By SOPHIA TIMKO
When it comes to the best-selling wines, one might expect those with the best aromas or those that are the oldest will sell quickly. However, studies led by Prof. Miguel Gomez, applied economics and management, have shown that aromas and years are not the only aspects that drive consumerism of wine.
Gomez’ research team designed two studies to reveal which types of wines consumers want.
According to Gomez, the studies gauged customer satisfaction through surveying consumers in tasting rooms across New York. These surveys covered everything from signage to parking lot appearance.
Gomez found that it was not necessarily the quality of wine that intrigued customers, but the service level and environment of the tasting room. According to Gomez, a nice view out of a window, as well as the knowledge and friendliness of the server, are the key precursors to a satisfied customer.
“If you have a nice window with a nice view or an open space with a nice view, people are much happier than if you have them in a darker, enclosed tasting room,” Gomez said.
Wine purchases are also determined by the amount and type of information given to the customers. Gomez and his collaborators performed a three-month study, which weekly changed the type of information about the wines, that revealed consumers are more responsive to objective descriptors as opposed to subjective descriptors, according to Gomez.
Objective descriptors include technical aspects of the wine such as rating or year. Subjective descriptors are the special features of the wine such as the aroma or color.
“If you are the sommelier of the tasting rooms, having just objective descriptors makes it so that you have to interact more with the customer, allowing for a more personal connection,” Gomez said.
To apply these findings, Gomez and his collaborator, Prof. Anna Mansfield, enology, held training sessions throughout New York for tasting room employees.
According to Mansfield, tasting room employees often come from a range of backgrounds and do not often know a lot about wine.
Training sessions cover everything from the basics of enology and viticulture – especially grape growing and winemaking in New York – to sensory perception.
“Everyone is wired differently, so it’s important to be conscious of that when interacting with customers,” Mansfield said. “For a supertaster, sensitive to bitterness, red wine may be too strong, so you have to move them to a more aromatic white wine.”
The first training session was held in spring 2012 on Long Island. According to Mansfield, the sessions have been successful in teaching tasting room employees better strategies for selling wine.
Workshops have also been held in areas such as Lake Erie, the Finger Lakes and East Gardner, Pennsylvania in collaboration with Pennsylvania State University.
Since winemakers and Cornell researchers alike have found the training sessions effective, Gomez will continue to host training sessions in order to improve sales across New York. According to Gomez, the next step is to expand the training sessions geographically.
Before this is possible, however, it is important to find out whether the consumer trends found in Gomez’s studies are unique to New York or the same everywhere. It is also important, when trying to understand customer satisfaction, to evaluate the cost of making these changes and improvements in the tasting rooms.
“We know that making customers happy increases sales, but we have much to learn about how much it costs,” Gomez said.
Gomez and Mansfield have received positive feedback from winemakers like Juan Micieli-Martinez, winemaker and general manager of Martha Clara Vineyards on Long Island, who first suggested to Mansfield that these workshops take place. Micieli-Martinez realized, from visiting other wineries, that the customer service level in other regions, like Napa, California, was at a much higher level than it was in New York.
“It’s one thing to have great wine, but we need to sell that great wine and have a well-trained staff that’s comfortable doing that,” Micieli-Martinez said.
Ithaca is located in the Finger Lakes wine region which is known for its cool climate. Riesling grapes, used to make white and sparkling wines, are a specialty of the region.