After a trip through the wineries around Margaret River David Pike writes up his field notes on the dos and don’ts of successful cellar door operations.

ONE of the joys of travelling around wine country is the opportunities that abound to pop through the odd cellar door for a spot of ‘tasting’.

Margaret River has more than its fair share of cellar door facilities and a number of them would rank among the most successful outlets not only in WA, but also throughout Australia.

Having been lucky enough to have travelled through most of the worlds wine regions, Only California’s Napa Valley would rank as Margaret River’s peer.

Both regions have established cellar door facilities that are more than just another avenue to sell wine.

Indeed, many wineries’ cellar doors have become so polished they have become a life style.

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ONCE just selling bottled wine, many wineries now offer everything from cookbooks and jumpers to wine glasses, olives, corkscrews, baby clothes and art.

Just as many retailers have found the need to diversify, it seems that many wineries too have maximised their opportunities to grab an extra sale and, more importantly, increase their brand presence and recognition.

Cellar door operations in areas such as Margaret River can vastly improve the presence of your brand.

In both the US and here in the west cellar doors have the ability to create enormous revenues.

Cellar door operations such as Brookland Valley, Vasse Felix and Leeuwin Estate would turn over revenues that would equal, if not better, many of the best liquor outlets in and around Perth.

However, not all regions can survive on cellar door trade alone. A number of wineries cannot afford to employ full-time staff for their cellar door facilities and this leaves them in a catch 22 situation.

I believe many feel that they simply have no option but to open their cellar to make sure they stay in the game to avoid missing out on a slice of the lucrative tourist dollars on offer.

A number of Margaret River wineries will have more than six people working behind the counter during peak times to satisfy demand from the visiting public.

It is a big business and a vitally important face of many wineries.

However, as we found out on a recent cellar door tour of the region, while most play the game, not everyone gets it right.

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While travelling around the region with a couple of out of town colleagues to explore what was on offer, we set out for an afternoon of relaxed tasting finishing up with a spot of lunch.

One of the most pleasing attributes throughout all but one of our visits was the level of customer service on offer.

With just one exception all who greeted us and offered us a tasting were enthusiastic, friendly and knowledgeable.

The one exception, did not volunteer any information or background about the winery or its wines.

In fact, we would have been better off reading the back label of one of their wines. Unfortunately those labels were not even obtainable.

I guess some people just shouldn’t be in customer service.

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After visiting cellar door operations ranging from the spectacular to the quaint, we would have been very hard pressed to fault the quality of staff and their knowledge.

In most cases if the staff didn’t have the answer to one of our questions they would either politely explain that they didn’t know or would excuse themselves to find the answer.

At many of the small cellar door operations you were talking to a family member of the owner which became increasingly obvious through their clear passion for the wine and their detailed answers to our questions.

If there was anything that caused us concern, it was the number of wines that disappointed in a few of the cellar doors outlets.

Other disappointments, and in my mind these are not excusable, were those who obviously didn’t open a fresh bottle of wine each day.

Another bugbear were those outlets that hadn’t checked the bottles for faults before letting them loose on the visiting public. This happened on a number of occasions.

While I realise it takes most of the fun out of tasting wines I also have a grudge against wineries that don’t make it easy for people to spit out their mouthful. Access to spittoons should be as easy as getting a tasting.

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Most cellar door are open from around 10am through to about 4-5pm, I would suggest that four visits per day is more than enough.

Anything more than that and I find that you start to think that everything you taste is fantastic.

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