Male-silhouette4 By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor

Our post last week introducing our "Brian Sedgwick" email project certainly generated a reaction — good and bad — from inside and outside the New York wine community. We knew it would get peoples' attention and we knew we'd likely ruffle some feathers. That wasn't the goal, but it was inevitable, really.

Before I get into some of the details and the findings, I'd like to set the record straight.

We didn't do this to "get" anyone. When I conceived of this idea, I realized it would simply include a single email sent to wineries in the "off season." Some New York's wineries are closed this time of year and some of those that remain open are understaffed.

This was never meant to be an comprehensive, definitive study. It's a mere snapshot to get a general sense for how well New York wineries are paying attention to their general email addresses.

In challenging times, businesses of every type need to take advantage of every opportunity before them. And based on what we found, I think one can assume New York wineries are leaving money on the table.

In all, we sent this email to 193 New York wineries:

Good afternoon. I'm going to be visiting <REGION> wine country with some friends this weekend (Saturday and Sunday) and I'm trying to decide where I should taste and eat.

Could you provide some information?

- 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?

This is our first trip to the <REGION> wineries so I'd appreciate any insight you can offer.


The Results

Of those 192 emails sent, only 112 replies came in (58%), which means that 42% of the emails were not responded to. That's 81 wineries that did not respond.

Looking at how quickly the email was responded to, 39% of the emails were replied to the same day we sent them out, 25% the next day and 8% were responded to on the third day or beyond.

I think the numbers speak for themselves. Needless to say, I find these numbers disturbing. If I owned a winery, I'd want every single email like this to be responded to in a timely, well-considered fashion.

People have mentioned publicly on Twitter and also in private emails that the email we sent out didn't seem "real" — as though it were spam or something similar. I disagree completely.

People have also pointed out — correctly — that winery staff sizes vary greatly, implying that larger wineries are more likely to respond than those with only a handful of employees. That is also not true. Some of the state's smallest wineries replied while some of the biggest ones did not.

Breaking down the results by region doesn't offer much deeper insight — except that Lake Erie wineries performed worst of all — but several people have asked to see the regional breakdown:

Finger Lakes
92 emails sent out
57 responses (62%)
35 no-response (38%)
49% same day
5% next day
8% beyond

Hudson Valley
27 emails sent out
20 responses (74%)
7 no-response (26%)
44% same day
22% next day
7% beyond

Lake Erie
17 emails sent out
5 responses (29%)
12 no-response (71%)
6% same day
18% next day
6% beyond

Long Island
47 emails sent out
24 responses (51%)
23 no-response (49%)
30% same day
21% next day
11% beyond

10 emails sent out
6 responses (60%)
4 no-response (40%)
40% same day
10% next day
10% beyond

Response Quality

The biggest mistake I made when planning and executing this project was incorrectly thinking that four questions could be used for every winery. Some of the questions simply didn't apply to some wineries — some are closed, some don't charge for tastings, some are flexible with how many wines you can taste, some sell wine from a variety of wineries etc. Next time, we'll keep the different business models in mind.

So, I'm not going to share the data related to whether each question was answered, but I can say without a doubt that the quality of the responses we received varied greatly.

The good news is that (and I'm speaking anecdotally here) most of the wineries that responded took the time to welcome Brian to the region and answer his questions. Even one of the state's smallest producers, Heart & Hands Wine Company, which was closed the weekend in question, responded with a thoughtful email. (Note: We've removed the individual wineries mentioned in the email):

Brian -

Thank you for your inquiry.

Unfortunately, we will not be open this weekend for tastings.  Other wineries in this area (eastern shore of Cayuga Lake) that we would recommend are: (3 WINERIES LISTED)

If you are going to be traveling to other lakes in the region, you may stop by the following wineries: (6 Listed)

Two fantastic restaurants nearby are located in the village of Aurora.  The Aurora Inn is one of the finest restaurants in the region with a wonderful wine list. The Fargo, located across the street from the Aurora Inn, offers "upscale" pub food and a great beer selection.

Also, The Finger Lakes Wine Center in Ithaca is a great way to taste a number of great wines from the region without having to travel too far.

We look forward to your visit to the region & hope you enjoy your time.

Tom & Susan

Peconic Bay Winery — a well-staffed operation — on the North Fork of Long Island also sent one of the better responses:

Hi Brian,

We're open 11-6 on Saturday and 11-5 on Sunday.  

It would be a good weekend to come by as we have our Nautique Jazz & Blues Fest going on. Saturday we're featuring Matt Marshak live from 1-5pm and have a fun little promo going on with our Nautique Sparkling wine (complimentary chocolate lollipop with purchase of a glass, complimentary champagne glasses with purchase of a bottle).  

This weekend also kicks of LI Winterfest Jazz on the Vine and there will be jazz playing at several different wineries. You can visit for participating wineries. Not all wineries participate in this actual program (like us) as some choose to do their own thing but many do have something going on.  We always recommend (3 WINERIES LISTED), but I would check their websites to see what they're planning.

Our tasting fees run anywhere from $5-$12 (3-6 wines per flight) depending on which tasting flight you select.

Also I recommend eating at (2 RESTAURANTS LISTED)  You can go to our website and under "visit us" there's a tab for "where to eat" and we have an extensive restaurant list.  

Reservations are highly recommended with the Jazz festivals going on - it's a big weekend out here.  I would also recommend (if you have 6 or more people in your party) calling the tasting room and reserving a table 631-734-7361 ext 0.  Whatever you decide, enjoy!


Valerie Hallock
Events Director
Peconic Bay Winery

I don't call these two emails out as the only well-written emails we received, but instead merely as two good examples from two very different businesses.

On the other end of the quality spectrum were a surprising number of wineries that simply offered their hours, or their hours and fee structure, showing no apparent interest in recommending other local wineries or restaurants.

What Comes Next?

This is what matters — what will local wineries do going forward? We sincerely hope that those doing the right things continue to do them and that those who did not reply to our email use this as a springboard to action. I've spoken with several winery owners (on both sides) and I'm more than happy to share detailed information with any others out there that want to know how their wineries performed.

We will be doing this again in the future. We've learned quite a bit already about how we can improve our end of things and will likely expand it even more to get a larger sample size — maybe five emails to each winery. The results still won't be definitive, but the data should be more telling.

In the end, we hope this effort is a positive and productive one.

We welcome comments from consumers: How do you communicate with wineries? How do you set up visits or trips to the wine regions?

And we want to hear from wineries: How is communication changing when it comes to reaching customers?