I wasn’t sure how to take the statement “We love stupid questions.”
I was talking to Beth Levendusky, operations and creative director for Door Peninsula Winery in Carlsville, and I was asking her a lot of questions. She clarified by saying that they love it when customers come for a tasting, knowing little about wine but eager to learn. Joining us were marketing and sales director Robert Peterson and marketing assistant Kelsy Ortiz.
Everything about my visit to Door Peninsula Winery had a different feel than my visits to other wineries in the county.
First was the size: The winery has expanded its tasting room several times since opening in 1974. On display throughout several rooms was wine paraphernalia, cheese, jellies, mustards, fudge and olive oil, but the shelves of wine that rimmed and stood in the middle of the rooms took center stage. They held wines for every occasion: wedding wines; several Christmas options; cranberry wine for Thanksgiving; red, white and blueberry wine for the Fourth of July; and because it was late fall when I was there, several versions of Halloween wines.
“We have something for everyone,” Levendusky said.
That was another thing that stood out about Door Peninsula Winery: The focus didn’t seem to be on the wine as much as it was on the customer. The wines and other offerings were there to ensure that visitors had a great experience.
It all started with a sweet cherry wine, but it grew from there because customers wanted variety. The wine varieties also change continually throughout the year. Levendusky told me that the question visitors who return to Door Peninsula Winery every year always seem to ask is, “What’s new?”
As Levendusky, Peterson and Ortiz talked about how they try to create a memorable experience for their customers through creative wine varieties, I was struck by another difference between this winery and others I’d visited. At others, the focus was on the grape and the winemaking: vine to glass. At Door Peninsula, it appeared to be on discovering what the customer wanted and creating the wine from there: concept to bottle.
My hosts looked at me skeptically when I shared my insight, but they didn’t dismiss the notion either, stating that they do like to keep their customers’ experience foremost when making decisions about the types and styles of wines they make.
Another difference was the sourcing. Like other wineries, Door Peninsula has its own vineyards, sources grapes from the West Coast and offers varietals from those grapes, but its emphasis is instead on Door County fruit wines, often blended with grape wine in an attempt to find that sweet spot for customers.
When I asked about a signature wine, my hosts agreed that sweet cherry held seniority and tradition, but blackberry merlot was the favorite and an example of a grape-and-fruit blend that represents the Door peninsula.
I also wanted to get their perspective on the future of the local wine industry. Sweet cherry wine, like the one offered at Door Peninsula Winery, has been a flag bearer – and in some ways a stigma – so we started there.
Levendusky said that the reality is that sweet cherry wine did in many ways represent the Door County wine scene, but it plays a minor role because visitors are looking for more sophisticated grape varietals, fruit wines, blends and ciders. Wine tastes are changing, and wineries must evolve accordingly.
And that’s why talking to – and, more importantly, listening to – their customers is so important. The tasting-room experience needs to be a fun learning experience for those who taste the wine and those who make and pour it.
Jim Schnaedter describes himself as a wine appreciator, but not an expert. “I love drinking it, pouring it, talking about it and writing about it, but the more I do of each, the more I learn what I don’t know about it.” He sets out to discover more about Door County wines and their makers in this series.