One of the hardest things to create for a business is the sense of culture or community amongst the customers and the staff. Sure – some businesses focus on creating networks of hundred or thousands of people that “like” them on a social network, or create databases of names of visitors to websites – but the true sense of belonging somewhere and feeling comfortable as a customer often remains elusive.
While purchases are made at numerous businesses, the number of transactions where the customer looks forward to engaging with the business and animatedly talks of the experience with others remains precioius few. Such a business has recently opened here in Connecticut that scores on numerous points to make it a destination.
Tucked away in a residential community in Wallingford is a newly opened vineyard being run by the Ruggiero family, Paradise Hills Vineyard & Winery. Uncles, Mom & Dad, daughters, and even a grandmother patrol the grounds offering everything from explanations of the wine, inquiring about customers’ interests in food choices of restaurants that delivery in the area, and sharing local history that dates back to the Revolutionary War.
The beauty of how this harmonious family melds their strengths is evident in the packed outdoor deck and indoor seating on a recent weekend day. Natalie (one of the daughters) beamed a 1000 watt smile as she welcomed people to the vineyard. Madeline (a daughter) has expertise in wine-making and is a certified chef who is only too willing to offer food pairing suggestions and to confirm that everything is to the cust0mer’s liking. Brenda (the proud Mother) was exuberant in her pride in her family, the grounds, the building, and how the business is growing. There were other family members seen servicing customers or ensuring that the needs of the business were being met, but they all managed to be present without being intrusive.
There is an air of mystery, sophistication, and clubbiness that wine drinkers share – but in the wrong dosages, it can quickly turn to snootiness, exclusivity, and border on obnoxiousness. This business manages to make the drinking, selecting, and appreciation of wine to be fun, educational, and it all occurs in a relaxed atmosphere. Here is how:
- Upon entering the tasting room, the various wines available are explained in a very accessible couple of sentences. No high-falutin’ language or hard to decipher metaphors.
- The room itself invites people to talk with each other and to relax. The ambience, set-up, furniture, and bar are all welcoming.
- The customer is greeted by a friendly family member who takes the time to talk with and not AT the customer. By the time the first taste is poured, the customer feels like s/he is visiting a friend in their home.
- The wine itself is wonderful and causes anyone who thinks that good wine can only be found in California or in Europe to rethink their assumptions.
- The music playing is a combination of instrumentals, easy listening standards, and light jazz numbers that provide just the right context.
- The outdoor deck beckons the customer to exhale, enjoy the view of the grapes growing, and sip on wine as picnic baskets are opened and laughter permeates the air.
In the span of ten minutes, the customer goes from the frenzy of traffic, errands, daily pressures to the most relaxed, oasis from home without every boarding a train or plane. That certain something that defines an experience, makes someone loyal to a place, or causes someone to seek it out someone to tell it to is rarely about price. Cheap can be bought anywhere if one is willing to make concessions or sacrifices. No, this is about gaining something unexpected. Doing something beyond the anticipated. The Ruggiero family’s Paradise Hills Winery is aptly named. For just a few hours – it is an escape from the everyday.