Wednesday, 04 March 2020 10:35


Written by  Sophie Preece

Cellar door staff can learn a lot from a little undercover shopping, says Brent Pilcher, Pernod Ricard Winemakers’ National Brand Homes Manager.

The team at Church Road Winery cellar door, winner of New Zealand Winegrowers’ inaugural New Zealand Cellar Door of the Year Award, take a sneak peek at other operators in the region, under the guise of an average wine tourist.

The mystery shopping offers a fresh perspective, “because we are walking in the customer’s shoes”, says Brent, who also oversees the cellar door operation at the Brancott Estate Cellar Door and Restaurant in Marlborough.

“We are going out to see people who are doing really well and people who are not.” 

Pernod’s cellar door teams also use a past mystery shopper questionnaire as a guide to strengthening their performance, he says. “What is it the customers are wanting to see and what are the expectations of our business? It has aligned itself so well with what we want to do as a company.” 

Learnings are put into play at Church Road, where a major goal is to provide an experience that convinces visitors they should stay in Hawke’s Bay for two or three days, in order to discover the breadth of the region’s wine offering, says Brent. “The whole industry will benefit from that and we are trying to play our part.”

It is clear from the questionnaires that cellar doors, industry wide, have a common failing in not connecting with customers for the long term, he says.

“We are exceptionally good at showing people our wine, but we are not good at asking them to buy it, or in connecting them with future contact through a wine club database and newsletter… Those are the areas that we consistently struggle with and we have used that very much as a focus.”

Church Road Winery’s dedication to creating an exceptional experience for wine tourists has seen it win the Hawke’s Bay cellar door competition two times in the past three years, followed by the national accolade.

Comments at the New Zealand Cellar Door of the Year Award, presented at the New Zealand Wine of the Year Awards, noted that the cellar door celebrated wine “in the past and present with an eye on the future, with a wide range of different, immersive and interactive experiences available for visitors”. 

Those experiences include a range of tasting menus, from Prestige to Provenance, and a winery tour that explores barrel halls, caves and an underground museum, portraying the 120-year history of the vineyards and winery. Another tour looks at the versatility of the grape, from wine to pressed juice, and from balsamic vinegar to barrel aged spirits, which are all made on site at Church Road. They are offerings that celebrate the winery’s unique place in the wine world, says Brent.

“When you have a culture of innovation and a legacy of pioneering as part of your overall brand, you have a responsibility to honour that and to portray it to your customers.”

Being attached to the winery also means winemakers take the time to come through and talk to staff about the wines, and the seasons and soils they hail from, and to work in with the chef to ensure the menus make a hero of the wines, says Brent.

“This is the space we get to play in and we are fortunate that we have a stunning facility.”

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