Introduction

An increasing number of wine producers offer winery tourism experiences in order to boost direct-to-consumer sales of wines on site, and—perhaps more importantly—as a means of building brand image and valuable, long-term relationships with consumers (Karlsson & Karlsson, 2017). The managerial and theoretical importance of winery tourism experiences (for reviews, see Gómez et al., 2019; Santos et al., 2019) has given rise to research exploring their nature and dimensions (Massa & Bédé, 2018; Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2012; Thanh & Kirova, 2018). Research has examined consumer experiences and motivations with regard to wine regions as destinations (Afonso et al., 2018; Bruwer & Rueger-Muck, 2019; Byrd et al., 2016; Gu et al., 2020; Pikkemaat et al., 2009; Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2013; Thanh & Kirova, 2018), and winery tasting rooms (Charters et al., 2009), with most articles focusing on the sensory, hedonic, and experiential nature of winery visits associated with a specific geographic region (Bruwer & Rueger-Muck, 2019; Byrd et al., 2016). Winery experiences as perceived by specific target segments have also received some attention (Fountain, 2018; Fountain & Charters, 2009). Nonetheless, there are currently few articles (for an exception, see O’Neill et al., 2002) examining to what extent aspects of the winery tourism experience give rise to brand-related outcomes for wineries. Furthermore, there is a need for more research on consumer experiences, particularly in the winery context (Santos et al., 2019).

To answer the call for more research on consumers’ winery experiences (Santos et al., 2019) and to contribute to the relatively limited literature on consumers’ brand image perceptions and brand loyalty as they relate wineries (Gómez et al., 2019), this article has two objectives: First, it examines the dimensions of winery visitors’ experiences at the level of the winery. Second, it explores the development consumers’ brand image associations and brand loyalty toward wineries they have visited.

To achieve these objectives, this research focuses on four wineries in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia that are part of the region’s rapidly growing wine industry, differ in size, and offer markedly different wine tourism experiences. Wineries were selected based on their geographical location in the Okanagan Valley, and constitute a convenience sample of wineries that differ in size. The selection was informed by the classification of British Columbia (B.C.) wineries (Cartier, 2012), which includes three large wineries selling about 2,790,786 cases of wine (83% of the market), 16 medium-sized wineries selling 301,216 cases (9%), and 89 small wineries selling 168,346 cases (5%). Major wineries sold on average 930,262 cases, medium sized wineries 18,826 cases, and small wineries 1,892 cases. A classification provided by British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (2004) categorized Mission Hill as a large estate winery and Quails’ Gate as a medium winery, but does not identify small wineries by name. Among small Okanagan wineries, the selection therefore included an organic winery, as consumers are increasingly interested in sustainability, and a winery associated with a celebrity (i.e., author and oenophile Salma Rushdie), as its celebrity status likely attracts visitors and provides a reasonably sized sample of reviews. This research therefore included the following wineries:

  • The Mission Hill Family Estate Winery (MH) is the largest family estate winery in the Okanagan Valley, recognized internationally for its architectural landmark buildings and its outdoor Terrace restaurant overlooking vineyards and Okanagan Lake, deemed among the top five winery restaurants worldwide (Ferguson, 2008);

  • Quails’ Gate Estate Winery (QG) is a medium-sized winery located only 1.7 km away from Mission Hill in West Kelowna. Its wine shop and Old Vines restaurant are renowned for scenic views and high quality;

  • The Rollingdale Winery (RD) is a certified organic farm gate winery (i.e., a winery with vineyards of five acres or less) in West Kelowna. The winery is genuinely small: as of this writing, it has four primary staff members;

  • the hatch [sic] winery (H) is a small winery by Okanagan Lake in West Kelowna, next to Quails’ Gate Winery that is associated with celebrity status.

To capture consumer responses to the winery experience holistically (Massa & Bédé, 2018) and to preclude biases associated with survey data collection at wineries (Charters et al., 2009), this article examines TripAdvisor reviews of the four selected wineries posted between January 2014 and December 2020. TripAdvisor reviews offer valuable insights into brand experiences in the context of wine tourism (Massa & Bédé, 2018; Thanh & Kirova, 2018), while also reflecting resulting brand image impressions and manifestations of brand loyalty.

This article’s contribution to the literature on consumers’ winery experiences is twofold: First, in addition to the winery experience factors discussed in the literature (i.e., the 4E framework; esthetics, escape, education, entertainment; Pine & Gilmore, 1999; Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2012), this research identifies social interactions as an important factor contributing to consumers’ winery experiences, and thus extends findings on the nature of consumer experience. Second, focusing on the winery as the unit of analysis, this research demonstrates that consumers’ winery experiences are associated with brand image impressions and brand loyalty. This suggests that a stronger integration of consumer experience and brand equity models could yield important insight for theory (e.g., experience dimensions as differential antecedents of brand image associations) and practice (e.g., resource allocation to elicit a desired brand image and encourage brand loyalty). This research thus has implications for future research on the creation of winery tourism experiences and for brand experience management in this context.

Conceptual Background

Experience Marketing in the Winery Tourism Context

Wine tourism encompasses a variety of activities (Charters & Ali-Knight, 2002), including tours of a single winery or a series of wineries in a region, dining at winery restaurants and cafés offering carefully curated wine and food pairings, or wine tastings. In offering winery tourism experiences, wine producers engage in experience marketing, which involves an economic offering that consists of sensorial stimuli (e.g., wine, food) and thematic content (e.g., cellar tours, tasting events) staged by the winery (Becker & Jaakkola, 2020; Bruwer & Alant, 2009; Bruwer & Rueger-Muck, 2019; Massa & Bédé, 2018; Pine & Gilmore, 1998, 1999).

Experience marketing involves providing customers with memorable experiences in order to achieve competitive advantage and customer satisfaction (Pine & Gilmore, 1999). Experience marketing conceives of consumption as a holistic experience (Massa & Bédé, 2018) and recognizes that consumers are rational as well as emotional decision-makers (Pine & Gilmore, 1999; Schmitt, 1999). This suggests that—in addition to wine as the core product—sensory, hedonic, and social aspects play an important role in influencing consumer responses to winery destination experiences (Byrd et al., 2016; Roberts & Sparks, 2006). The literature indeed supports the relevance of sensory (Charters et al., 2009; Charters & Pettigrew, 2005), hedonic (Bruwer & Rueger-Muck, 2019; Byrd et al., 2016; Pikkemaat et al., 2009; Roberts & Sparks, 2006), and social (Charters et al., 2009; Gu et al., 2020; O’Neill et al., 2002) aspects of the winery experience.

Wineries’ experience marketing gives rise to brand experience, because it allows consumers to interact directly (e.g., wine tasting) and indirectly (e.g., visits to wine cellars and vineyards, story telling) with the brand (Becker & Jaakkola, 2020; Brakus et al., 2009). According to Pine and Gilmore (1998), consumer experiences are conceptualized in terms of four experience categories (i.e., the 4E framework: esthetics, education, entertainment, escape). These also apply to winery tourism (Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2012; Thanh & Kirova, 2018). Esthetics refers to enrichment through sensory aspects of the experience (e.g., scenic beauty, enjoyment of wine and food), escape to the immersion into a different time and place (e.g., participation in traditional grape picking), education to knowledge development (e.g., wine tastings, seminars, wine-food pairing events), and entertainment to attending performances (e.g., live music, art displays, themed events; Pine & Gilmore, 1999; Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2012; Thanh & Kirova, 2018). Although the 4E framework suggests that consumer experience includes active (i.e., education, escape) and passive (i.e., esthetics, entertainment) consumer participation (Pine & Gilmore, 1999; Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2012; Thanh & Kirova, 2018), experience marketing involves staging (Pikkemaat et al., 2009)—the integration of the experience category within a comprehensive and thematic design of the environment (e.g., architecture, natural setting) and offerings delivered therein (e.g., historic tours, cultural activities, food, wine tastings) in order to create experiences that consumers find unique, memorable, want to repeat, and enthusiastically promote via word-of-mouth (Bruwer & Alant, 2009; Pine & Gilmore, 1998; Pizam, 2010; Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2012). Positive memories of the experience, in particular, increase future revisit intentions, satisfaction, and destination loyalty (Pizam, 2010; Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2013).

This literature also suggests that wine tourists seek an experience that is “a complex interaction of natural setting, wine, food, cultural and historical inputs and above all the people who services them” (Charters, 2006, p. 214). Although social interactions have been recognized as playing a role in consumers’ winery experiences (Charters et al., 2009; Gu et al., 2020; O’Neill et al., 2002), they have not been investigated in relation to the 4E framework categories (Pine & Gilmore, 1998). The current research thus examines whether and to what extent social interactions emerge in consumers’ reflections on their winery experiences, along with the 4Es.

In addition, whereas the literature focuses on the emergence of the four experience categories in the context of visits to a wine region (Knutson et al., 2006; Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2012; Thanh & Kirova, 2018), or their impact on consumer responses to a wine region (e.g., loyalty, intention to revisit; Afonso et al., 2018; Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2013), this research examines consumer experience of a specific winery, and brand-related consumer responses (i.e., brand image, brand loyalty) toward the winery.

Brand Experience

Experience marketing undertaken by a brand (e.g., events) and brand-related stimuli (e.g., packaging, design) gives rise to brand experience (Schmitt et al., 2014)—a multi-dimensional (i.e., sensory, emotional, intellectual engagement), subjective consumer response to brand stimuli and activities (Brakus et al., 2009). Brand experience emerges from direct (e.g. product consumption) and indirect (e.g., employee interaction) contact with the brand (Andreini et al., 2018; Brakus et al., 2009). Product attributes (e.g., wine quality) and social interactions may thus play a complementary role to consumer experiences in creating winery brand experience (Charters et al., 2009). Importantly, brand experience influences brand-related consumer responses, including brand image (Andreini et al., 2018) and brand attachment (Andreini et al., 2018; Brakus et al., 2009), brand trust, word-of-mouth, brand satisfaction, and brand loyalty (Nysveen et al., 2013; Santini et al., 2018).

Brand Image

Brand image consists of brand associations consumers hold in their minds (Keller, 1993, 2020). Favorable, unique, and strong brand associations are an important tool for brand positioning and differentiation (Keller, 1993, 2020). Unique, positive, and memorable brand experiences give rise to a positive brand image associations (Andreini et al., 2018), including brand personality perceptions (Nysveen et al., 2013), which in turn encourage brand loyalty (Brakus et al., 2009; Ramaseshan & Stein, 2014). While the literature has examined the consumer experience–image link in the context of wine regions (Bruwer & Lesschaeve, 2012), the current research focuses on the winery as a brand. Because brand image associations arise from both product and non-product related attributes—such as experiences (Keller, 1993, 2020)—the branding literature suggests that consumers’ recollections of their winery experiences likely also reflect associated brand image perceptions.

Brand Loyalty

Whereas brand image associations are cognitive consumer responses to the brand (Andreini et al., 2018), brand loyalty is a relational consumer response to brand experience (O’Neill et al., 2002). Brand loyalty comprises an attitudinal and a behavioral dimension (Chaudhuri & Holbrook, 2001; Oliver, 1999). Attitudinal brand loyalty refers to repurchase intentions, greater likelihood of recommendation, positive word-of-mouth, and willingness to pay a price premium, whereas behavioral brand loyalty is captured by repeat purchases (Chaudhuri & Holbrook, 2001; Iglesias et al., 2011). The branding literature supports a positive relationship between favourable brand experience and brand loyalty (Brakus et al., 2009; Iglesias et al., 2011), mediated by consumers’ affective brand attachment (Iglesias et al., 2011; Thomson et al., 2005) as well as brand personality perceptions (Brakus et al., 2009).

In the context of the wine industry, a survey of Australian wine consumers furthermore confirmed a positive, indirect relation between wine consumption experience and brand loyalty, mediated by brand trust and satisfaction (Bianchi et al., 2014). In a Chilean wine industry context, the relation between wine consumption experience and brand loyalty was only mediated by brand satisfaction, but not trust (Bianchi, 2015).

The literature on winery tourism also proposes a positive relation between consumer experience and destination loyalty, although findings are mixed. In the context of a South African wine farm destination, Back et al. (2020), do not find a significant relation between visitor experience dimensions (which differed from those proposed by the 4E framework) and loyalty, with the exception of a positive impact of favorable food and beverage tastings. On the other hand, positive consumer experiences as defined by the 4E framework were associated with winery tourism destination loyalty (Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2013). In the context of winery tasting rooms, positive consumer experiences were associated with greater long-term, off-premise sales, which are indicative of brand loyalty (Cuellar et al., 2015). Similarly, positive emotions associated with winery tasting room experiences were positively associated with brand loyalty (Nowak et al., 2006).

Although often not specifically focused on the winery experience as conceptualized in the 4E framework or on holistic winery experiences (as opposed to wine consumption or winery tourism destinations), the literature suggests that consumer experiences in winery settings culminate in brand experience, which gives rise to brand image associations and brand loyalty. This research builds on earlier work (Thanh & Kirova, 2018) to examine to what extent the 4E conceptual framework and social interactions arise in consumers’ TripAdvisor reviews, and whether consumers’ winery experiences give rise to brand image perceptions and brand loyalty. Figure 1 illustrates this conceptual framework.

Figure 1. Conceptual framework linking consumer experience, brand image, and brand loyalty

Method

Given that wineries attract consumers with different needs and interests (Charters & Ali-Knight, 2002), and because experience is highly subjective, examining consumer experience, brand image, and brand loyalty in this context lends itself to an investigation based on qualitative data (Charters et al., 2009). In line with previous research on consumer experiences (Cassar et al., 2020; Massa & Bédé, 2018; Thanh & Kirova, 2018), this research was informed by a netnographic approach, and involved the collection and coding of consumers’ TripAdvisor reviews to understand how visitors experience winery visits, perceive the winery’s image, and whether they express brand loyalty. This approach is appropriate to understand complex phenomena and allows for the identification of emergent themes (Kozinets, 2002).

Since 2000, the U.S. based TripAdvisor—a platform for consumers’ description and evaluation of their travel experiences—has featured more than 730 million reviews. It is one of the leading providers of online word-of-mouth recommendations regarding a vast range of travel destinations (https://tripadvisor.mediaroom.com/US-about-us). While credibility of information on social media is a concern, consumers frequently rely on TripAdvisor information, and reviews thus allow to cautiously gauge consumer responses to experiences (Ayeh et al., 2013; Massa & Bédé, 2018; Thanh & Kirova, 2018).

The analysis included all available postings for the four selected wineries. TripAdvisor reviews of the four wineries in the Okanagan Valley span a six-year period (2014-2020) in order to allow for first time and repeat experiences to occur. They consist of 2540 reviews overall (MH: 1163, QG: 1097, RD: 90, H: 190). We categorized each review according to the four themes identified by Quadri-Felitti & Fiore (2012; see also Pine & Gilmore, 1999; Thanh & Kirova, 2018), and identified an additional, emerging theme (i.e., social interactions with employees and other visitors). Reviews were analyzed and categorized manually. The analysis proceeded by rating category (positive, neutral, negative) such that relations between review valence, themes, and brand-related responses (e.g., brand image impressions, brand loyalty) could emerge. Reviews that pertained to several themes were categorized with all themes they related to. Reviews that were ambiguous with regard to their relation to themes were categorized as “other.”

Results

Table 1 illustrates the frequency of reviews by experience category and winery, and summarizes the valence of TripAdvisor ratings (i.e., excellent/ very good, average, poor/terrible).

Table 1. Frequency of themes and valence by winery (2014-2020)
Themes Mission Hill the hatch Rollingdale Quail’s Gate All wineries
Esthetics 408 (%) 4 (2.1%) 1 (1.1%) 199 (18.1%) 612 (24.1%)
Escapism 32 (%) 1 (.5%) - 4 (.4%) 35 (1.4%)
Education 51 (%) 1 (.5%) 5 (5.6%) 28 (2.6%) 85 (3.4%)
Entertainment 49 (%) 60 (31.6%) 5 (5.6%) 14 (12.8%) 129 (5.1%)
Social interactions 213 (%) 81 (42.6%) 36 (40.0%) 186 (16.9%) 525 (20.7%)
Other 410 (%) 43 (22.6%) 43 (47.7%) 666 (60.2%) 1154 (45.3%)
Total 1163 (100%) 190 (100%) 90 (100%) 1097 (100%) 2540 (100%)
Valencea
Very good/excellent 829 (71.3%) 155 (81.6%) 85 (94.5%) 965 (88.0%) 2034 (80.1%)
Neutral 172 (14.8%) 14 (7.4%) 3 (3.3%) 73 (6.7%) 262 (10.3%)
Poor/terrible 162 (13.9%) 21 (11.0%) 2 (2.2%) 59 (5.3%) 244 (9.6%)
Total 1163 (100%) 190 (100%) 90 (100%) 1097 (100%) 2540 (100%)

Note. aValence here represents the valence of the review as indicated on TripAdvisor.

Consistent with experience categories proposed for a winery tourism context (Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2012; Thanh & Kirova, 2018), main themes observed in TripAdvisor reviews were the setting (esthetics, n = 612; 24%), immersion in the experience (escape, n = 35; 1.38%), the opportunity to learn more about wines (education, n = 85; 3.35%), the engagement into the experience (entertainment, n = 129; 5.1%). An additional theme related social interactions with employees and other visitors (social interactions, n = 525; 25.74%) also emerged.

Across all wineries, esthetics and social interactions were reflected most often, followed by entertainment and education, and finally escape. For MH, esthetics (35%) was identified as the most important theme, followed by social interactions (18.3%), education (4.38%), and entertainment (4.21%). For QG, esthetics was also the most important theme (18%), followed by social interactions (17%), education (2.55%), and entertainment (1.25%). For the two smaller wineries, social interactions emerged as the most frequently expressed theme associated with the winery experience.

Most reviews were positive, both at the winery level and overall (80.1% were very good/excellent, 10.47% neutral; 9.6% negative). Although social interactions refer to the interactions between staff and visitors and amongst visitors themselves, mention of positive interactions with employees frequently emerged in conjunction with positive experiences visitors reported.

We now turn to the discussion of the winery experience categories and consumers’ references to brand image and brand loyalty emerging from the TripAdvisor reviews, and provide excerpts to illustrate how consumers reflect dimensions of their winery tourism experience, brand image, and brand loyalty.

Esthetics

Esthetics captures the feelings, concepts, and judgments arising from appreciation of the arts or other objects considered moving, beautiful, or sublime, with a consumers’ esthetic experience comprising both sensory and symbolic elements (Charters, 2006). Aesthetic cues, such as open vistas of rolling green hills or the sunny climate common to grape-growing regions, shape consumer experience, and can lead to satisfaction and pleasurable memories:

“Walking into the property after you park, statues, … vines, and landscaping, and [the] view of the mountains and valley, take your breath away. The grand arches, outdoor dining area, bell tower… there is a natural emotional response this property, story, and experience invokes.” Visited MH from Victoria, Canada.

Although many of the reviews refer to the beauty of the wineries’ surroundings and scenery, the physical setting created by architecture and the servicescape (i.e., design elements such as color, layout, architectural style, or type of furnishings; Baker et al., 1992, p. 457) plays an important role in consumers’ esthetic experience. This mirrors a retailing context, where environmental features such as color, lights, design, scent, and sound affect consumers’ responses (Borghini et al., 2020; Joy & Sherry, 2003; Rinallo et al., 2010). For this reason, wineries, like retailers, use their setting to stage engaging, interactive, and participatory experience for visitors, as one reviewer noted:

“I love the atmosphere here. Really cool and welcoming. The art on the labels alone is worth checking out and it gets even better when the bottles are opened. A creative space and fun experience. Well worth the visit!” Visited H from Toronto.

Other visitors talked about the beauty and aesthetics of other wineries:

“We were taken into a private and beautiful room for our tasting where we sat at a stunning table that was once a door to a Mexican jail.” Visited MH from Courtenay, Canada.

“I visited Quails’ Gate with some girl friends as we spent the day touring wineries. This one in particular was so stunning and picturesque, we were in heaven.”

TripAdvisor reviews suggest that consumers are an active part of the winery environment and respond to environmental cues. Among the four wineries, MH has the feel of a brand museum, a space wherein “…consumers can build sensory, affective, and cognitive associations with a brand that result in memorable and rewarding experiences” (Hollenbeck et al., 2008, p. 351). MH’s brand image arises from visitors’ experience of its graphic design, culture, and history through tastings and tour activities. Structured winery tours provide a consistent, high quality, and informative tour experience. In addition, ambient and social factors contribute to atmospheric characteristics that provide a pleasurable experience (Baker et al., 1992), such as the one described by a visitor at MH:

“We booked an hour-long wine tour which was both informative and wonderfully presented. We watched a video explaining how Mission Hill was created, why it was created and what all the wonderfully crafted artifacts and architectural structures represented.” Visited MH from Toronto.

Many of the MH reviews reflect immersion in the setting and appreciation of environmental aesthetics. An aesthetic response arising from consumers’ appreciation of beauty can be a cognitive, affective, and sensory (physical) response (Charters, 2006). Esthetic experience is shaped by the environment, as well as other sensory stimuli (e.g., wine, food) delivered within it. Wine tastings and food pairings involve the senses and amount to an aesthetic experience (Charters & Pettigrew, 2005):

“Service was fantastic. View is perfect on a nice day from the patio. Had their cheese platter and I don’t think there is anything better with wine. Everything was great. It was a pleasurable experience.” Visited QG from Vancouver Island.

Research that applies the concept of embodiment as a means of understanding consumer responses to an aesthetic encounter (Joy & Sherry, 2003) discusses the apprehension of experience using the body, without divorcing sensation, cognition, or emotion. The senses are engaged individually and collectively in the experiences engendered by wine tourism, and often enhanced in settings highly conducive to relaxation. Moreover, a sense of community, experienced as being part of a formal group (such as a winery tour) or in tastings shared with others, similarly primes consumers to welcome sensory experiences as they engage in the process of aesthetic appreciation. Some of the TripAdvisor reviews reveal, however, that despite a positive esthetic experience, some visitors had negative experiences, due to social interactions:

“Beautiful view, beautiful landscape - horrible service! Upon arriving we were met by an abrupt, rude, and unfriendly server who ruined our experience with her attitude and unwelcoming nature (tall Blonde). Treating customers respectfully and being friendly shouldn’t be a difficult concept. Our group of 11 were all in agreement that we would never return to the vineyard, nor buy their products in the future.” Visited H from Vancouver Island.

Table 1 shows that 612 reviews (24.1%) referred to theme of esthetics.

Escape

Escape as an experience occurs when people immerse themselves in an environment that may be distinct from everyday life (Kirillova et al., 2014, p. 283). How and why tourists perceive a destination as beautiful or unique potentially relates to the degree to which it differs from their everyday environment. Wine tourism serves as a form of as rural tourism, which allows consumers escape and respite from familiar urbanized spaces (Carmichael, 2005):

“Wow, what a way to end our Canadian trip. The food was excellent, the view was superb. The staff were delightful and friendly. The setting was idyllic, with [a] panoramic view of the lake, [the] vineyard with the barren backdrop of the hills opposite… let your imagination run wild and transport yourself to Tuscany. It was a true escape from the mundane and the ordinary.” Visited QG from Brisbane, Australia.

Winery visitors immersed in esthetic experience escape, not only from the ordinary, but also from the familiar. Spacious vistas, peaceful vineyards, ‘old world’ elements such as a bell tower, summon visions of enchanting vacations. Visitors also form aesthetic evaluations based on a winery’s spatial characteristics, with perceptions of large scale and escaping from crowds frequently observed in MH reviews:

“It is a large, open winery that allows for many people to walk around without bumping into one another.” Visited MH.

An appreciation of their own experience can encourage consumers to provide recommendations to others and serve as informal brand ambassadors:

“We were visiting friends in Kelowna and they took us to the Mission Hill winery because they felt it was a venue that was a must see for their visitors. They were certainly correct in assuming this because the buildings and grounds are beautiful and interesting. We especially loved the sculptures that were around the grounds in various spots.” Visited MH from Saskatoon, Canada.

Table 1 shows that 35 reviews (1.4%) captured the theme of escape.

Education

Many consumers who engage in wine tourism do so with the deliberate intent to develop or enhance their wine knowledge (Charters & Ali-Knight, 2000), and are eager to participate in wine tasting and tour activities:

“Of all the wineries I’ve been to in the area so far this one is by far the most educational.” Visited MH from Kelowna.

“[…] paid attention to our individual preferences and got creative with the tasting, he was incredibly friendly and passionate about wine. I learnt a lot from him. I would highly recommend this experience.” Visited QG from Saskatoon.

Visitors’ desire to learn is associated with a sense of satisfaction with the experience as a whole:

“Thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this winery! Very knowledgeable staff who were willing to modify the tasting menu to suit our likes and interests. Ended up buying a number of wines - really like the Foch wines and iced wine too!” Visited QG from Regina, Canada.

The degree to which winery staff members are knowledgeable plays an important role in visitors’ judgment of the educational aspect of their experience:

“Our guide […] was fantastic and personable! She was obviously very knowledgeable about the wines and the estate and she answered all of our many questions with patience and enthusiasm. Would highly recommend this tour, especially with […] as a guide, and I am already looking into our tour for next summer!” Visited from Prince George.

The evaluation of an experience involves a comparison between visitors’ expectations and the wineries’ offerings. Educational experiences are less favorable when consumers feel they did not receive the attention of knowledgeable, friendly, and courteous employees. Reviews again suggest that experience providers play an important role in shaping consumers’ overall experience:

“We were in the Kelowna area for a couple of days; Quails’ Gate and Mission Hill were the 2 wineries recommended to us by our Airbnb hosts. We absolutely loved Quail’s Gate - friendly and knowledgeable staff, good wine and amazing property! They don’t rush you at all, and give you your time and space to enjoy and learn about the wines and their beautiful property. Now Mission Hill on the other hand has an amazing location, but the staff is beyond rude, not friendly at all and very snobby in terms of wine knowledge! You better show up here photoshoot ready or they will give you unwelcoming looks!” Visited QG and MH from Calgary.

Table 1 illustrates that 85 reviews (3.3%) pertained to the theme of education.

Entertainment

A truly entertaining experience can take one’s mind off the concerns of everyday life, offering in their place a feeling of play, fun, and well-being (Kozinets et al., 2004). Table 1 shows that the entertainment theme captured 129 of the reviews (5.1%). Entertainment often arises from stories unique to specific wineries, and a closely orchestrated experience from winery touring to tasting, depend on their delivery by attentive employees:

“Thoroughly impressed by our tour and 4 course lunch. Our tour guide […] was very kind and exceptionally knowledgeable. The head sommelier […] introduced us to some delectable wines. And, Chef […]'s creations were awe inspiring! It was an experience we will remember for a long time. We highly recommend it!” Visited MH.

“I love how they have changed the event to a sign-up time to see Santa, it made the experience so quick and easy. I would love to see the option to have a digital download, as we like to use that for Christmas cards. The whole event was amazing, with the market, the mulled wine, and the Grinch! We try to make it out every year for this event”. Visited QG from Toronto.

The literature identified esthetics, escape, education and entertainment as themes related to winery tourism experiences (Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2012; Thanh & Kirova, 2018). Table 2 provides additional examples of these four factors.

The TripAdvisor reviews also included many references to social interactions with employees and other visitors, and we therefore discuss these next.

Social Interactions: Employees and Other Visitors

TripAdvisor reviews also reflected an important role of both positive and negative social interactions with employees and other visitors. Consistent with previous research (Charters, 2009; O’Neill et al., 2002), reviews suggest that employees contribute to the creation of memorable brand experiences:

“We visited Rollingdale last out of 5 wineries on this tour. And boy, they did not disappoint! Not only were all of the wines absolutely delicious, but our experience was made even more special by the entertaining and insightful tasting provided by our amazing host, […]! He really knew his stuff - and his knowledge, combined with excellent customer service, really made our last winery of the day the best! I ended up buying a few bottles of wine and will no doubt be back for more in the future. Overall, great experience - 10/10!” Visited RD from Edmonton.

“All the service & servers were first class. All working together to make sure everything was on point! With the wine pairing the Sommeliers description of why each wine was paired - a memorable and enjoyable day for us. My husband is not a regular wine drinker - he has already asked when we can go back!” Visited from the U.K.

“Right from the parking lot, it was a terrible experience. Bossey, rude uniformed staff aggressively telling us and others not to take photos. Other staff just chatting amongst themselves, ignoring visitors. The architecture shocked us…built in the style of a neo-Nazi concentration camp. Much more appropriate for a crematorium than a winery.” Visited from Calgary, Canada.

“Then we got to the shop… we gave up trying to try any wines; we just couldn’t get any staff member’s attention to even ask if could taste some wines. The staff seemed more interested in wandering around checking the merchandise displays, than helping in the process of wine tasting and wine sales. Quite amazing, and thoroughly disappointing. We guessed that by charging $75 and upwards for a bottle of wine, means that you don’t have to sell too many to make the financials work!” Visited from Winnipeg, Canada.

At times, reviewers had an educational, esthetic, and entertainment experience focus, but it was their interactions with employees that made the difference, to the degree that visitors mentioned employees by name, an indication of a strong and enjoyable connection:

“I visited the Mission Hill estate with a group of friends on a stormy day in June, and we were all greatly impressed by the personable service and illuminating conversation provided to us by the mission hill team. Our guide through the wine, […], was engaging and charismatic and provided a high level of service that felt unique and engaging despite the fact that she must be leading the same tour countless times.” Visited MH from Vancouver.

“This was our 1st visit to Rollingdale Winery and I’m so glad we selected it. The staff were so friendly and knowledgeable about their wines and the history of the winery. […] was our server, he made our experience that much better. This is a must stop.” Visited RD from Prince George.

A sense of connection with fellow consumers is also an important element in shaping a winery experiences. Space can be at a premium in popular wineries, as visitors gather in significant numbers, queuing for tours, tastings, gift shop and wine purchases, and restaurant seating. This scenario is particularly common in larger wineries, as reflected in reviews from weary travelers, their patience worn thin by unrelenting crowds:

“I was shocked to see how busy this place was, it seemed like an amusement park.” Visited MH from Burnaby.

“The pinnacle of our recent getaway to the Okanagan area was this Legacy experience that we had to book a week in advance. All the other time slots for Sunday evening was sold out except for 4:30 pm.” Visited MH from Ontario.

These reviews suggest that to minimize negative effects of crowding, wineries would benefit from providing meaningful social interactions that can lead to enjoyable and even extraordinary experiences. Table 1 shows that a relatively high frequency of reviews (525 or 20.7%) related to the theme of social interaction.

Overall, the TripAdvisor reviews suggest multiple factors that consumers’ convey as part of their wine tourism experiences. In addition to the esthetics (i.e., scenery, setting, sensory), educational, entertainment and escape aspects of the experience, and social interactions (i.e., staff and other consumers) contributed to a great extent to the experience. The high frequency of reviews pertaining to this social category suggests that interactions with employees or winery owners, and with other visitors, are a meaningful addition to the prior, four-dimensional conceptualizations of winery experience categories (Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2012; Thanh & Kirova, 2018).

Table 2. Examples of 4E’s and negative/positive social interactions
Experience dimension Mission Hill Quails’ Gate Rollingdale The hatch
Esthetics
  • The view and the architecture are stunning. Our experience began at the winery entrance, where we were welcomed with a glass of sparkling wine.
  • Beautiful architecture and scenery.
  • We had […] give us a tour around and she shared all her knowledge about the winery.
  • From the custom bells in the tower with its neat story to the hill side restaurant looking over vineyards and the lake this winery is a feast for your eyes.
  • Enjoyed the tasting. Beautiful property. Would highly recommend going here.
  • The setting is gorgeous and the wine tastings are done on a beautiful balcony overlooking the water.
  • This is a beautiful winery and the views are gorgeous!
  • Went to this amazing spot for a wine tasting 3 years ago. They had incredible wines.
  • The atmosphere is fun, approachable & unpretentious. 
  • The vibe in the tasting room was super chill, great music playing, and everyone was quite casual which was nice.
Escape
  • From the landscape, architecture, monuments, art all contributed to that old world feeling you may get from Napa. You knew when you drove through the front gate that you were going to be driving into something special. This after all isn't just a winery.
  • We were travelling to Big White and decided to stop for lunch at the winery. The food is only surpassed by the views of the lake and area. Had the oysters and artichoke char with their wine pairings. To die for! A mini escape within a larger escape!
  • Three of us dropped by midday and had a wine tasting directed by the younger […]. It was a get away for all 3 of us…
  • The vibe was nothing short of relaxing. Somewhere you could come as a 20 something year old and feel welcomed. Not a lot of wineries have a waiter that generally can understand you.
Education
  • I would first like to mention the exceptional customer service you can expect. I was wine tasting in their boutique last Saturday. […], the staff member who served us, demonstrated outstanding customer service that deserves every bit of praise. She is very knowledgeable and explained how the wines we were drinking were made. She definitely made the experience for my two friends and I memorable. Despite how busy it was, […]'s customer service was nothing short of phenomenal. A place like Mission Hill is in better hands with staff like […]!
  • We booked a wine tasting at Quails’ Gate and were very lucky to have […], Senior Wine Educator as our host. He really took his time with us, he is extremely knowledgeable which made the experience that much better!
  • Went and had a tasting with […] and he MADE the experience. His knowledge of the wines and even his wit made us laugh. He made us feel welcome and you could tell he loved his job and talking to everyone he met.
  • […] made it a fun experience. He was very easy to talk to and answered our questions in a way that all of us understood.
  • Learned a lot while we were there and their wines are delightful. Nothing fancy just good staff and good wine - which is nice to encounter compared to some of the other wineries that were a bit snooty or just were not interested in their job - This winery was friendly and made you feel at home.
  • […], our server, was both knowledgeable about the wines that he was serving and his jokes were very relatable to us. 
Entertainment
  • A very large wine and souvenir store, products ranging from glasses, to jams/jellies, cookbooks, art work, chocolates, cookware and wine accessories. The outdoor common area is spectacular, catching a concert there would be awesome but tickets are sold out fast (weeks/months in advance).
  • Mission Hill has a summer concert series that are usually sold out on the first day they are listed. We are looking forward to seeing the Beatles tribute group, RAIN in May, 2019. Lots of parking and even a shuttle available.
  • We absolutely loved Quail’s Gate Winery - They don’t rush you at all, and give you your time & space to enjoy the wine & their beautiful property.
  • Thank you […], and the person who gave us the idea for an impromptu picnic!
  • The wines are great! […] made celebrating our friend […]’s bachelorette a special experience! His knowledge of the wine and his appreciation for the process of making wine was very inciteful [sic].
  • We stopped at The Hatch as part of a wine tour through Sip & Anchor tours. There were 6 of us and this was EVERYONE'S favourite stop on the tour. The vibe in the tasting room was super chill, great music playing, and everyone was quite casual which was nice. We tried 7 different wines (7!!!), from whites to orange to rose to reds. Not only was our server knowledgeable, he was hilarious, which made the tasting that much more enjoyable. 
Positive social interactions
  • And boy, they did not disappoint! Not only were all of the wines absolutely delicious, but our experience was made even more special by the entertaining and insightful tasting provided by our amazing host, […]! He really knew his stuff - and his knowledge, combined with excellent customer service, really made our last winery of the day the best! 
  • Thoroughly impressed by our tour and 4 course lunch. Our tour guide […] was very kind and exceptionally knowledgeable. The head sommelier […] introduced us to some delectable wines. And, Chef […]’s creations were awe inspiring! It was an experience we will remember for a long time. We highly recommend it!
  • If you are able to enjoy a more social experience at the bar, this is what we highly recommend. Manager […] was warm and appreciative of our attendance at the winery. Our service was attentive, and accurate, which is always appreciated. 
  • We got a great and very generous wine flight from a knowledgeable member of staff who was clearly really passionate about the business.
  • Friends from Calgary are in town, we work at St. Hubertus winery in Kelowna so we thought let’s take them to The Hatch and The Hatch’s new sister The Black Swift. […] at the Hatch was great and fun too. Tasted some great wines. Then over to Black Swift where […] took awesome care of us. She was so knowledgeable and so great to talk to.
Negative social interactions
  • Unfortunately, I don’t have many positive things to say about Mission Hill... the building is grandiose and the grounds were well-maintained. We went into the tasting bar and were not greeted by the four staff present, even though there was only one other group in the building. We weren’t asked once if we wanted to do a tasting.
  • We visited Mission Hills, we where the only ones in the tasting room, three staff completely ignored us, obviously they were not interested in letting us taste wine or sell us any of their product.
  • The wines we sampled were lovely, sadly the gal assigned to us for tasting told us nothing about the wines and when asked questions she did not know the answers. I might give it a try again when I return, hopefully will have a better experience
  • More of an industrial feel here. Very friendly and knowledgable host. Unfortunately I didn't enjoy the wines they had available.
  • Beautiful view, beautiful landscape - horrible service! Upon arriving we were met by an abrupt, rude, and unfriendly server who ruined our experience with her attitude and unwelcoming nature (tall Blonde). Treating customers respectfully and being friendly shouldn’t be a difficult concept. Our group of 11 were all in agreement that we would never return to the vineyard, nor buy their products in the future.

In addition to describing and evaluating their experience, the TripAdvisor reviews also indicate that consumers share brand image associations and express brand loyalty in their reviews. We now turn to the discussion of these consumer responses to winery tourism experiences.

Brand Image

In the wine tourism context, managing brand image perceptions based on consumer experience is challenging due to the active participation of consumers in the creation of the experience (Pine & Gilmore, 1998; Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2012). Wine tourism experiences are likely inconsistent and reflect the impact of multiple factors that are not all under the experience provider’s control. Inferences arising from interactions with other brand users, in particular, may affect brand image while being difficult to anticipate or control (Bellezza & Keinan, 2014). Ultimately, what consumers take away from their winery visit is a composite impression based on the experience dimensions, as well as social interactions:

“The wait staff were friendly, helpful and delightful, the wines that were paired with the dishes were perfect & the food was delicious. I thoroughly recommend for a beautiful way to pause and enjoy the beauty the Okanagan has to offer.” Visited MH from Calgary.

“The restaurant server freaked out when we tried to move our table six inches to get under the cover from the rain (tables were far apart). The tasting room was also a Gong show. We lined up outside at the appointed time with four other groups. No one came outside to speak with us. The line-up for the cash register goes horizontally through the room. All he did was say the name of the wine, pour it, then served the young/cute ladies in the next group. He forgot to give us our last pick. He never gave any information about what we were drinking.” Visited QG from Langley.

As reviews show, wine tourists do not enjoy wineries that seem overly commercialized, with large spaces experienced as sterile and unwelcoming, and thus not conducive to social and psychological interaction (Kozinets et al., 2004). Some dimensions of the experience may be highly positive, but others, such as negative interactions with employees can detract from the overall impression of the winery:

“What an incredible property. The views, the buildings, the gardens, everything is immaculate. The only thing that was not perfect was that some of the staff are a bit snobby and unfriendly.” Visited MH from Kelowna.

Consistent with the experience branding literature (Brakus et al., 2009), the TripAdvisor reviews reflected brand associations that included, but also went beyond, brand personality traits. Consumers’ descriptions and reviews of the four wineries illustrate that divergent experiences evoke differential brand image associations.

MH’s image is strongly anchored in its architectural and aesthetic components, including its lush vineyards and visually imposing twelve-story bell tower, redolent of ancient European culture. Its open vistas contribute to the winery’s brand as an aspirational destination: a place to attend outdoor concerts and culinary workshops, and to enjoy lavish dining experiences:

“The entrance to the park is beautifully landscaped with rose beds….it all is very well kept. Observant business people will immediately sense that Mission Hill is primarily not a winery, but a tourist attraction.” Visited MH from Germany.

Based on the TripAdvisor reviews, the MH brand is associated with beauty and grandeur, but for some visitor’s brand associations are marred by perceived overt commercialization; notably, several referenced MH as a tourist attraction rather than a working winery. QG similarly offers Edenic views and high-end dining experiences. As a medium-sized winery, however, it provides a less overtly commercialized experience:

“The most amazing place for lunch, brunch, or dinner everything 5 star and food some of the best I have ever had. Incredible attentive staff and the winery has the most fabulous views ever, been to several Italian and French vineyards but this place exceeded them all.” Visited QG from Stirling, UK.

In contrast to MH, QG offers a more intimate feel to consumers, as might be expected given its far smaller size. Its brand image is associated with beauty, friendliness, knowledge, being laid back, and comfort.

As a genuinely small winery, RD offers a unique experience. Unlike many other wineries in the area, RD’s wine shop is located inside its cellar. Its building’s small size embodies a homey atmosphere for visitors. With no restaurant, café, or gift shop, the winery’s sole amenity for guests is a picnic area.

“Among the few wineries that we visited during our stay in the Okanagan valley, it was by far my favorite. First, for their authenticity: they have not turned their vineyards into [a] mega shopping center as several of their neighboring competitors [have]. And of course, for the quality of their products: we tasted five ice wines, and they were all excellent.” Visited RD from Montreal, Canada.

RD demonstrates that memorable wine tourism experiences are possible without high-end aesthetic elements. Based on reviews, RD’s rustic ambience attracts many loyal consumers. The brand is associated with authenticity, organically grown grapes, and a lack of pretense.

The small size of H encourages its open embrace of eccentricity. As the winery website explains: “‘the hatch’ is the absolute culmination of the wants and dreams of a select, rare and bizarre cadre of people who are unconcerned about… convention… [it is] the direct confluence of all our favorite arts; the liquid arts, the visual arts, and the living arts.” (https://thehatchwines.com). Reviewers concur:

“Now I’m not the type to give 5 stars to anything all that easy, but this place I’d give 6 to if I could! The tasting room location is beautiful, funky and inviting. From the get-go I knew I was in for something unique and different; unlike any other winery in BC for sure. The staff there are wonderful, and friendly… And the labels! Coolest wine labels ever, apparently they’re original works of art by a local guy…!” Visited H from Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Brand associations pertaining to H are cool, unique, crazy, funky, fun, friendly, smart, humorous, and inviting. H has a unique brand positioning quite distinct from the more traditional approach of many wineries in the area.

Table 3 summarizes the brand image associations reflected in the TripAdvisor reviews. In conjunction with the reviews included here, it demonstrates that the wineries differentiate themselves from their competitors, with some of the wineries showing a much more strongly differentiated position. MH, for example, consistently evokes strong associations of sophistication (and market power), whereas H stands out in terms of its non-conformity, which is nonetheless perceived very positively.

Table 3. Brand image of Okanagan Valley wineries reflected in TripAdvisor reviews
Mission Hill Open, grand, beautiful (view, setting, neatly maintained landscapes, architecture)
High-end, formal, elegant, artistic, proud (architecture, sculptures, staff uniform, policy)
Knowledgeable (structured tours, staff)
Classy, professional (setting, staff)
Commercial, pretentious (expensive tasting and tour fee, snobby staff)
Quails’ Gate Beautiful (view, setting)
Homey, comfortable (friendly staff, wood cabin feel winery building, including children by providing free apple juice)
Knowledgeable, engaging, professional, courteous (staff)
Attractive (scenery, winery setting, great wines, knowledgeable and friendly staff)
Laid-back, but classy (relaxed atmosphere)
Fun, cheerful (entertaining staff); can be dismissive of tourists
Rollingdale Environmentally friendly, humble (certified organic winery)
Casual, rustic (building and tasting bar)
Warm, personal, comfortable (welcoming and caring staff)
the hatch Unique, fun, funky, inviting, entertaining, humorous (stories, entertaining staff)
Smart, humble (knowledgeable and personable staff)
Artistic (unique labels, stories)
Casual, rustic (interiors – old shovels, etc.)

Brand Loyalty

Attitudinal brand loyalty was also evident in the TripAdvisor reviews, and expressed in terms of intentions to repurchase or revisit, recommendations to visit, positive word-of-mouth, and positive attitude.

“Dinner/Lunch was outstanding with staff that made us feel at home. We will come back.” Visited MH from California.

Brand loyalty involves the desire to repeat an experience (Chaudhuri & Holbrook, 2001), and many reviewers indicated that visited wineries or purchased wines multiple times after an initial visit:

“Quails’ Gate is a favorite meeting place to catch up with friends who come to holiday in the Okanagan. The staff are so friendly and attentive. We come here so often.” Visited QG from Kelowna.

Despite their large size, both MH and QG foster brand loyalty. Nonetheless, consumer resistance to overt commercialism also appeared, especially regarding large wineries. Such conflicts result when companies attend to “their internal interests rather than seek to meet consumer wants and needs” (Holt, 2002, p. 70).

“We were very excited to visit Mission Hills on our recent trip to the Okanagan and of course the scenery blew us away, but there’s where the magic ended. Underneath all that beauty lies just a business, an institution that doesn’t seem to care about your overall experience. Unlike other wineries we ad been to, we didn’t get any attention.” Visited MH from Vancouver.

In other reviews, visitors express a preference for smaller wineries, such as RD, and declare loyalty, experiencing the wineries as treasures to be shared with friends:

“Unlike Mission Hill, a very glossy and sharpened tourist destination, resembling a monastery with its walled estate and stone structures, Rollingdale is rustic, unpretentious. As it is smaller and more Rollingdale encourages more dialogue with the staff…” Visited RD from Prince George, Canada.

Based on TripAdvisor reviews, consumers feel strong loyalty toward wineries that provide an experience beyond what they feel the market usually offers, one based not only on ambience, the physical setting, and exterior and interior design, but also on interactions with winery employees.

“We received a tasting in the barrel room, because it is a small winery and since the winemaker himself was there, he allowed us to do a tasting right from the barrels!! Since it was a special occasion, he even signed one of the bottles I bought (although it was a glass pen not a sharpie, so it rubbed off immediately, but still was very cool!” Visited RD from Calgary.

Satisfied visitors further became loyal consumers, and actively recruited members of their personal network. Interacting with the winery owner and winemaker and the physical environment led to the perception that the winery was a genuine and unique place, and not limited to commercial intent (Debenedetti et al., 2013):

“We always take our guests on a winery tour when they come visit. Wow! Wow! Wow! We will always recommend Rollingdale Winery!” Visited RD from West Kelowna.

Table 4 provides examples of brand loyalty expressed in TripAdvisor reviews that rated the winery as very good or excellent. Brand loyalty manifests in terms of actual behavior (i.e., purchase of wines), behavioral intentions (i.e., will come back), likelihood to recommend (i.e., must visit, highly recommend) or positive attitude (i.e., visit was awesome). Table 5 provides additional examples of expressions of positive attitudinal responses to the winery experience.

Table 4. Indicators of brand loyalty in consumers’ five-star ratings
Winery Product purchase Will come back Must visit Highly recommend Visit was awesome
Quails’ Gate 25 40 40 90 765
Mission Hill 65 125 120 295 224
Rollingdale 9 22 11 15 57
The hatch 16 12 22 54 53
Table 5. Examples of positive attitudinal statements in consumers’ five-star ratings
Winery Special comments
Quails’ Gate Not to be missed!
Gorgeous views
Awesome atmosphere
An afternoon in paradise
Mission Hill Words cannot describe
A magical place
Like Disney
Feel like in Disney world
World-class
Like going to church with the bell tower … loved it
It’s such a Zen place
Concerts and special events galore
Rollinggdale Love their organic wines
A hidden gem
So friendly, so delicious
Pure organic wine bliss
The hatch So cool
A nest above the rest
The best hipster winery ever
Down the hatch-best ever!

Overall, TripAdvisor reviews of the four Okanagan Valley wineries collectively reflect four aspects of experience (i.e., esthetics, education, entertainment, escape; Quadri-Felitti & Fiore, 2012; Thanh & Kirova, 2018), albeit to different degrees, and the integration of an additional aspect (i.e., social interactions). Consumer reviews also reflect distinct brand image associations across wineries, as well as brand loyalty.

General Discussion

TripAdvisor reviews of four wineries in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley reflected five aspects of the wine tourism experience, and point toward the emergence of brand image and brand loyalty. Despite individual idiosyncrasies—one reviewer’s high-end luxury experience was another’s hyper-commercialized letdown akin to an amusement park—overall patterns emerged: Consistent with the literature, esthetics, escape, education, and entertainment played an important role in consumers’ experience. Above all else, however, social interaction between winery employees and visitors, and among visitors themselves, influenced experience. Brand image arose from a confluence of elements, from a winery’s particular ambience to the availability of personal space (i.e., effective crowd control and adequate parking), the design of wine labels and other graphic images, the quality of menu options, to the soundscape (i.e., background music). Brand image plays an important role in creating consumer loyalty, especially in situations that make brand differentiation based on tangible quality features difficult (Keller, 2020). Creative use of physical design (e.g., interior and landscape design) in a winery setting generated positive impressions that enhance visitors’ experience and contributed to a differentiated brand image.

Both positive and negative reviews are influential in brand image construction. Reviewers appeared most likely to embrace an escape experience at MH, the largest of the Okanagan Valley’s wineries, with a worldwide reputation not only for wines but also for food, architecture, and overall grandeur. Although MH lacks the characteristics of a homey experience (e.g., intimate settings, a casual atmosphere, unimposing design), its aesthetic appeal makes it one of the most popular wineries in the Okanagan Valley.

In addition to brand image, the TripAdvisor reviews also pointed toward brand loyalty as an outcome of consumers’ winery experiences. Brand loyalty manifests in terms of increased revisit and repurchase intention, and given the positive revenue outcomes associated by brand loyalty, its formation deserves managerial attention. The reviews indicate that both esthetics (i.e., welcoming, homey atmosphere) and social interactions (i.e., friendly, warm employees) play a critical role in the development of brand loyalty. Overall, this research shows that consumers develop brand image and brand loyalty based on positive and unique winery visit experiences.

Theoretical Implications

This research extends the 4E framework of consumer experience by identifying social interactions between visitors and employees as well as other consumers as an important factor contributing to consumer experience. The integration of social interactions in frameworks capturing winery experiences has the potential to increase the predictive power in regard to winery brand-related outcomes in survey-based empirical studies involving large consumer samples. This extended framework of winery experiences can also lead to further integration of the winery experience and the services literature (e.g., Charters et al., 2009; O’Neill et al., 2002), which recognizes the importance of consumer-employee interaction (Bitner, 1992), as well as the consumer research literature on the impact of social presence of other consumers (e.g., Argo et al., 2005).

The second theoretical contribution of this research lies in initial evidence of the impact of winery experiences on consumers’ winery image perceptions and subsequent attitudinal and behavioral brand loyalty (e.g., positive attitude, recommendation likelihood, revisit and repurchase intentions) toward a specific winery. This links the consumer experience literature with the brand equity literature, which posits that brand image perceptions based on product-related (i.e., wine and food) and non-product related (i.e., environmental setting, interior design of the winery, employee behavior) attributes are important components of consumers’ brand equity (Keller, 1993). An integration of these two literature streams would therefore be fruitful.

Managerial Implications

This research indicates that several aspects of an experience influence consumers’ brand image and loyalty. In order to develop positive brand image and brand loyalty, wineries benefit from attention to the delivery of esthetics, escape, education, entertainment, and social interactions.

Although each of these aspects is important, resource limitations may lead wineries to focus on one or several aspects that require improvement (e.g., based on TripAdvisor reviews), lead to the most differentiated brand positioning (e.g., based on non-conformity with established schemas, as exemplified by H), or are an aspect that is most important to the winery’s desired target market. For managerial practice, the findings of this study suggest that the esthetics and social interaction aspects of the winery experience are the most important in consumers’ reflections on their experience. Investments in these two experience aspects are therefore most likely to affect consumer experience positively.

Consumers’ interests, expectations, and levels of wine expertise play a role in the co-creation of the experience (Charters & Ali-Knight, 2002), as consumers are active participants (Pine & Gilmore, 1998). The findings of this research highlight the importance of recognizing and addressing the motivations and perceptions of different market segments (Charters & Ali-Knight, 2002) and of crafting experiences that reflect the differential weight consumer segments attach to experience dimensions (e.g., education versus entertainment; Fountain, 2018). In this research of Okanagan wineries, for example, education and tastings emerged as very important experience, and could therefore be further developed and targeted toward specific market segments. The findings of this study suggests that once wineries have achieved a desirable level of esthetic and social interaction experience among their target consumers, dedication of resources to develop or enhance educational experiences can further strengthen brand image and brand loyalty.

This research strongly suggests that winery experiences involve both positive and negative social interactions. Social interactions constitute an experience aspect that is perhaps the most difficult to control and standardize. In reference to social interactions with employees, many reviews mentioned the competence, ease, good humor, and patience with which employees imparted wine knowledge. This suggests that a focus on hiring of knowledgeable staff and employee training is an important, but perhaps frequently overlooked aspect of creating winery experiences focused on education. Winery employees vary not only in their wine knowledge, but also their social skills and behavior, and this influences consumers’ experience. The impact of employee behavior on consumer experiences reflected in TripAdvisor reviews therefore points toward the need to encourage positive employee behavior in order to maintain or increase consumer satisfaction (Kattara et al., 2008) with the winery experience. This study suggests that negative social interactions can preclude positive experiences, even if consumers perceive other experience dimensions positively. Investment in employee training and motivation is thus extremely important to ensure that the positive experience emanating from esthetics, entertainment, education and escape are strengthened.

Visitors themselves also add complexity to social interactions. For example, the perceived valence of social interactions is influenced by crowding that overwhelms some visitors. The creation of positively valenced winery experiences therefore requires consideration of managing visitor numbers, as well as consumers’ demands and expectations. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many wineries had to limit the number of visitors due to public health regulations. A relevant question moving forward may be whether a cap on visitor numbers results in more positive consumer experiences, while not negatively impacting revenues generated by winery visits. Consumer demands and expectations regarding the winery visit could be addressed a priori by providing relevant information regarding products, services offered, and the structure of a winery visit on winery websites, direct communication to consumers signing up for a visit, or via social media. For managerial practice, this study suggests that measures to reduce perceived crowding (e.g., adequate number of parking spaces, physical layout of the winery and service scape, directional flow of visitors, management of expectations) could be very beneficial in enhancing consumers’ winery visit experience.

This research has implications not only for the design and continuous improvement of visitor experiences, but also for engagement with social media platforms, such as TripAdvisor. Storbacka and colleagues (2012) propose that TripAdvisor’s business model offers opportunities for value co-creation: First, TripAdvisor facilitates the generation of content by travellers and increases the value of this content by linking it to information and services provided by businesses or destinations (Storbacka et al., 2012), thus giving visitors the opportunity to create value for other visitors as well as the wineries that created memorable and positive experiences. Second, TripAdvisor generates revenue by offering businesses opportunities to derive market intelligence, provide consumer service, manage their online reputation and implement targeted advertising campaigns (Storbacka et al., 2012); this has implications for continuous improvement and earnings. Third, TripAdvisor provides the platform through which value is co-created in terms of the resources (e.g., word-of-mouth, information) wineries and visitors can exchange (Storbacka et al., 2012). This model of value co-creation highlights that experiences involve an exchange of contributions of both wineries and visitors, but also that social media allows co-creation before or after actual winery visits. For managerial practice, this research has two implications with regard to social media: First, consumer reviews are a valuable source in tracking consumers’ winery visit experience in order to assess and continuously improve relevant aspect of the experience. Second, social media also allows wineries to further contribute to consumers’ experience with the brand by appropriately responding to criticism, or by expressing appreciation for positive feedback provided by visitors. The findings regarding the importance of social interactions to consumers’ overall experience suggests that positive social media interactions that extend beyond the physical visit of the winery could further contribute to a strong, positive, and unique brand image, as well as brand loyalty.

Limitations and Future Research

This research focused on four wineries in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, and while they capture a range of experiences offered in this region (e.g., traditional and organic wine production, small versus large size), the nature of winery tourism experiences likely differs from other wine regions. The esthetic value derived from the natural scenery, for example, may not emerge as strongly elsewhere, whereas other experience dimensions may play more of a role. Future research could therefore include wineries from several distinct regions to gauge the relative influence of the environmental setting on consumers’ experience.

Another limitation of this study relates to the uneven distribution of reviews and review length across the wineries examined in this research. The quantity of TripAdvisor reviews of the four wineries appears to correlate with the marketing reach of the winery. Reviewers of large wineries (particularly MH) tended to produce longer and more detailed reviews. This may reflect higher education and income levels of this winery’s target markets. Future research could shed more light on consumer and winery characteristics that influence review length, as well as the subsequent impact of review length on outcomes such as perceived credibility or helpfulness of the review.

Third, it is uncertain whether TripAdvisor reviews are representative of winery visits in general. There may be a self-selection bias toward consumers who are willing to share their experiences, either because these experiences were highly memorable in a positive or negative sense, or because these consumers are more willing to engage in electronic word-of-mouth. To address this concern, future studies could complement analyses based on reviews with surveys administered among winery visitors on site to capture evaluations of consumers who are less inclined to share their experiences on social media.

Another limitation associated with the use of TripAdvisor reviews is that, due to data confidentiality, data on age, nationality, income, or level of wine knowledge of consumers providing reviews were not available for analysis. This precluded an investigation of the link between demographic factors (e.g., age, income, education) and individual difference variables (e.g., wine knowledge, involvement, variety seeking) and visitors’ responses to wine tourism experiences. An examination of these influences requires a targeted survey of winery visitors measuring consumer experiences as well as relevant consumer demographics and individual difference variables.

Despite these limitations, this research elucidates how consumers experience brands, and reveals that esthetics, escape, entertainment and education, along with product quality and sustainability, as well as social interactions contribute to the formation of brand image and brand loyalty. These insights open avenues for a future exploration of how these experiences differ from those the brand had hoped to provide. Given that brand image and brand loyalty are key drivers of brand performance, research on the design and choreography of immersive sensory experiences can prove invaluable.

This qualitative study can serve as a basis for a larger-scale quantitative consumer survey to test the strength of associations between the 4E’s and social interactions, subsequent brand image perceptions and brand loyalty, and potential interactions between experience aspects as well as the mitigating role of negative valence on brand image and brand loyalty. Inclusion of a larger sample of wineries and additional variables to capture the influence of firm-level characteristics (e.g., winery size, longevity, presence of objective cues to quality and credibility, such as prizes) could shed more light on how winery characteristics affect consumer experience and subsequent consumer responses.

An additional avenue for future research lies in an examination of the influence of consumer attributions on consumer experience of products and services (Folkes, 1984; Folkes et al., 1987). Consumer attributions relate to perceptions of the consumers’ personal control over the outcome, stability (i.e., predictability), and causes internal and external to the firm (McAuley et al., 1992). In service contexts, consumer attributions have been found to predict consumer satisfaction and subsequent repurchase intentions and loyalty (Oliver & DeSarbo, 1988; Tsiros et al., 2004; Weiner, 2000). In a winery context, external cause attributions can relate to the weather and other visitors encountered throughout an experience, whereas internal cause attributions can relate to the winery’s offering, design of landscapes and space, or employee behavior. Brand image perceptions and brand loyalty are likely more strongly influenced by stable and internal cause attributions.


Funding

This work was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canada (grant number #435-2017-0958) awarded to the first and third author.