The Tasting Panel Magazine goes behind the scenes with the managers, owners, and operators representing the country’s top tasting rooms and the brands behind them. We sat down for a Q&A with Tasting Room Manager, John Morris at Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles.
John Morris
John Morris - Photo Credit: Tablas Creek Vineyard

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

The number-one thing for me is preparation. Have you hired well? Is your staff well trained enough? Have you communicated your expectations clearly? Harried [employees] are hard pressed to deliver exceptional service, [but] I find that once you establish a culture of exceptional hospitality, new hires follow suit without much overt direction.

How do you train your staff to provide product knowledge?

Our story and the wines we make are extensive; it’s a lot for people to digest.  We’ve developed a fairly standard training program. I like to spend five to eight working days before sending new hire out on the floor, depending on experience. I make sure I’m involved in the initial onboarding, the introductions to tasting room staff and other departments, the facility tour, et cetera…

I put together a manual that contains a CliffsNotes version of our history, farming practices, winemaking philosophy, varieties we grow, et cetera. Then there’s more technical information on parameters of service, how our wine club works, [and] how to effectively sell, among other things. Once a new hire has spent a day or two with the manual, we have them start shadowing key staff on the floor.  I’ll check in to assess their progress. We’ll send them out on a tour with at least three experienced staff during this time. Once they’re pouring on their own, I’m still checking in with them every couple of days until it seems they no longer need it.

How do you collaborate with the winemaking team to ensure a seamless connection between the tasting room and the winery?

We’re fortunate enough to have a winery staff that loves sharing what they know with tasting room staff. Our production facility and tasting room are adjacent, which lends itself to chance encounters and impromptu questions, and we share a lunchroom, which keeps us from becoming too separated.

Everyone in the tasting room feels  comfortable going to winery staff with questions. Finally, we set up various trainings and tastings with winery staff as often as we can to keep the information flow alive.


What strategies do you use to handle crowded days and maintain a comfortable atmosphere for guests?

Tablas Creek Tasting Room

I’ll go back to being well staffed.  We refer to this as customer service insurance at Tablas Creek. Being cheap with labor will backfire in the long run.  Since COVID, our tastings have been by reservation, which has gone a long way towards civilizing the experience on peak days. Of course, on some days we see walk-ins we struggle to handle, drop-in members, [and/or] guests running significantly late or early or arriving with more people than they booked for. The key is to smile and adjust on the fly to take care of people the best you can.

View the full publication in the May/June issue of The Tasting Panel Magazine