Over the years we were fortunate to have a number of our wines selected for Air New Zealand International in-flight Premier Business class service. The wines chosen were our Fiddler’s Green 2001 Riesling, Fiddler’s Green 2004 Pinot Noir, Fiddler’s Green 2006 Chardonnay, and Fiddler’s Green 2006 Pinot Noir. These were always good contracts: the volumes ordered were significant for us, they were treated as export sales and free of excise duty, and the airline always paid promptly direct to our bank account.
Over time the reputation of our Cellar Door grew and we started to receive a regular number of group visits. These were never particularly successful from a business point of view. They could range from 10 people to as many as 35 people, at any one time. With the larger groups you could usually expect that some of their number were along for the ride and not interested in the tasting room. Big groups meant extra work, consumed a greater volume of tasting wine given their numbers, and did not necessarily generate much in the way of sales. They were usually visiting a number of vineyards in the area and booked for lunch at one of the bigger establishments, where wine would be included. They also tended to be noisy affairs, given the limited floor area of our tasting room – which at times deterred others from entering the premises. They were a lot of work for very limited financial return at the time. We eventually declined to receive groups of more than 10-12 people. In terms of our Off-Licence we were not permitted to charge for tastings – they had to be a modest pour and gratuitous.
Even with small groups there could be issues. The worst were women on a ‘hens’ outing. They tended to treat your tasting room as their personal venue, a toilet stop, and a place to have fun amongst themselves. They could be extremely noisy occasions as well. I recall one such group who came equipped with their own plastic drinking straws – long and thin with a bulbous penis head at one end, through which they sucked on their tasting pour. Such groups were not given to buying much wine at the end of their visit. It was all about the outing. In the end, we adopted a policy of vetting group bookings and gradually withdrew from them totally.
For the most part, our Cellar Door visitors were looking for an experience and respected the service and setting we provided. Over the years the majority of visitors would have been from outside Christchurch and even beyond our shores. We kept a Visitors book in which individual names and comments could be recorded. The entries included people from around New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Japan, Europe, Canada, and the USA, in particular. The comments were invariably complimentary both as to the quality of the wines tasted and of the information and service provided by me as the host manager. One particular entry from a young English woman stands out – “ stunning wines and cute mine host “ Nothing more needs to be said.
BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )