How to kick ass with a quick, simple, and effective staff wine training

Learning how to lead an effective staff training is one of the superpowers every wine rep needs to learn. It’s key to be able to convey the right information, not get bogged down in what doesn’t need be discussed, and achieve the goals that lead to higher sales of your wines.

Amazingly, more reps screw it up. It’s a free throw of a situation, but many reps convey unnecessary details, run a messy show, and don’t achieve goals because they never figured out the goals to begin with.

In other words, learning how to consistently do a kick ass staff training that is effective and compact will put you ahead of 99% of the competition.

Never forget the goal of the training: to build excitement, curiosity, and confidence in the servers about your particular wines.

Here’s what to do.

Prep work to get a good turnout

Establish date, start time, and end time (important to include end time) with the mangers/wine buyers. One or two weeks before the training drop off posters to put at the service stations. “Taste and learn about some awesome wines, Thursday at 4pm, done at 4:30.” Sending a PDF to the managers to print and put up is less effective.

If you have any incentives for the staff, mention it on the poster (“Three free wine keys will be given away!”)

In the days before the training, call the restaurant manager to confirm time, location, wines being poured. Request that everybody is on time because you are busy that day and need to rush out when it’s finished. Email the managers of the restaurant the morning of the training, outlining what time you’ll be there, please tell your staff to be on time, etc. This emphasis of being on time is a way to improve the perceived value of your presence. It’s a tool to show that you’re there for business, not just fun.

Prep work ahead of the training: Print a pile of the wine staff training cards you see below, preferably on cardstock, and cut them into 4 per page. You can download the PDF of them here. These cards are essential for a few reasons. 1) They force the servers to write down the information, causing retention rates to go through the roof. 2) They keep you on point with information that matters, without letting you drift into information that doesn’t. 3) It’s sized to go into a server’s book, which they carry in their apron and is their file cabinet for their job.

I assume you already know about the wines you’ll be discussing, so I won’t point that out as something obvious. But look at the training card and know what you’ll be saying. Have one cool thing to say about each wine, something about the family, the label, the farming … something that ties the wine to something beyond aroma and flavor. This will be the hook. More on that in a bit.

The training itself

Arrive 15 minutes early. Set up the wines. As servers arrive a bit early, hand them the training cards and invite them to start to fill them out with the wines you have on display. This forces them to really look at the label and try to decipher the wine.

Start when you said you’d start. Not a minute early, not a minute late. There will be late comers (these are servers, happens all the time) but you don’t need to restart or backup or repeat. Just say “Grab some of the tasting cards and you can catch up with your co-workers when I’m done … okay back to the program …”

For each wine, keep it simple. I cannot emphasize this enough. Assume the staff knows nothing. Assume they don’t know where Napa is. Assume they’ve only had one or two Pinot Noirs in their life. They don’t need any more than what they can bring to the table with confidence.

Here’s a secret: don’t worry about aromas. Servers talking about aromas at the table is boring. It’s also snobbish. Focus instead on mouthfeel and flavor because that is what more people can relate to. Body, acid, and tannin. Talk about what it does on the palate, not what it does in the nose.

Have them fill in their cards, including a menu item it would pair well with. Let the group answer this question. You can lead them a bit. “Seafood would be awesome … what do you guys think?”

Finally, one cool fact about the wine. Have this one cool fact in your head, carefully prepared. A story. A name. An image you can put in their mind. You’re conveying emotion here. Some examples:

This winemaker has a three legged dog that follows him out to the vineyards every morning. In the fall when the grapes are ripe, the dog loves to eat them off the vine, but only at peak ripeness. It’s how this winemaker knows it’s time for harvest.


She founded this winery with no winemaking experience and no money. She borrowed $500 to buy the first batch of Sauvignon Blanc, fermented it fast, bottled it, and sold it to the restaurant in the next town where a year before she was waiting tables. That was the start of her little empire.


When you visit this winery … at some point in your life you have to … be sure to bring a lunch with you, buy a bottle, and ask for directions to the “top of the hill table.” You’ll walk about half a mile uphill to this lone picnic table under an oak tree that the vineyard workers have lunch at during harvest. Here’s a picture from that table. Your life will suddenly be complete with this view in front of you, sipping on this wine.

No scores. No aromas. No technical details.

Ask for any questions. End on time. Thank them profusely.

Then take out your phone and have them raise their glasses. Get a picture.

Follow up

Send a huge thanks to the managers, along with the picture you took. This is their way of knowing who was or was not there. Then set up the date for the next training.

That’s it. Do this and I guarantee that your reputation for doing kick ass staff trainings that are better than all other sales reps’ will explode.

Here’s the best part: doing it right also means doing it effectively and without as much fuss or work. You do NOT need to work harder to be more successful. You just need to work SMARTER.

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