounded like an amazing person, and raised a glass in his honor.

This winery experience had rustic charm, good wine, and new friends.

 

Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyards – Santa Barbara County, CA

It is not so easy for a vegetarian (or at least this vegetarian) to really love Syrah. This Rhône varietal typically has a bouquet that is meaty or gamey, and the aroma can be very strong. So when Zaca Mesa was recommended to us as a stop on our wine tour of Santa Barbara County because they make great Syrah, I was hesitant. But there are Syrahs that I quite like and I am always willing to try good wine, so my significant other and I headed for their tasting room.

Zaca Mesa, the third winery established in Santa Barbara County, is a family-owned business. They offer two flights in their tasting room – a mixed flight and a reserve red flight. We selected the reserve red since it showcased three Syrahs. We were helped by two different staff members, both friendly and knowledgeable.

I was enjoying their Syrahs when I noticed on their complete wine list that they make a Grenache, a Rhône varietal I particularly like. I asked if we could try the Grenache but the staff member helping us at the time said there was no open bottle so we could not try that wine.

The other staff member came by at the end of the tasting and asked us if we wanted to revisit any of the wines on the list (always a nice customer service move). We declined and mentioned that we had hoped to try the Grenache but understood there was not one open. This staff member immediately grabbed a bottle and one of those wine-preserving systems in which wine can be drawn from the bottle without pulling the cork. And with that we had a taste of the Grenache.

We are always on the lookout for a wine club to join but we are very selective about this (we only ever joined two). We really liked Zaca Mesa’s wines but we had mostly tasted Syrah to that point and we were not sure if we wanted to join. Until we tasted the delightful Grenache. Pouring this wine made the decision clear and we do plan to join their wine club.

You never know when taking just one extra step for a customer will lead in the end to a big sale.

 

 

 

Dr. Konstantin Frank – Finger Lakes, NY

Dr. Konstantin Frank (the Dr. is for his Ph.D. in viticulture) first founded his NY winery in 1962. He is credited with bringing vitis vinifera (traditional grapes of European winemakers) to New York. Since this is a “big name” winery, I feared a more commercial experience but that was not the case at all. This is a family business (they are on their 4th generation in the business) with warm customer service.

We were immediately greeted by a friendly staff member who personally escorted us to the tasting room (perhaps we looked a little lost but I think it was just their excellent customer service). The person who conducted the tasting was very friendly and knowledgeable. I had noted at some other wineries that the people pouring the wine were not pursuing the study or business of wine. One told me he was about to start medical school and another said she started working at a winery after her job in public health fell through. These folks were very nice but it adds to the winery experience when you know you are speaking with more of a “wine authority.”

At Dr. Frank’s, the person pouring the wine was pursuing the study of wine and had recently passed a sommelier exam. Her enthusiasm for the topic shone through, which also enhanced the winery experience. Principles of liking and authority were at play for an excellent winery experience.

The winery produces a wide variety of wine, which we very much enjoyed tasting, including a line of sparkling wine (created by Dr. Frank’s son Willy), which to me was a welcome detour from all of the Rieslings we had been tasting on this Finger Lakes trip. We purchased both a sparkling and a Riesling. After the tasting we sat outside and took in the beautiful views of Keuka Lake (below) – the perfect way to end a fabulous winery experience.

Coffee Pot Cellars – Long Island, NY

Coffee Pot Cellars is a small establishment in Cutchogue on the North Fork of Long Island.  The tasting room was opened in 2013 by a husband (Adam) and wife (Laura) team.  Adam is the winemaker and Laura, who is a local beekeeper, runs the tasting room.

Upon first walking into the tasting room, there was a palpable positive energy generated by Laura.  Her enthusiasm for her wine as well as her work as a beekeeper filled the room.  She said she has been described as “eccentric” – I would agree but it is eccentricity in the nicest sense of the word.  We were also greeted by Beasley, their dog, for whom the wine Beasley’s Blend is named.

The tasting room was well appointed – no fabulous view of a vineyard but warmly decorated.  Our flight included a taste of all of Adam’s wines.  The wines were good, not exactly what we typically drink, but we had a clear favorite (it happened to be the most expensive).

The experiential perspective of consumer decision-making is when a purchase is made based on the experience itself, which is typically emotions-driven. If you tell a story, make a connection, demonstrate some commonality, you can help ensure a positive experience for the consumer and are more likely to have a positive outcome.

We had a very pleasant discussion with Laura on such topics as the wine (naturally), retirement communities in New Jersey, my job as a psychologist, doing research to keep up in one’s field, and the idiosyncratic behavior of bees.

There were no extra pours of wine and no freebies, plus it was our last stop and we had already bought plenty of wine, but how could we not purchase a bottle of wine in return for such fascinating conversation that led to a very enjoyable winery experience?

Kastania Vineyards – Sonoma County

The moment you walk into Kastania, you feel like you are visiting an old friend. My significant other and I were instantly and warmly greeted by Hoot Smith, who introduced himself and his wife Linda. They are the owners and winemakers of this small lot establishment in the Petaluma Gap, a small winemaking area of southern Sonoma county that is currently part of the Sonoma Coast AVA but has petitioned to become its own AVA.

Hoot explained that at age six he was nicknamed after Hoot Gibson, the rodeo champion and actor (we never did find out the reason for the nickname). It seems Hoot and Linda were destined to be together, as she loves owls – there is an owl on their wine labels – but this is unrelated to her husband’s nickname (it’s apparently a common misconception that her affinity for owls has to do with her husband’s nickname – that question was asked by almost everyone who entered the winery while we were there).

The tasting room was small but the presence of Hoot and Linda made it special. In addition, although we didn’t get a good look on this cold and rainy day, the patio outside seemed as though it would be very inviting. As we tasted the wines, six pinot noirs (some named after their grandchildren – very endearing) plus one cabernet franc/cabernet sauvignon blend, Hoot regaled us with stories.

We learned that Hoot really wanted this wine business to be a joint venture with Linda, so he signed them both up for wine classes. He said that Linda was reluctant at first but then fell in love with it. Hoot noted that he has sold his grapes to wineries such as Landmark in Sonoma, who used those grapes in a wine served to a US president.

The Kastania wines were very enjoyable. It was a good education in pinot noir – how different clones and different vintages of the same grape can lead to very different wines. On our wine tasting trips, there is often one bottle of wine that we wish we had bought. Kastania was an early stop on our trip and we hadn’t yet decided if we were taking wine home with us (carrying liquids on planes being complicated, expensive, and all) so after a few moments of indecision we didn’t purchase a bottle. Kastania’s pinot noir became that one bottle we wish we had bought.

Interestingly, my significant other noted that if the tasting fee had been refunded with purchase (as some wineries do), his indecision was more likely to end up in favor of purchasing a bottle. To be fair, we didn’t ask if the tasting fee would be refunded with purchase (since usually a refund is advertised). So in that moment, we didn’t buy a bottle of wine.

But since there was good wine and good conversation, we’ll probably stop by on our next trip to pick one up – preferably on a warm and sunny day when we can enjoy their beautiful surroundings.  I would certainly be happy to see Hoot and Linda again.

Channing Daughters Winery – Long Island, NY

On our last Long Island winery trip, my significant other and I ventured down to the South Fork where, in contrast to the bustling North Fork, there are very few wineries.   We entered the well-lit tasting room at Channing Daughters Winery, which had a view that would undoubtedly be quite beautiful during a season other than winter.

Although there were others in the tasting room, we were immediately greeted with warmth and enthusiasm.  There were a number of wines on the tasting flight and the person pouring the wine offered an additional pour or two of other wines that were open.  Another winery staff member started speaking with us and ended up taking over the tasting.  He provided equally pleasant conversation and offered some additional wines to try.

We learned a lot about their wines and winemaking process.  When he stepped away for a moment to help another customer, the first staff member immediately came back to offer her assistance to us.  Truly excellent customer service.  The wine was not exactly our style but we were already discussing which bottle we wanted to purchase because we firmly believe in rewarding a fabulous winery experience.

In addition, they made wise suggestions about pairings for the wine.  I ended up deciding on a white wine that we were told pairs well with Thai food.  As a vegetarian, I like these more broad food pairing suggestions (how many times can I hear about pairings with steak and fish – surely wines are more versatile than that).  Plus, you never know what will appeal to your customer – my mother and I go out for Thai food every few months and I typically bring the wine (it did end up pairing quite well).  I’m also a sucker for when they say the wine would be good baked into brownies or paired with anything chocolate.

Toward the end of the tasting, the second person helping us started heading to the back room and said, “Hold on.  I like you guys.” He returned with a freshly baked loaf of bread from a local bakery that they typically provide to wine club members.  I am a huge bread fan (we didn’t dare mention that my significant other is gluten free) and if I wasn’t already going to purchase a bottle of wine, I certainly would have now. If we are given something for free (extra pours of wine, a loaf of bread), the principle of reciprocity can kick in and we want to do something in return (like make a purchase).

How often do you come away from a winery experience with such excellent service and a freshly baked loaf of bread?

Shaw Vineyard – Finger Lakes, NY

There are some fancy, elaborate winery buildings and tasting rooms in the Finger Lakes. Shaw Vineyard on Seneca Lake has more of a rustic building and tasting room. It seems they let the wines speak for themselves. The tasteful simplicity of the tasting room and the very knowledgeable person pouring the wine seemed to enhance the experience of and focus on the wines.

Shaw Tasting Room Building

We learned that Steve Shaw, the grape grower, winemaker, and owner, grew up in the Finger Lakes and uses sustainable agriculture practices. As we tasted through a few whites and a number of reds, we learned a little about wild yeast and orange wine (they do make one – white wine made with grape skin contact, which leads to an orange color) but mostly we focused on our enjoyment of the wines. There are no distractions or shiny bells and whistles, and the wines hold their own.

One neat tidbit we discovered is that the label on the pinot grigio-sauvignon blanc blend depicts a painting Steve Shaw’s son made as a young child (around the age of three years, if I recall correctly). The original is hanging on a wall of the tasting room; an absolutely charming addition to the décor (see photos below). His son is an adult now and I (mostly jokingly) asked if he pursued a career in art (from a developmental perspective, the painting is good for such a young child). I learned that the label on the LiBella Pinot Grigio is a more recent drawing by the son, so he has carried on his artwork, at least on wine labels.

Pinot Grigio – Sauvignon Blanc
Original Painting

We thoroughly enjoyed the wines, particularly the reds, and were happy to make a purchase given our enjoyable winery experience that simply allowed a good product to shine.