How This Tool Engages Customers, Preserves Quality & Tracks Preferences

Customer engagement and quality control are two things that are often on the mind of winery owners everywhere.

Willamette Valley Vineyards is now offering an experience for its tasting room guests that aims to address both concerns.

Founder and CEO Jim Bernau said his winery’s Pinot Noir Clonal Blending Experience engages guests by allowing them to blend their own Pinot Noir while also allowing them to taste wine from the barrel without potentially compromising the integrity of the final bottled product.

Bernau said the barrel blending system it uses is Willamette Valley Vineyards’ own invention.

“Guests love to taste wines from the barrel, but traditional barrel tasting can introduce oxygen and possibly bacteria when opening multiple barrels and using the wine thief to capture the wine,” Bernau said. “We designed a closed system with wines dispensed directly from French Oak barrels that removes those risks.”

The winery gives its guests the controls to be a winemaker by crafting and tasting their own custom blends.

With the turn of a dial, up to eight people can blend and track their own Pinot Noir. Guided by a winery ambassador, the 90-minute experience costs $75 (or $60 for Wine Club Members and Owners) including tastes and blends of the Pinot Noir clones, cheese plate, and a $25 wine credit to purchase their favorite wines. The system also documents participants’ blends in a computer connected to the blending system to analyze their preferences and store for future reference. 

The winery intends to patent the system, which it said was invented by David Markel, Willamette Valley Vineyards Research and Development Manager and Kyle Gunsul, a shareholder and retired Oregon Health & Science University medical technician. It is a modification of the company’s prototype that launched in 2019 at the winery’s Willamette Wineworks outpost in Folsom, California.

“We have clones of Pinot Noir in barrels and customers can create their own Cuvées,” Clair said in an interview with Vintner Magazine for the November/December cover story. “It’s a fun experience — almost Willy Wonka-like. People get to engage with learning about different expressions of Pinot Noir and make their own blends and expressions in 90-minute sessions. They get to be a winemaker for a day.”

The Pinot Noir Clonal Blending Experience features seven naturally-derived Pinot Noir clones, all planted in the winery’s estate vineyards: Pommard, Wadenswil, Dijon 113, Dijon 114, Dijon 115, Dijon 667 and Dijon 777.

“The importation of French clones of Pinot Noir was one of the tipping points in our state’s wine quality. We look forward to sharing the stories of the scientists and producers that contribute to these high performing clones and giving guests the opportunity to taste them directly from barrel,” Bernau said.

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