Patty Held On The Success of The Hermann Wine Trail
Homepage photo: Oak Glenn Vineyards and Winery, Hermann, MO
Patty Held has helped make Missouri’s Hermann Wine Trail one of the most thriving wine trails in the Midwest. Midwest Wine Press spoke with Patty recently about her job as Hermann Wine Trail president and the trail’s growth and success.
Midwest Wine Press: We know you’re a member of the Stone Hill Winery family. So how did you get started with the wine trail?
Patty Held: The Hermann area wineries were interested in starting a wine trail for quite a while, and I had heard several people speak on the topic at various conferences. Then the Hermann Chamber of Commerce invited the late Barbara Adams from New York to speak. We basically followed in the footsteps of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. (Editors note: The late Barbara Adams was the executive director of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail.)
Our first event- the Wine and Chocolate Trail– was sponsored by the Hermann Chamber. After that successful event, the Hermann area wineries decided to host more wine trail events. So in 2004, we formed the Hermann Vintners Association, and called ourselves the Hermann Wine Trail.
MWP: When did your position start?
PH: When we formed the Association, we elected officers and I was elected president. I ran and organized the wine trail while working at Stone Hill. When I left Stone Hill in 2008, the wine trail changed the bylaws so I could remain president. It was a nonpaying job for two years. During 2010, I was offered a job by another wine trail which offered a salary. I said to the Hermann Wine Trail, ‘I would really love to continue to run the Hermann Wine Trail, but I really need to be compensated.”
MWP: How do the financials of the Wine Trail work? Do the wineries pull together money for your salary?
PH: Our wine trail collects a two percent tourism surcharge on wine sales in the tasting room. It’s a surcharge; not a tax. The surcharge is voluntary, so if a consumer asked, ‘What is this on my receipt?” and didn’t want to pay it, the charge can be deducted. But most wineries just include it in their wine pricing. Wineries send in their two percent on the honor system, and that’s our marketing budget. It can only be used for marketing; my salary falls under that.
MWP: How did you gain all of your knowledge about wine trails?
PH: I attend quite a few conferences and take lots of notes. But a lot of the experience is from doing things and learning as we go. In the early days, we would put dates on all our event brochures and wine glasses, which would then of course become obsolete. We’ve learned from our little mistakes and now we have a successful wine trail.
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MWP: What’s the proper size for a wine trail?
PH: We feel that to visit our trail events in a weekend or in a day, the wineries need to be somewhat close together. So there’s 25 miles between winery one and winery seven. That’s a distance that would be doable for most visitors.
We’ve had other wineries approach us to join the trail. But some are just too far away to be added to the group.
MWP: How many events do you have annually?
PH: We have five events. We started initially with just the Chocolate Wine Trail, and then we added the Holiday Fare Wine Trail in November. Then we added Very Berry Wine Trail in July. We eventually changed that to Berries and BarBQ.
We added a Say Cheese event in December, and then we had an event called Wine 101 Wine Trail in January. January is always a tough month because of weather. So we changed the January event to the Norton Wine Trail.
However the Norton theme wasn’t that popular. So we moved the Norton event to May and we still couldn’t sell as many tickets as we wanted. So we changed Norton Wine Trail to Wild Card, which means we change the theme every year. The first year it was international foods. This past year it was our bacon-themed event, which was so popular that the group agreed to call the May event, Wild Bacon Wine Trail for 2014.
MWP: When are good times to schedule wine trail events?
PH: Overall, tourism in our region increases when wine trail events are on non-traditional weekends that are not holidays. For example, we have events on the first weekend of May and the third weekend in February and the weekend before Thanksgiving.
We don’t use actual calendar dates to plan our events. Instead, we have events on the same weekends every year. Over time, people remember when the events take place because we’re consistent.
MWP: Did you come up with all these ideas or was it a collaborative effort among the wineries?
PH: Everything is a group effort. I do research about other wine trails and the types of events they have. I like to bring a lot of ideas to the group, but it’s always a group effort.
MWP: Why does The Hermann Wine Trail have a smaller number of larger events rather than smaller, more frequent events?
PH: The wonderful thing about Hermann is that there are quite a few tourism events throughout the year. We wanted to select weekends that are not traditionally busy, so we can attract visitors on those weekends to boost tourism. Hermann has about 70 bed and breakfasts and the Wine Trail has really increased tourism in February, May, July, November and December. It’s been good for everyone.
MWP: How many people do you have in a typical event weekend?
PH: The Chocolate Wine Trail event sells out every year and that’s 1,200 tickets. The other events can approach 1,000 tickets. Berries and BarBQ last year was right at 1,000 and Holiday Fare was 1,000 tickets. Say Cheese in December is a challenging month. I think the most tickets we’ve sold for that one is 650. But for December, that’s fabulous. The Bacon Wine Trail is the first weekend in May. This year I think we sold about 650 tickets also.
MWP: Have those numbers been steady since you started or have they grown?
PH: They’ve grown as we’ve gotten better at promoting and doing email newsletters. First, we started doing e-invites across our contacts. Now we’re doing an email newsletter. We have this huge database of past participants -over 6,000 names- that we send our promotional emails to. We always include a video like a past wine trail event.
Before the Bacon Wine Trail event, I videoed a local sausage producer that also makes bacon. That was very popular. And recipes are just so important because we post them on our website from our wine trail events. Recipes are one of the most clicked on items in our website.
MWP: Are all of these new marketing ideas things you’ve changed in the past year?
PH: The newsletter was new last November, and the videos I just started. They’re just short clips. Sometimes I’ll have the winery representative talk about their wine and food pairing or I interview guests. People just love to watch videos.
We do an e-press release before each event. We’ve also invested some money in our WordPress powered website. Last year, we added a calendar where wineries can add their individual winery events to the calendar. In January 2013 , we had 500 people view the calendar, and this was before the wineries even added their events. And visitors can buy event tickets online using PayPal.
We also invested money in the on-page SEO for the website. We hired a web consultant who taught us how to make sure we show up in local searches.
MWP: Do you have a staff?
PH: I do it all by myself. However, Stone Hill does send our press release out five times a year. We also have a graphic designer we pay. But yes, I do it all.
MWP: Do you do any advertising?
We do some co-op advertising with Hermann Tourism. We pay a third of the printing cost for the color brochure because we have a nice section in that piece. One of our co-op programs is doing a spring/summer vacation guide insert promoted by the Missouri Division of Tourism. The vacation guides are great because they go to people who actually requested a brochure about the area.
We also do some “day trip” ads in regional promotional pieces and winery guides (Missouri, Iowa). We do ticket trades for radio commercials too. This is a “win win” situation for us because the radio station gives the tickets away, so we get lots of promotion through their radio spots and social media.
MWP: Lastly, do you advise other wineries or wine trails? How often do you speak at different conferences?
PH: I will help any trail as part of my consulting package. I’ve helped maybe half a dozen in the past three or four years. I can help the trail get organized and outline a blueprint marketing plan for them. I speak at several conferences a year. I’ll speak at three this year.
For more information see: The Hermann Wine Trail
Beth Steffens is a Journalism student at the University of Missouri in Columbia
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