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April 22, 2010

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Sounds like a great idea to improve the customer experience in the Finger Lakes wine region. I know that when I visited Dry Creek, Sonoma last September, they had a very nice crowd on a Friday night, listening to live music, enjoying wine, and having fun with the folks at the winery.

Matt - The experience you describe is exactly what the Finger Lakes would like to duplicate. I often hear industry folks here doubt whether there's a market for it. But more than simply finding out if there's a market, it almost takes a cultural change - or at least a change in habits. People are accustomed to 5pm closing time, and so it will take time to bring more people out at a later hour.

Closing at five makes no sense. When you have a group of wineries clustered together, the activity feeds on itself. Wineries need to create a reason for people to stay. Wine is such a social event, as long as its flowing, and there are people, the crowd will be there. Music, art, food - all help.

I hope Finger Lakes makes progress in this direction. Nice article Evan.

Josh

Josh -

Out of curiosity, when do wineries close their tasting rooms in your part of Washington state?

At the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance, we get calls all of the time from visitors looking for wineries that are open in the evenings. They are especially attracted to that option when you throw in free appetizers or entertainment like a local band.
- Scott

I think that many Finger Lakes folks are (and rightly so) concerned that staying open late opens them up to more trouble than it's worth -- dealing with people who have been tasting ALL DAY and should probably just be going home to sleep.

That said, some of my best wine tasting experiences ever have been in the evening, with great friends and great wines.

Back before Jackson came along, Nena and I were out at Wine 'Till 9 at Roanoke at least twice a month and the crowd was always great, well-behaved and just a lot of fun. It's possible that a winery like Roanoke (small, VERY devoted wine club) can make an easier go of it, but it's an opportunity worth exploring for most any winery I'd think.

I think that Wolffer down here is having success with their Twilight Thursdays (a great way to get people into the winery on what might normally be a slow day).

The cultural change you mention is an important point though. It's a shift that would need to happen, certainly.

Thanks Evan for covering this important topic. I feel that the wineries in the Finger Lakes are in a very good position to leverage additional sales through extended summer hours. I was intrigued by a recent article that talked about the extended hours and tastings that some Napa Valley wineries were offering. Most wineries in the Finger Lakes close their tasting rooms between 5-6 p.m. and I felt that perhaps our region was missing out on something. So we asked on our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com.fingerlakeswinecountry) what people thought about extended tasting room hours in the Finger Lakes. The response was incredible, with all the responses (besides those from the wineries themselves that didn't generally like the idea) extremely positive.

I think that more wineries can provide intimate wine and food tastings during these extended hours. I understand the concern from some wineries that being open later might encourage a bar type atmosphere. But I think you can control that through the kind of tastings you provide. With now more than 100 wineries in the region, it is a good point of differientation to stay open and offer twilight vineyard tastings, barrel-room tastings, or wine and cheese flights on patios. Also equally important is that as the region develops as a tourism destination these kinds of offerings potentially allow for a more positive visitor experience. The region has such stunning natural beauty that who wouldn't want to enjoy a glass of wine overlooking a stunning summer sunset.

Evan is correct that it will take time for more wineries to offer extended hours. Obviously one program won't work for every winery and ultimately it is up to each winery to determine what works for their business model. But gauging the initial responses we received on our Facebook page and looking at the trends in other wine regions, I think the future for the Finger Lakes is very exciting indeed.

Morgen McLaughlin
President, Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association

Beautiful photo.

Having grown up in Washingon State I remember the wineries really livining up in the evning hours. Exposing a younger cround to a lot of great wines along with live music, great food, etc.

Great post. Then again you can get back into the whole argument about what makes Jewish music, Jewish? If you have a klezmer band that is played by non-Jews is it Jewish? The fact that the word "mazal tov" is a word in the song make it a Jewish song? No doubt Jewish music may mean different things to different people.

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