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Tours and interpretation

Occupational Health & Safety and Vineyard Quarantine regulations in Australia and New Zealand prevent many wineries from offering tours of the winery and vineyard. This is unfortunate, because it's a great way to value add the cellar door experience and create a point of difference.

However, a bit of forethought can easily incorporate a safe touring environment that protects staff, visitors and property through the installation of catwalks and observatories. Even if your current set up doesn't allow for this kind of adaptation, there are simple ways to minimise risk and let visitors see how you do things.

One way is to restrict the size of your tours and implement a checklist for staff and visitors to observe prior to and during the tour. Make sure appropriate footwear is worn and erect signs that clearly indicate areas that are out of bounds.

Avoid the really peak periods when you know that hoses and water will be everywhere (although it can also be an exciting time for visitors to see the winery in the full swing of vintage). Train staff in the art of tour guiding and provide information sheets for visitors to refer to during the tour. Vineyard tours can be a lot simpler.

Some vignerons worry about the increased risk of Phylloxera spread if visitors are allowed into the vineyards. The simple fact is, that if people really want to walk in a vineyard, they'll stop on the side of the road and take a walk anyway (observe the behaviour of visitors in any wine region during vintage, for example).

Guided tours offer an opportunity for control and education. Introduce the "disinfecting foot bath" at the start of every tour and tell visitors why they must undergo the process. It will simply form part of the experience for them. If you can, get them involved in the process - whether it's picking some grapes or pruning a vine. Offering a hands-on experience will create a considerable impression.

Some wineries are fortunate enough to have native bush, wetlands, historical buildings and other agricultural pursuits, like lavender or olive groves. Design a tour that takes visitors through these areas and create some simple interpretation along the way to tell the story.

Guided or self-guided? Scheduled or on-demand?

This decision really depends on your resources, both human and capital, and it needn't be either/or. A well-constructed winery tour with appropriate interpretive story boards and observation areas can work really well and there's only a single upfront cost involved (with minor maintenance and updating required occasionally).

 Guided tours rely heavily on the knowledge and personality of individual tour guides, who also have to be paid. Of course, delivered well, the personal interaction can yield sales and loyalty outcomes that self-guided tours often lack.

Scheduling tours has pros and cons. Access to regular scheduled tours is a huge advantage for referral business and tour operators. It also allows you to roster staff and plan your activities effectively. For example, if your facilities include a restaurant, then scheduling a tour just before lunch and another just after are great ways to get people to stay longer and spend more.

The downside is that even if only a couple of visitors turn up, you're still obliged to run the tour, and the sales may not cover your costs. Some wineries run scheduled tours during peak periods and on-demand at other times. If your tour can also be run on a self-guided basis, you can always send visitors out on their own during busy periods when you don't have enough staff.

Tours as a revenue source

One of the dilemmas for tour operators wishing to engage more closely with wineries is the lack of "commissionable product" available. Just like the wine distribution channel, each person or organisation in the "channel" expects a cut for their part in making the sale. It's no different for tourism - and tour operators expect a minimum of 10% commission for making sales on your behalf. Offering tour packages is a great way for wineries to value add and increase revenue.

A "tour and tasting" becomes a fee-based "product" that tour operators can sell and receive a small percentage on. You can have different packages based on the wines being offered, length of tour, whether it's winemaker-hosted and an option to include food or a souvenir as well. Do your research and work out what the market wants (ask your visitors, tour operators and tourism organisations) then develop a package to suit.

It’s part of your image

As with everything else to do with cellar door, ensure that the way you deliver is congruent with your brand image. If you're situated in a rustic tin shed environment, a highly technical computer driven interpretation centre may seem a little out of place. Conversely, handing around jars containing common objects that emit aromas reminiscent of those found in your wines provides a great way to interact with visitors and educate at the same time.

At a basic level you might like to consider that what is obvious to you might need interpreting to your customers. For example, how often are you asked what variety is that? Why not create some vine interpretation with a brief explanation of the varieties you grow (and why), and some basic viticultural pointers. Equally, you may have winemaking equipment in sight of visitors. A series of signs describing the use of each piece will not only create a stronger connection to your brand, but will often create a conversation opener that helps put intimidated newcomers at ease.

Often it takes an outsider (or a willing friend) to identify the areas of your customer experience that would benefit from some interpretation - sometimes you are just too close to see the obvious.

Many wineries have long histories and have retained equipment, implements and photographs from a bygone era that are of interest to visitors today. This kind of thing can easily be adapted into a feature wall of historical photos, supported by one or two major pieces of equipment that form a central display. If you've also got a significant outbuilding, it could possibly be adapted to house the displays.

In South Africa, many of the wine farms feature manor houses that have been faithfully restored to feature life as it was a couple of hundred years ago. Fees from public tours contribute to the upkeep and create a significant point of difference.

Art has long been associated with wine (indeed, winemaking can also be regarded as an art form), and many wineries have capitalised on this synergy very well. To be effective, art needs to be displayed professionally, so enlist the help of the artist or a gallery to get this aspect right. You need to decide whether the display will be permanent or change regularly, whether pieces will be sold (on a commission basis) or simply for viewing.

Working with local artists is a great way to get the community involved and introduce visitors to a genuine snapshot of local culture. Perhaps you can even create an event out of showing unknown artist's works for the first time and obtain some media coverage as well. If it's at all possible, link the art with your brand. Some wineries have achieved this through their labels, which feature the artwork that is displayed on the walls.

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