The goal of Winefest? It depends on who you ask

Attendees at Colorado Mountain Winefest line up for a free sample at the Bookcliff Vineyards booth. It’s costly to give away free wine and winemakers have long wondered about what role pouring free wine has in eventual sales.

Winefest is for selling wine.

No, Winefest is for selling you.

Colorado winemakers heard both sides of this statement last week during one of the seminars at the combined 2014 VinCo and Western Colorado Horticultural Society conference at Two Rivers Convention Center.

VinCo is the annual, four-day gathering of grape growers, winemakers and wine-industry experts provided as part of the many services from the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology (CAVE).

Specialists and speakers from around the country addressed a wide range of topics, same basic, some advanced, such as growing cool-climate grapes, dealing with winemaking problems, maximizing tax benefits and understanding the state’s water resources.

And that was just the winemaking side of the conference; the Hort Show had an equally busy schedule for fruit growers.

One of the many fascinating topics focused on those earlier remarks about determining what Winefest should be.

In a seminar enticingly titled “The Goal of Winefest: It’s Not Selling Wine in a Park,” Beckett Taylor and Jacob Harkins from the PR firm Godot Communications presented the argument that the reason for a wine festival, whether it’s Colorado Mountain Winefest, the Urban Winefest or any wine festival, is not simply to sell as much wine as possible but to develop long-term relationships with your customers.

“The goal is not to not make money, but you should judge success on the long-term effects,” said Harkins, director of public relations for Godot. “Judge it on the relationships you develop.”

While everyone acknowledged that sales at Winefest can be an important part of the summer income, it was equally clear that one day of sales do not equate to return business.

“It’s about exposure,” said Michelle Cleveland, winemaker at Creekside Cellars in Evergreen. “I want to introduce people to our wines and get them excited about our wines.”

But how to do that?

Usually, the first contact you have with a would-be customer is when they stick out their glass for some wine.

“The amount of wine poured in a glass reflects on what you are doing,” Harkins said. “Pouring too much is a bad idea. Pour too little comes off as cheap.”

Should there be a universal pour line on every glass handed out to Winefest attendees? Winemakers, understandably reluctant to pour free wine, agreed there should be an pre-determined size of that free taste.

“You don’t want to pour too much and you also don’t want to pour too little,” said Brooke Webb of Mesa Park Vineyards on East Orchard Mesa. “I try to look at it from the other side of the table, to pour enough to get a taste and perhaps have a little left to savor the wine.”

Karen Hellickson of Stone Cottage Cellars in Paonia said she frequently has customers who tell her when to stop.

“They’ll be lifting their glass, saying ‘That’s enough,’” she said.

Cassidee Shull, CAVE executive director, said pouring sizes have been a concern because “different wineries have different ideas of what a taste should be.”

“From the event planning side, we want to make sure everyone is on the same page and is happy with the amount served,” she said.

Taylor said the perception should not be one of being “cheap.”

“Treat them as a guest,” he said. “Many other industries would kill to have an endless line of new customers waiting for their product.”

At the same time, the argument was made that wine-glass collectors don’t want a line disfiguring the design.

No problem, Taylor said.

“Artists can design a glass with an unobtrusive pour line,” he said, something he said they will pursue for future Winefests.

Harkins and Taylor encouraged winemakers to select carefully which of the state’s many wine festivals they should attend.

“Judge which festivals and which markets you want reach,” Harkins said. “Figure out which works because every wine festival offers something different.”

And Taylor added, “If you’re not selling your wine on the Front Range, it probably does little good to attend the Urban Winefest.”

Other suggestions for building lasting customer relationships were to lure them with a wine available only at the winery, let them know about a wine club, and having enough staff at Winefest that you are free to talk with the customers.

More on this topic, including the responsibilities of being a good guest at Winefest, will follow.

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