Home Wine Business Editorial Expert Editorial Economic and Sustainable Winery Events Management with a View toward Changing Rules

Economic and Sustainable Winery Events Management with a View toward Changing Rules


Expert Editorial

With all of the visibility and associated uncertainty winery events have in the marketplace today, as a winery owner, one might wonder, “Now what should I do?” As with most things, there are several choices. One is to do nothing, continue as you are and hope for the best.

Another option is to retreat, hope to remain under the radar and wait to see what the next series of meetings on the winery event ordinance bring.

A third option is to move forward recognizing that the landscape is changing, but that does not mean the new view will be bad.

As with any maturing entity, be it a person, a building, a business, or a process, we learn that things we used to do might no longer be in our best interest. Smarter folks might have known more sooner, but for most of us, we change when we need to change.

Given you agree change is coming, and you are willing to consider change, let’s look at the things that might be in our best interest to change now.

Let’s Start Selfishly

First let’s make sure if you are planning on hosting an event at your site, it is in your economic best interest to do so. We have seen countless events that drive traffic but very little economic value. Are you sure throwing that big party is really generating the brand association you want and the consumer follow through and loyalty you need? Did you set expectations, and then when you measured the results, are they trending where you need them to?

In many cases we have found sizable internal rationalization around larger events hosted by a winery, and given the propensity in today’s market to alienate your neighbors, is it really worth it?

If One Is Good, Is Two Better?

We have also found that many winery events last too long. To have an event that is great for 3 hours might be better than one that tries to be good for 6 hours. We all have gotten used to having it our way, but perhaps you may find that people will work around your schedule and enable you to reduce staffing costs, increase sales per hour, create more of a standing room only experience for qualified invitees, and reduce the impact of your event within your neighborhood.

Is Bigger Better?

Being Americans it’s hard not to think so, but at larger winery events its often hard to provide the attention to key existing clients or to have time to nurture prospective clients. Our experience is often rightsized events generate more positive results than larger ones. Properly designing and scaling the event on your site can make any size event feel right.

Can You Guess the Number of Marbles in This Jar?

We have all tried it and the answer is usually pretty surprising. To produce a typical wedding for 120 people, there are on average 50 people who come to the site to deliver, set up, transport, prepare, serve, entertain, breakdown, and clean up within a three-day period. This team is supported by even more individuals behind the scenes who have also worked to make sure the product is prepared, lists are organized, items are reserved, and timelines are adhered to. Multiply this by the number of events held each season and the economic impact of this team is huge.

The employment events provide is a significant number, and it may be useful to talk more in this vein so that more people become aware of the importance events have for our community. Event related wages support families, pay rents and mortgages, finance vehicles, and provide the means for people to fill our stores and malls on week days further helping our community by engaging in additional commerce. Talk to a florist, a caterer, photographer, a limo driver, a DJ, someone who works at a winery – they know the importance of events, have them tell you. Almost everything has a downside, in this case, event related employment provides a significant upside to the local economy.

The Hip Bone Is Connected to the Knee Bone…

In Sonoma County about $150,000,000.00 is collected annually from tourism related taxes. A significant portion of this tax is the tax associated with renting a room and is added to the tourist’s bill. Those of us within the event industry have heard from those outside it, “why do we need all these events”. One of the many good reasons is this: the tax revenue.

Winery events are a significant driver of this tax revenue. A typical wedding of 120 people will consume a minimum of 120 room nights. The hotel tax revenue alone associated with this event is equal to about $2000. There is demand here for weddings, in vineyards, with views of vineyards, surrounded by vineyards, where typically most wineries are located. Very few people come here searching for the ideal ballroom where they can get married. Weddings are a major driver of economic activity, the average spent in wine country is $30,000, most adults have at least one and many want them in Sonoma County. We have the product people want and it is a significant contributor to our tax revenue.

Let’s now just be a bit smart in how we manage it and not kill another economic driver in the state. We have a resource rich tourism bureau in Sonoma County, they have some great data as it relates to hotel tax revenue and other information relating to how tourism positively effects our economy. Reach out to them and review it. While you are doing that, perhaps ask them to republish it and make its economic importance to our community more visible.

Get a Tune Up

Most people who sell a home know that the minute you decide to sell it is the minute you again begin to see it. Paint, landscaping and a dozen other things get put on a list. When you are done, your home looks great and you wonder why you did not do this previously. It’s the same with your winery. Cobwebs, check. Weathered beyond good furniture, check. Landscaping looking like it was fertilized by Round Up, check. Same furniture set up, check. Same way of doing things, check.

We have seen numerous examples of a new tasting room manager or GM coming into a property and within a short period, it’s almost a different site. Change is good, put on some fresh eyes or get someone who won’t mind telling you what they think and what you need to be competitive. When asked most folks think they are above average. They all can’t be.

Reengineer Your Events

Hand in hand with your site, your processes might also be in need of some refreshing. We have seen sites who host events, go with “their set up” also known as the usual. Makes sense, easy to do, everyone knows their role, not much effort.

The problem is that in today’s environment, perhaps there is a better way, not just for you, and your guests, but also for your neighbors. Find someone who knows events or at least the events you want to host or market. Get them to perform an audit of your current processes. This includes not just the layout, but the time, the cost to you, and the cost to the host.

Too many sites do too little, thinking they can pass on the cost to the host. In many cases, not only does this make you less competitive when trying to market your site, it also puts you at increased risk through the casual delegation of the event logistics to a contract third party who may not be under contract to you. Improvement is never limited except by our reluctance to try.

Over the next months and years, we are going to see that change is going to be a constant. Just like we now better understand the impact our use of our natural resources has, we need to become more aware of the impact of our use of our event permits. They too are a precious resource and should be managed as such.

Marshall BauerExpert Editorial

by Marshall Bauer, President of Milestone Events Group

Marshall Bauer is President of Milestone Events Group, located in Santa Rosa. The company is focused on helping wineries achieve increased profitability and overall success within the events component of their business while remaining a responsible member within their community.    Within their business model, the costs to achieve these goals are borne by Milestone.

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