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5 ways to know you are at a top cellar door

When travelling wine regions on your own it is easy to be seduced by the larger, more well-known wineries. While these can be great, at Wine Compass we invariably gravitate to the smaller more personal cellar doors.

The cellar doors we love aren’t always going to be on the first page when you type in “Yarra Valley wineries” to Google, you need to dig a little deeper or get some local knowledge to find them.  For us, the experience is as important as the wine.

We have listed some of our favourite Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula cellar doors

Ocean Eight barrel room tasting with winemaker

Tasting with winemaker Mike Aylward in the barrel room beneath Ocean Eight

1. They read, but don’t judge their audience

At Wine Compass, we take out all sorts of groups, from hens who are out for a fun day with their friends, to high end wine buyers and connoisseurs.

A good cellar door person can gauge many things within the first few minutes:

  • Level of interest in wine
  • How much the group wants to learn
  • The vibe of the group

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Then it is up to them to shape the experience so that their guests have the best time possible.  Examples of this include,

  • Limiting the jargon or explaining common terms to people who aren’t as knowledgeable can really enhance their experience.
  • When some raises their hand and sheepishly says “I’ve got a dumb question”, we love the cellar door response “there are no silly questions” (see our articles “What are Tannins in Wine?” or “The Difference Between Pinot Gris and Grigio” for examples of most asked questions)

Quealy cellar door

Kathleen Quealy at the Quealy Winemakers cellar door

2. They give undivided attention

Heading to busy cellar doors, it can be hard to get personal attention, but the really great cellar doors seem to find a way.  It’s all about making the guests feel like they are valued

Big no-no’s for us:

  • Multiple people serving a single group (particularly if they have to ask “where are you up to?”
  • Excessively cleaning up, stacking shelves, unpacking boxes between individual tastings
  • Leaving a group to serve another group that looks like they will buy more

If a cellar door person does have to split between 2 groups (and this should be the absolute maximum), it is important to provide equal attention to both groups

Surprise barrel tasting

Surprise barrel tasting

3.  They make them feel special, they give a little extra

Have you ever been to a cellar door and experienced any of the following?

  • A back vintage or premium wine tasting that was “not on the tasting list”
  • An unexpected little snack to enjoy with your tasting
  • An impromptu tour of the winery
  • A surprise barrel tasting
  • Some time with the owner or winemaker

How did it make you feel?  Pretty special, right? Experiencing any of these will enhance the tasting and make you feel that bit more valued and special. These are the memorable experiences that set top cellar doors apart

Ash from Tucks Ridge

Always entertaining and engaging, Ash from Tucks Ridge with Adam Nicholls from Wine Compass

4. They make you an offer

All too often, cellar doors forget to sell their wines. Without being pushy of course, a good cellar door will give you some options to entice you to take something home with you. Some examples:

  • 10% off on 6 packs, 20% off on dozens
  • Free shipping
  • 3 wines for $xx
  • Take home pack

Peter from Merricks Creek

Peter Parker from Merricks Creek

5. They have a laugh

This one is possible the most important. From groups with the most basic knowledge to top level wine afficianados, everyone wants to have a laugh and meet some local characters

The best cellar doors know how to give you the information on their wines with amusing stories and anecdotes. It is important that cellar doors know that guests are not only their to try wines, but also to have fun

Bonus: Pro tip for cellar doors

From our (somewhat) vast experience, when selling wine on a cellar door, the experience is more important than the quality of the wine.  It is worth the time to give your group your full attention as this is what leads to sales.

Take a tour with Wine Compass around the Mornington Peninsula or Yarra Valley to explore some of the best smaller cellar doors around


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mark dethick
4 years ago

great article , i couldn’t agree more

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