Favorable crowd-sourced ratings and reviews are prized in the hospitality industry, and three Northwest wineries were ranked No. 1 in their state by Yelp users.
The top-ranking wineries are Willamette Valley Vineyards for Oregon, Ambassador Wines of Washington and Telaya Wine Co., for Idaho.
“I haven’t ever seen state rankings, so when this came out, it was a pleasant surprise, but one our team has worked hard for,” Christine Clair, winery director for Willamette Valley Vineyards, told Great Northwest Wine via email.
Nexstar Media Inc., which operates more than 200 television stations across the country — including KOIN, the CBS affiliate in Portland — published the list of top-ranked wineries, according to Yelp.
It’s not uncommon for companies in the hospitality industry, particularly those with the resources to have a social media expert on the payroll, to publicly thank customers for contributing positive reviews. The savvy ones also reach out to someone who didn’t have an ideal experience and detail it across a platform such as Facebook, Google, Tripadvisor, Angi or Yelp.
The Yelp community is prolific when it comes to Willamette Valley Vineyards. Its rating is 4.5 stars, and there are 442 reviews along with more than 700 user-provided photos uploaded to the site.
“I greatly credit our team for this accolade and always think of the quote, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care” when it comes to hospitality,” Clair said. “What is in the bottle needs to be there quality-wise, and our team needs to know their stuff, but how our team treats the guest is of more importance to many visitors. What I’m equally grateful for is how guests are willing to share their positive experiences to help others make informed decisions.”
Willamette Valley Vineyards maintains focus while expanding
That No. 1 buzz on Yelp stems from the historic mothership in Turner. Clair, founder Jim Bernau and their teams also operate guest services in McMinnville, Tualatin Estate in Forest Grove, Lake Oswego, the soon-to-open tasting room and restaurant in Vancouver USA and the upcoming Domaine Willamette sparkling wine center in the Dundee Hills.
On the Yelp page, there’s a short bio about “Jim B.” — Jim Bernau — and Clair responded to an “Ask the community” question if Willamette Valley Vineyards is dog friendly?
“Yes we are dog friendly in our outdoor spaces: we look forward to hosting you!”
The much-publicized transparency of Yelp’s reviews also shows up. A Portland resident complained last year about her winery suite experience. The next day, Clair wrote a respectful public apology to her.
“We closely monitor all of our customer feedback by sharing with our teams (positive and learning opportunities) and responding to nearly all reviews,” Clair said. “It is a big task for our managers, but something where being a consumer-owned business we know the importance of being close to the guest and listening to their feedback is how we propel forward and continually improve or celebrate our team.”
The publicly traded company also operates a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla for its Maison Bleue label. There are more than 24,000 owners of shares traded on the NASDAQ, and Willamette Valley Vineyards plays host to its annual Owners’ Weekend on July 15-17 at the estate tasting room in Turner.
Ambassador Wines leads Washington with 5 stars
On the Yelp scale, 5 stars is the top rating, and that’s where Ambassador Wines of Washington stands after 73 reviews.
It’s not clear when doing a search of a region how the rankings are presented. For example, when looking for “Best Wineries near Woodinville, WA” the sponsored results pop to the top. And under “All Results” there is DeLille Cellars at No. 1 with 274 reviews and 4.5 stars. Chateau Ste. Michelle is No. 2 with 867 reviews and 4.0 stars. JM Cellars is No. 3 with 137 reviews and 4.5 stars, followed by Matthews Winery (4 stars, 206 reviews) and Maryhill Winery Tasting Room & Bistro (77 reviews, 4.5 stars.) Sol Stone Winery at No. 9 can boast a perfect 5.0 with 27 reviews.
However, under the “Frequently Asked Questions” for each winery, there is a small note at the bottom indicating if the winery is a “Yelp advertiser.” Of those ranked in the top five, JM Cellars is the only one that’s not listed as an advertiser, and neither is Sol Stone. Ambassador Wines of Washington is a Yelp advertiser.
In Oregon, Willamette Valley Vineyards does not carry the “Yelp advertiser” notation.
Praise continues to follow Idaho-based Telaya
Acclaim from critics and wine competitions has become commonplace for Telaya Wine Co., and owners/winemakers Earl and Carrie Sullivan, but consumers — with their 92 reviews and 4.5 stars — moved the Garden City winery atop Yelp’s rankings in Idaho.
“To get this ranking, you need to respond to all reviews (good or bad), be focused on hospitality and be intentional,” Earl says. “I don’t think it is any secret that we spend a lot of time, energy and resources in our team and that is entirely to create the top hospitality experience anywhere. The ambassadors are entirely responsible for this rating, and we are a no-tipping establishment. All the hospitality is included in the price of the wines. We tell people the best tip that they can leave us is a review or to come back with friends.”
This spring, the Sullivans learned their 2019 Discovery Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from the Horse Heaven Hills in Washington was voted Best Cab at the 10th annual Cascadia International Wine Competition. That wine earned a double gold medal, as did the Telaya 2019 Syrah from Sawtooth Vineyard in the Snake River Valley. Last year, a Telaya 2018 Syrah was best of show at the Cascadia and named the year’s No. 2 wine in the Northwest by The Seattle Times. In 2016, Wine Press Northwest selected Telaya as the Idaho Winery of the Year, so standards and expectations are high with consumers.
“Carrie or I respond to every review within a day of the review,” Earl says. “We ask for feedback if something was wrong, and we make specific comments about the person’s experience when we can so they know it is not a canned response.
“We had several bad reviews during COVID due to the stringency of the rules and our adherence to those rules without exception,” he continued. “At some point, I got to the breaking point and starting have intellectual conversations with these keyboard warriors … But that was more to take on the people who were trying to hurt businesses because we were following rules. We also had multiple people give us great praise during that time so it was a balancing act.”
Other Idaho wineries with high ratings and 10 or more reviews from Yelp included Lindsay Creek Vineyards (25 reviews, 5 stars) Sawtooth (48 reviews, 4.5 stars), Coeur d’Alene Cellars (40 reviews, 4.5 stars), Indian Creek (21 reviews, 5 stars), Hat Ranch Winery (25 reviews, 4.5 stars) and Huston Vineyards (4.5 stars, 25 reviews). Not one was listed as a Yelp advertiser.