Susie Maddux

Susie Maddux – tasting room manager for Quivira Vineyards

Larry Walker

Susie Maddux spent 17 years in the fast lane. She spent 50 miles a day on Los Angeles freeways, commuting from her home in Santa Monica to work in television production, including script supervisor for shows featuring the likes of Dolly Parton, Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams.

Now, as tasting room manager for Quivira Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County in California, she drives four miles a day through the vineyards. “I am very aware of how lucky I am,” she said.

When she first interviewed with Quivira, owners Henry and Holly Wendt thought the winery might be a little dull. Maddux worked part-time for 4 1/2 years, before going on full-time as the tasting room manager about 18 months ago.

“I love it,” she said. “But it isn’t just that the commute is a little easier. It’s very nice to be selling a product that you really like, and I love the people who come here,” she said, the enthusiasm shining through her voice. “I must admit that I was a little apprehensive at first about encountering wine snobs, but there’s hardly any of that,” she said.

“I think the people who come here have a fairly average level of wine knowledge. They might know about our Zinfandel or Sauvignon blanc because they’ve read reviews of them in the wine press, but they are ready to absorb all they can learn.”

Maddux said that her favorite time is during the week when fewer people come in. “Then we really get a chance to know the customers. I like it when they admit they don’t know much about wine or say they are new to wine. Then, we just try to make them feel comfortable and encourage them to ask questions. I always tell them there are no stupid questions if you want to get an answer. The last thing I want to do is intimidate anyone.”

During the busy season, from May through September, an average of 50 to 75 people a day stop for tastings. “The Dry Creek Valley is a destination for a lot of people,” Maddux said.

There is no charge for tastings, but for picnickers or others who want more than a taste, the tasting room staff will sell them a glass of wine from whatever is open for pouring. The cost of the glass is pro-rated to the price of the bottle.

Many wineries are becoming very sensitive to problems said to be associated with drinking and driving, but Maddux said that problem has been very minor at Quivira.

“We find that people are becoming more and more responsible and quite often a group will have a designated driver.”

The tasting room opened just three years ago. Prior to that, Nancy Beaton handled tours by appointment. Beaton, who is now in charge of direct sales for Quivira, built up a “Friends of Quivira” club, which is the core of Quivira’s active direct mail program.

Quivira sends out four mailings a year, as well as special flyers announcing new releases and sales.

“We will ship wine anywhere,” Maddux said, adding that they are keeping shipping cost as low as possible (about $10 a case for United Parcel Service, $30 a case for air express) to encourage mail orders. “At those prices, we aren’t charging them for the shipping containers or the time spent filling the order,” Maddux added.

Last summer, Maddux and Beaton began a series of very popular special events, including concerts and cooking classes.

“There isn’t anything new about that,” she said. “But we have a great setting for concerts. We hold them in the courtyard and limit the audience to 150 people. It’s a very intimate setting, which people seem to like.”

Tickets for the concerts are $10, which includes a glass of wine and hors d’oeuvres.

There was only one cooking class last year, but Maddux plans more for 1995, with the classes focusing on foods that go with Quivira wines.

Another very popular event is the annual Valentine’s weekend release of the popular Quivira Sauvignon blanc. The new wine is served with fresh oysters and chocolate truffles. How could anyone beat that combination?

Maddux believes one of the strongest tools she has in the tasting room is the feeling of friendship extended toward the customers. “Sometimes I find that I’ll pick up a conversation with someone that we started four months ago. There is just such a good feeling here,” she said.

That ‘good feeling’ has translated into dollars for Quivira. Tasting room sales have increased on average of “over 25%” each year since it was opened, and tasting room sales make up over 10% of total winery sales.

On average, Maddux calculates that between $10 and $15 in wine is purchased by every visitor to the tasting room.

Quivira, located at 4900 West Dry Creek Road, Heaidsburg, Calif., opens the tasting room daily from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., except for major holidays.

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