The SOMM Journal February / March 2024 (Digital Edition)

The SOMM Journal explores what happens behind the scenes with the managers, owners and operators in some of the country’s top tasting rooms and the brands behind them.
Here, we met up with Stefanie Longton a Bennett Lane Winery veteran. She helped open their tasting room in 2003, and gained winery experience prior to that overseas in the Margaret River region of Australia. With nearly 20 years at the winery, Stefanie has seen Bennett Lane grow from a new kid on the block to an established Napa Valley Cabernet House. She takes pride in everything that happens at Bennett Lane, from the wines released to the tasting room experience for the guest, and everything in between.
Stefanie Longton, General Manager of Bennett Lane Winery

How do you ensure a positive and memorable experience for visitors in the tasting room?

Our biggest focus is hospitality. We know we have great wines, so the key is to blow guests away with our hospitality and atmosphere. As a family-owned winery, we like to keep the atmosphere elegant, but casual, and true to our brand image. We focus on seated tastings and really get to know our guests and have a lot of fun with them.
How do you decide on the selection of wines offered in the tasting room? We have three different flights available in our tasting room, each catered to different guest experience. Our most popular is our Taste of Napa Valley, which includes our Chardonnay, Maximus Red Feasting Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon. The fourth wine in this flight is changed quite often and is always one of our wine club exclusive wines. This is a great way for us to give our guests a sneak peek into the benefit of membership and try an extremely limited release.

How do you engage with the local community to promote the tasting room?

We are very involved in our local community, from the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center to the Calistoga Winegrowers. Another way we engage with the local community is through our local restaurants. Nearly all of the restaurants in town have our flagship Maximus Red Feasting Wine by the glass. This is a great way to connect with our local restaurants AND promote our wine to folks that are visiting and dining out.
How do you collaborate with the winemaking team to ensure a seamless connection between the tasting room and the winery? We are so fortunate to have a fabulous relationship with the winemaking team. One great collaboration is having them join us at our team meetings when we have a new release. This is such a great chance for the sales team to try the new wine personally with the winemaker and enologist and ask any questions they may have about the wine. It leads to a much stronger connection to the wine for the staff than they would have by simply getting the winemaker’s tech sheets.

What strategies do you use to handle customer inquiries and feedback effectively?

One of our biggest strategies for customer service is the telephone. More and more small businesses these days no longer answer their phones for customer inquiries or have an auto dialer that answers for them and directs the call. We really pride ourselves in being available for our customers and trying to answer every call, whether it is for an appointment inquiry or a wine question.

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View the full publication in the January/February edition of The Tasting Panel Magazine