Male-silhouette4 By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor

For a significant portion of their potential customer base, a winery's website is the first point of contact and communication. It's the front lines in the battle for mind share and dollars.

Most New York wineries have websites nowadays — even if many are painfully out of date — but how well do wineries monitor leads and inquiries that come in via their website or email?

We wanted to find out.

So, over the last six to eight weeks, more than 170 New York wineries — across the Erie, Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley, Long Island and Niagara regions — received an email from Brian Sedgwick. The emails were always sent on a Tuesday and in them, Brian let the wineries know that he'd be touring their region the upcoming Saturday and Sunday. He also asked four basic questions:

  • What time do you open and close on weekends?
  • How much is your tasting fee and how many wines do we get to taste?
  • What other wineries around yours would you recommend?
  • Do you have recommended restaurants nearby?

Who is Brian Sedgwick and why was he visiting so many New York wine regions during such a short period of time?

Brian Sedgwick isn't real. I made him up and created an email address from which these emails went out… and the results have been nothing short of fascinating — and in many cases disheartening.

We're still crunching the numbers, but before we start publishing the results, I wanted to outline our process.

First, we used the winery lists on the New York Wine & Grape Foundation website as our starting point. We focused on wineries — removing mead and cider producers. We also used the email addresses listed on the NYWGF website unless a different email address was listed on the winery's individual website. In cases where more than one email address was listed on a winery website, we used the most "generic" one.

As I said, all emails were sent out on Tuesdays and — with some help from our technical director, Brian Yanosik — every winery in a particular region received the email at the same time. We then tracked whether or not we got a response, when we got it and how many of the four questions posed were answered (this proved tricky for seasonal regions where a significant number of wineries close for the winter).

One other item of note — if a winery's website didn't list an email address, but instead had a contact form, we used the email address posted on the NYWGF site. We thought it important that every winery (in a region) get the same message the same way at the same time. And, if I really were visiting a wine region for the first time, I'm much more likely to send out a mass email than I am to fill out a dozen or more online forms.

We'll start publishing region-by-region results next week, focusing on some high-level response rates and highlighting some of the best responses.

If you're a winery owner/manager/winemaker and you're curious how your winery handled the inquiry (or not), just let us know and we'll share the full details privately.