Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Why We Left....

You know, every once in a while something happens that makes me question myself.  Or why I'm in business.  Or why I tend not to engage my brain before putting my mouth in gear.

We recently had a review put on Tripadvisor (here's the link:  It's interesting in its tone, and believe me, like everything, there are two sides to the story.

At one time, our winery desperately needed the wine trail and the events that went along with it.  When our family took over Allegro, we were extremely under-capitalized.  I remember talking to a consultant and showed them the asking price....he said, wow, it will probably take twice that to get it back into shape.  We, of course, didn't have twice that amount.  Hell, we didn't even have that amount.  But through borrowing from family, credit cards, and AgChoice Farm Credit, we pulled off the sale.  After a year of running the winery, we realized we were up a creek with regards to sales.

The only thing we knew to do at that point to save our collective butts was to ramp up sales.  So, my wife Kris re-started the Mason-Dixon wine trail single-handedly.  (This was before the UnCork York wine trail was bequeathed the name.)  She was also part of the formation of the UnCork York wine trail.  (She was the one who came up with the name "Tour de Tanks"!)  We desperately needed the sales and exposure that these events brought us.

We did all the events, everything it took, and we stayed in business barely.  Just barely.  Then after a dozen years, we realized we still were around and hadn't closed our doors.  (And our loan officer started to make more positive comments--thanks, Bruce!)  It was at that point that we knew things were starting to change for the better for us.

Last year we looked back and noticed a few things.  In our desperation for sales, we had asked a lot of our staff.  They were the ones who had to put in the hours of pouring and talking about our wines (which they say they enjoyed!)  But they also had to put up with the bad situations, and these were becoming more and more frequent.

This all came to a head last year when a large group who had obviously been on the wine trail all day decided to make us their last stop.  We ended up having to refuse service to three women (something we have fortunately rarely had to do at the winery), and they ended up becoming belligerent.  Their boyfriends weren't happy about it either when they came inside after drinking beer in front of our winery.  Needless to say, this was one of the most unpleasant experiences for our staff, and something I don't ever wish to put them through again.  My staff mean a lot to me, and they are dedicated to Allegro and our wines.  But this was the limit.

So, out of respect for my staff, we have been trying to eliminate this element from our tasting room.  The first and easiest way was to drop out of the wine trail.  I know that doing so upset people out there, probably because we had a reputation for the best food spread on the trail.  And, even though the guy in the back (me) would rant on and on and say bad things about Chambourcin, people still came back.  

What we've noticed since leaving the trail is that we now sell more wine at our spring and fall events.  In the past, we would average about $11 in sales per person on the wine trail.  Without the wine trail, our average is up to over $40 per person usually.

Why is this?  I think it's because the people who now come out to our winery aren't coming out for a chance to drink some wine....they're coming out because they want a good tasting experience, they want to learn about the wines, and they want to purchase some to take home.  And that works out well for us, since we're a winery and not a bar or a nightclub or a restaurant.  Our customers tell us that they appreciate our signs about no large groups, no buses, no limos.  It makes their experience better, and my staff happier as well.  And that's what our winery is about.

So, yes, we don't need the wine trail anymore and we don't like dealing with drunks.  If that makes us arrogant, then so be it.  But for me, it's about taking care of my staff and taking care of the customers who take care of us.  And maybe not second-guessing myself so much anymore.