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What makes a great cellar door?

Visiting wineries is a large part of what I do for a living. In passing, I get to view a lot of cellar door operations. I’ve seen them all – the smart and the scruffy, the welcoming and the rebarbative, the corporate and the family-run. The owners of these places are nice to me – at least to my face. I still smile at the memory of a visit to a domaine in France where the winemaker switched off the lights mid-tasting to signal his displeasure.

But what also interests me is how they treat the people who rock up to spend their own cash.

Here, too, you get a bit of everything. The best cellar doors – sometimes with restaurants attached – are destinations in their own right. That was part of what The World’s Best Vineyards celebrated earlier this week in Spain. I was privileged to host the awards. Reading out the list of 50 winners, I realised that I’d been to 48 of them – Brooks Wine in Oregon and Château Mercian in Japan were the two exceptions – and that they all have something in common. They put people first. Yes, they celebrate wine. Yes, they talk about history, terroir and techniques. But customer service is what sets them apart. They make punters feel welcome.

You don’t need a massive budget or a story that stretches back to the 18th century to do this well. Decent glasses, some nibbles, friendly staff, a nice space, maybe some background music: none of these things costs a packet. So why do so many wineries do it poorly? Lack of imagination is part of the answer, as is the inability to inspire and train employees. These things are not so hard to fix. Just visit a few good cellar doors and watch how they do it.

Every winery should aspire to be on that list. After all, it’s in their own interests to attract visitors. Happy customers buy more wine. And they come back for more. Cheers,

Tim Atken

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