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Dave Potter
June 1, 2007 | Dave Potter

cellar doors

logo_little_creatures.gifbystander.jpgHere is a quote from someone who is something of a legend in the Aussie wine industry. Phil Sexton, speaking at an industry conference and commenting on cellar doors. Phil has founded two of my favorite venues in Australia Little Creatures brewery, which gave me inspiration for the Municipal Winery, and his newest project is Innocent Bystander / Giant Steps winery in the Yarra Valley. I had been dreaming about my winery for the last year, then walked in to this place and saw my dream up and running. I think Phil is brilliant. Listen to what he has to say...
"Cellar doors are traditionally intimidating places, set up to cater for wine snobs – us. The very 4.5% of the market, which we all fight over, are already converted. Yet we set up our cellar doors for 4.5% of the market. Cellar doors are elitist. How many of you have experienced watching a favoured taster further down the line getting to taste that bottle under the counter that you’re not shown.Cellar doors can be rude. How many times have you been told, ‘No, you have to taste your way through the line-up before you can get to try the reserves’.Cellar doors can be financially scary, just like the tipping question. ‘How much do I need to buy to placate this person that’s just sampled me through a range of wines.?’ We’ve all been through it.Cellar doors can be boring. How often is the cellar door a fancy, architect designed statement of style where the winery is somewhere else hidden or behind. The question is, ‘Do they actually make wine here?’ but then again,‘Do they actually make wine?’, etc, etc.Cellar door visits can be short – seen one you’ve seen them all. You’ve got the ubiquitous local products display and wine trinkets. And you’ve got the restaurant trying for its life to replicate fine city dining in a rural environment.Time will tell whether we’re right or wrong about this. But we believe that working winemakers need to confirm that they do grow and make wine. They need to confirm that they are not brand heroes, PR aporetics or ex-toothpaste brand managers. And they need to pitch their hospitality not at the converts and wine snobs but rather than 95.5% of the consuming market who at the moment pick up their safe brands from supermarket shelves.Pitching at that 95.5% of the market who buy wine for less than $20 but who are also cautious about cellar doors really is the breakout point, I think, for small independent wine producers. In other words, turn the market upside down. Pitch to the people who you feel on the surface you shouldn’t be pitching to. It means changing everything in the way you go about a cellar door.Change the language, drop all the talk about malolactics. Don’t correct them when they say ‘Riseling’ instead of ‘Riesling’. It means changing the language that you communicate with the visitors to your cellar door. It means changing the tasting routines, that having to wait for someone to come along and pour you the next wine and maybe they don’t notice you or maybe you don’t look important enough or you look too much like a granny and therefore you’re not going to buy anything so you don’t get to see the wines the guy next – it means changing the whole tasting routines. It means changing the style, the pricing and delivery of hospitality. Take the intimidation out of it. And it also, and very importantly, means changing your expectation of immediate gratification in the cellar door. Just getting your brand into their safe set is money in the bank.I don’t know if you can read that t-shirt (on screen). All the staff at our cellar door wear that t-shirt. It says ‘Relax, I’m not on commission’. I should also add just on the side, our cellar door is never open for tasting unless one of the winemaking team, and these are all graduate winemakers, is in behind the bar along with a couple of the other staff. So at no time will anyone go and taste wine at our winery without a winemaker being behind the counter somewhere.And we think it’s crucial to communicate to people that the winemaking people take this really seriously and that we do make the wine. Our cellar door is in the main street of town, down at Healesville. And it tooka lot of thought and a lot of courage I think, to take it off the vineyard. The natural thing to do was to put it on the vineyard and create the whole vineyard experience. We are down a 1.5km long dirt road and whether we accept it or not, a lot of people aren’t going to put their cars down that road.The other thing about the cellar door is it’s big, it’s boomy, it’s kind of modelled on a railway station café – well it wasn’t modelled on anything really but it’s clangy, it’s noisy, you get often people are asked to move aside as they are moving another pallet load of wine in there or barrels through. It directly engages the actual winemaking part of the winery and although the photographs don’t demonstrate very well the view at the top left, top right from your direction, is you’re looking straight into the barrel hall and further along you’re looking straight into the winery, the tanks, all of our tours, and they leave twice a day, go right through the winery, including vintage, and even to the extent where people can taste juice or wine straight out of openfermenters. They’re walking past them all. They go around on catwalks, the only restrictions is they can’t be in high heels. We can’t get them on the catwalks. But we really want people to engage with the fact that it’s, and dare I say this and people will think it’s the wrong thing to say, but they’re in a factory. We want them to think of it as a factory.We also love to talk about what side of the hill our grapes came from and which clones we’re working with and how irrigation regimes or the lack of irrigation and all those sorts of things and malolactic, but we sense – well I’m sure we know – I believe we know that 95% of the market you lost ‘em the moment you start on all that. And if we can’t sell to that 95% then I don’t think we’ll be here in five years time. So we need to be selling to them. And therefore we use a lot of communication devices like this (screen image)...But in conclusion, I would like to acknowledge that, like most of you here, we’re here for the wine. Nothing inspires us more than that magical coming together of site, culture, varietal, clone, climate, technique and not the least, time. But that mouthful goes way outside the realms of acceptable language for our target 95.5% of the market place. So if we working winemakers are to recognise that unless we are to be the patronised artists, we must embrace and become competitive within the whole of the wine industry using our strengths and points of difference to make inroads into the branded beverage industry whilst indulging ourselves in the fine wine industry."
Couldn't have said it better myself.


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