It goes without saying that for most wineries, it’s first and foremost about the wine.
That being said, wine is often served in tasting rooms situated on vineyards in pastoral settings that attract people who want to have weddings and other special events in more authentic surroundings than the average event center or hotel ballroom.
Vintner Magazine spoke with four wineries that host multiple — and in some cases, several — weddings per year to find out what role weddings play in how they market themselves, whether they attract unique customers who aren’t regulars or wine club members, and how they help customers prepare for the big day.
Establishing a Reputation
West of Austin, Texas in Driftwood, Duchman Family Winery has visibly invested capital into being a top wedding choice for folks interested in a Texas Hill Country wedding with a destination wedding vibe.
“There’s more than meets the eye when stepping onto the Duchman Family Winery property,” said Duchman Director of Events Candace Dill. “There’s a hidden outdoor ceremony site just across from the vineyard.”
The winery is set up with a bridal suite and a 4,000-square-foot event center that is used for wedding receptions but also rehearsal dinners, public game nights and wine club parties. Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook and messages to the winery’s email subscribers are also key to attracting would-be wedding parties.
”People can scroll through our website and find information packets on hosting their weddings and other special events with us, in addition to our public events calendar,” Dill said.
Travel a bit farther west of Austin in the Texas Hill Country, and you’ll run into Spicewood Vineyards — another popular wedding destination. Guests often choose to get married with the vineyard to their backs or underneath the natural canopy provided by a sturdy live oak tree nestled between the tasting room and the reception hall, which has enough space and noteworthy architectural details to move the event inside should inclement weather barge in uninvited.
Lauren Sposetta, event manager for Spicewood Vineyards, said the winery remained “first and foremost a vineyard,” but said hosting weddings gave it another avenue for showcasing its wine and interacting with existing and potential future customers.
“We have always believed that how we relate to our customers is of the utmost importance,” Sposetta said. ”Pouring our wine at weddings and special events allows us such a special interaction with people. We get to talk to them and help them experience our wine on a totally different level than just being inside of a tasting room. It allows us to have even more fun with them, and we are all about making wine fun and approachable.”
In Canton, Ohio, Marketing Director Andrea Hartman said weddings and special events are a large component to Gervasi Vineyard’s identity.
“Not only are there three wedding venue outlets on [the] property, there are several intimate settings located within Gervasi’s restaurants. No matter the guest count or theme of the wedding, there is a location that will be able to accommodate the bride and groom’s wishes,” Hartman said. “From the time Gervasi opened its doors in 2010, the property has become a destination for guests to celebrate life.”
Their prowess at hosting weddings has earned Gervasi several awards for “Best Venue.” The property attracts many of its brides from Canton, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, but actively pushes to promote itself.
“Gervasi markets these opportunities in various ways through digital marketing which include display ads, retargeting ads, and social media campaigns,” Hartman said. “ A large part of the outreach plan is to attend trade shows and off-site networking events. Gervasi relies on its local tourism and travel bureau for groups and organizations outside of the local region.”
In Christiansburg, Virginia, Whitebarrel Winery owner Dr. Richard Obiso said it’s possible for weddings to be revenue generators for wineries without defining the winery. It’s also OK to be selective about who gets to have a wedding on your property, he noted.
“From 2010-2015 weddings were a very big part of our revenue,” Obiso said. “But they were never part of our identity. Then, we raised our prices and interviewed potential wedding (parties) before we agreed to host them on our property.”
Operating selectively, Whitebarrel now hosts about four weddings a year.
“They are absolutely spectacular — and they are small and intimate,” Obiso said. “We make sure that a wedding we book is a memorable experience.”
Where the Customers Come From
So who are the people booking weddings at these wineries? Regulars or first-time flyers?
It’s a mixture, although both Texas wineries said the majority of the faces they see at weddings are new ones, which contrasts sharply with what usually holds true for non-wedding events at the same wineries.
“Most of our weddings (at Spicewood Vineyards) are new clients, although we have had multiple wine club members’ children get married here over the years,” Sposetta said. “We love having that connection with our members. Whenever we hold special events, I would say it’s mostly made up of our wine club members and their friends. The rest would be made up by Facebook/email list/marketing.”
Internet resource hubs like The Knot that are devoted to facilitating weddings have become a staple for brides and grooms looking to plan their weddings. At Duchman, the web is responsible for many of the winery’s eventual nuptials.
“The majority of people that reach out to us in regards to hosting larger events such as weddings have found us through a simple internet search,” Dill said. “When hosting public events, we see a lot of our members and locals in attendance.”
At Gervasi, Hartman said smaller gatherings or special event groups local to the Canton community have experienced the property before “about nine times out of 10.”
Large events and weddings usually bring guests onto property that have never been to Gervasi before, and Hartman said these first-time flyers often return.
“Private events are a great way for guests to experience Gervasi and are more likely to come back after they experience what the vineyard has to offer,” she said.
Putting on the Events
As it has with its overall venue, Duchman has devoted time and money to developing an in-house event staff, including catering services. It also works with area vendors and has established relationships with a long list of them.
“Wes Bracamontes is our onsite chef who has created a wonderful catering menu,” Dill said. With the rental of the venue, Duchman will provide tables, banquet seating, table and napkin linens, printed menus, and more.
With six years under her belt in the events industry, Dill said she has created and maintained a list of trusted vendors she shares with her clients and is always on the lookout for new ones.
“I find that face to face meetings are the best way to create new relationships with local vendors,” Dill said. “When I hear of a nearby florist or Bed & Breakfast, I reach out with an email to set up a meet and greet to discover what type of partnerships we can create.”
Spicewood’s event manager also extolled the virtues of diligently maintaining relationships with vendors. Sposetta, who has been Spicewood Vineyards’ event manager for seven years, said customers usually chose vendors from the winery’s preferred vendors list, which is a benefit to all parties involved.
“I find the longer the relationships we have with our vendors continues, the better the events go and it’s even easier on the people who are planning the events,” Sposetta said. “We have our own shorthand — we know what works, what looks good, how many people it takes to effectively staff the event, and such. It’s a much richer experience working with vendors you know well.”
The resource-rich Gervasi Vineyard assigns each host/organizer with a specific staff event coordinator once a private event is contracted.
From there, the setup is similar to that of the Texas wineries: there’s a preferred vendor list, and the vendors on that list work very closely with the Gervasi staff, Hartman said.
“They are selected based on availability, budget, variety, and customer service,” said Hartman of the criteria a preferred vendor must meet. “Gervasi is home to several outlets and there are hundreds of guests on property at a given time. It is very important that the event coordinators choose vendors who are aware of this and able to adhere to Gervasi’s customer service standards.”
This article originally ran in the May/June issue of Vintner Magazine.