I’m sure you’ve had one of those moments, when you smack yourself in the head and ask: “Why didn’t I think of that?”
It happened again to me a few days ago. I was online, doing research for another wine story, when I saw a reference to an online reservations system for wineries.
Wineries obviously take reservations, usually for special events. Many wineries are also only open by appointment — which often means an advance phone call or two and an e-mail query to an understaffed operation that’s not necessarily designed to be tourist-friendly. Nobody answers the phone after hours, in most cases.
It just makes sense some kind of formalized reservations system — like Open Table in the restaurant trade — would work for the wine trade.
VinoVisit began operations in late 2009. Today, it has more than 80 wineries on a growing list of clients in both the U.S. and Canada. A competitor, Cellar Pass, offers a similar service with a different list of participating wineries.
Familiar names on the VinoVisit roster include heavy tourist draws like Napa Valley’s Robert Mondavi, which was the first winery to offer the VinoVisit experience, and Sonoma’s Sebastiani, plus there’s a pack of smaller wineries — like Cabernet specialist Von Strasser Winery in Calistoga — that are also onboard.
If you’ve ever booked an online restaurant reservation, then you’ll have no problems with VinoVisit.
I see this as a real time-saver for wine country visitors who prefer 24-hour access to winery information and trip scheduling without ever having to talk to a person until they arrive on-site. Being able to confirm a set day and time for a visit, allows busy tasters to fine-tune and expand their experience.
Sure, most winery websites are chock-a-block with info, but there’s not much of a chance of receiving any real guidance after normal business hours when many wine fanciers are home in front of their computers.
“We are staying true to the model to help attract visitor to the wine regions, in general, and then to continue to make it very easy for the winery to take reservations,” explained Bob Ianetta, VinoVisit founder.
“It’s very time-consuming. The phone call comes in. Somebody has to answer the phone, set up the calendar, and confirm all the details,” he said.”They get phone calls at night and emails, too. By the time the winery gets back to them… the guest moves on.”
Ianetta says with his system, 40 percent of reservations are being made after hours, when wineries are closed.
“We are capturing new customers, potentially 24 hours a day,” he said. “We make it almost like an impulse buy. We make it so easy to book a reservation right there on the website.”
Potential visitors can make reservations directly on each participating winery’s website or directly through VinoVisit.com.
At Peju Province Winery in Napa, use of the VinoVisit technology led them to expand the list of specialized tastings, boosting business at the upper end of the market where veteran wine tasters are looking for a novel experience and willing to pay for it.
“To drive greater awareness we increased the number of offerings to 5 or 6,” explained Dan Gaffey, Peju’s marketing manager. “Besides the scheduled tastings, we wanted to add something different.”
Gaffey said they’ve experienced a 25 percent increase with the online system in place.
“It’s like an Open Table experience for wineries,” he said.
At Peju, which is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., you can sign up in advance for regular tastings plus barrel tastings, private tours, special tastings of reserve-style wines, and wine and cheese pairings.
Fees run from $30-$65/person. The standard tasting is $20, but the fee is waived if you purchase at least $35 in wine.