Wine tastings have a stuffy reputation. High costs, a large learning curve—all of these elements can intimidate customers who simply want to try something new, according to KC Wineworks winery owner Lindsay Clausen.
When Lindsay opened her winery, she wanted to bring the experience down-to-Earth with both an approachable atmosphere and a clear sense of place: downtown Kansas City. “I think a lot of times when you think of wineries, you think of chateaus,” she said. “But we really wanted something that Kansas City could really embrace as their own.”
For Yelp reviewer Kristina, the winery’s location helped it stand out, even in a crowded area known as Brewer’s Alley. She wrote: “When I think of a winery, I think of a drive somewhere away from the city. However, KC Wineworks does not fit that description because it is an urban winery located in the crossroads of downtown Kansas City.”
Not a wine connoisseur herself, Kristina said she still felt comfortable on her first visit—one reason she felt compelled to share the details online. “It was an open place with plenty of natural lighting and cool artwork, making it a perfect place to relax and sip some wine,” she wrote in her review. “It was a fun and welcoming environment, so do not be intimidated if you have zero knowledge about wine because the staff is more than happy to talk about the wine.”
Kansas City is more than just a namesake, however. The building itself is tied to the city’s legacy. Dating back to 1912, the space once housed an automotive factory when the first Ford Model T’s rolled through the city’s streets.
Lindsay preserved many of these historical elements to add to the modern, industrial aesthetic. Now, the car manufacturer-turned-winery welcomes visitors with bright, white walls, the building’s original wood ceilings, and wine barrels on display behind the mahogany bar. “I love that because when you think of an urban space, like, yes, we want some refined things, but we also kind of like that grit and that history,” Lindsay said.
And today, the winery is helping make history anew: KC Wineworks’ wine comes from grapes grown entirely in Missouri, one of the first places in the United States to earn American Viticultural Area (AVA) status in the 1980s—meaning it’s been designated an official grape-growing region.
Proudly representing the region was part of what drove Lindsay and her husband to found the business. Her wine journey took her through the usual haunts—Oregon, Napa, Sonomoa—but said she often felt a barrier in those spaces as a customer. When she found herself on the other side of the bar, she vowed to create an accessible experience, where people don’t need expertise to enjoy themselves.
“We want to be approachable. If you know nothing about wine and you want to keep it that way, you’re just there to drink the alcohol, have a wine slushie, hang out, we can meet you at that level,” Lindsay said. “So when people come in, we don’t just automatically say, ‘Where are you in your wine experience?’ We’re like, ‘Hey, how’s it going? What have you guys been doing? What brought you in today?’ I want people to feel comfortable no matter who they are, no matter where they are, no matter what they look like, what they feel like. I just want them to feel welcome.”
This also means subverting expectations about the region. “I think a lot of times people dismiss the Missouri region for making good wine,” Lindsay said. “Coming from our roots in the Pacific Northwest, we really wanted to bring that style, which we didn’t see being shown in Missouri, and show people that Missouri wine is multifaceted.”
Drawing on her background in hospitality, Lindsay also relies on reviews to address customer feedback and overcome barriers in the wine industry. “With all the information that’s out there, a lot of us like to feel confident in what we’re doing,” she said. “And so having already convinced yourself that you’re going to go in and then to be shut down by that person behind the bar, the tasting room, no one wants that.”
This is why she works so hard to communicate the kind of experience customers can expect from KC Wineworks well before they step in the door. She said owning her online presence, including her Yelp Business Page, has allowed her to influence the brand’s perception and business’ reputation: “That is the one place that we can control our narrative,” she said.
Lindsay also builds a successful business through these methods:
- Stay active online. Use each platform to your advantage, and market your business uniquely to those individual audiences.
- Hospitality matters. Understanding simple tenets of hospitality can make a big impact on garnering repeat customers.
- Location, location, location. Use your business’ location and unique physical elements to create a welcoming environment for customers.
- Negative reviews sting, but they aren’t personal attacks. Use the feedback to guide improvements for your business.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Lindsay and Kristina, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.
Photos from KC Wineworks
Behind the Review, episode 43 transcript
Social media is here to stay
EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind it.
Lets see what’s behind this week’s review.
KRISTINA: I first heard about KC Wineworks through a Yelp event. So during that time period all these breweries and businesses were popping up in Kansas City and our community manager, Adam, he would put these brewery tours for us. And so we kind of all gathered there and did a tour of the winery. And then after that we hung out and we had some drinks. I remember I picked up some bottles of wine after that to take with me home.
That was how I came across KC Wine Works. I didn’t know it was there. I lived in downtown Kansas City at that time and I, you know, knew kind of half the area, but I guess I don’t always look at every single business that’s right there as I’m walking.
That’s how I discovered it and I’m very glad that I discovered it because it’s a place that I really love.
EMILY: That’s Kristina, a Yelp reviewer who lives and works in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. As part of the Yelp Elite Squad, her local Community Manager helps her discover a new local business. And she’s since become a bit of a regular at KC WineWorks since.
Let’s take a listen to her review:
KRISTINA: When I think of a winery, I do not think of downtown. I think of a drive somewhere away from the city. However KC Wineworks does not fit that description because it is an urban winery located in the crossroads of downtown Kansas city.
There are a few of each type of wine. Red, white, sparkling and cider. If you do a tasting, definitely try the signature wines, which are the crossroads red and the crossroads white. The crossroads white is one of my favorites from here. My other pick is hibiscus orange apple. Whatever you try, all are pleasant, well balanced, easy to drink, and reasonably priced. A bottle ranges between $14 to $29. And there is a discount for half or full case of wine if you want to stock up. There’s also neighborhood discounts here if you live or work in the area.
Tastings are done at the bar, but for anything else, you can stand up at the bar, sit at a table or lounge in a chair. It was an open place with plenty of natural lighting and cool artwork, making it a perfect place to relax and sip some wine. It was a fun and welcoming environment, so do not be intimidated if you have zero knowledge about wine, because the staff is more than happy to talk about the wine.
Food is not served, aside from some breadsticks. But there are food options along with a few local breweries walking distance away. So you can definitely have a fun afternoon or evening in this alcohol hub. Just make sure that KC Wineworks is one of your stops so you can enjoy the Missouri wine.
EMILY: It might surprise you to know that Missouri has a blossoming wine industry, and was actually the very first American Viticultural Area, or AVA, in the United States. An AVA is a designated wine grape growing area, and Missouri’s AVA produces nine different types of grapes.
KC Wine Works owner Lindsay is determined to make a name for Missouri wines, and is proud of her wine’s heritage. She also wants to make wine more relatable. It’s easier, she thinks, because her business is located in a really trendy neighborhood in downtown Kansas City, in an equally cool building. It creates a warm atmosphere that customers can feel before they’ve even tried any of their wine. Here’s Lindsay painting a really great picture of her unique space.
LINDSAY: We’re in a historical designation of Kansas City, what’s called the McGee Street Automotive Historical District. And it’s where the cars first came through in the 1920s through Kansas City on our street on McGee. It was all auto shops. It was model T’s coming through. And Stanley steamers, things like that, that were happening.
And our building is originally known as the Kelly Springfield Automotive Truck Building. It was completed in 1912. It has a very old industrial vibe. And I love that because when you think of an urban space, like, yes, we want some refined things, but we also kind of like that grit and that history.
When you walk in, we have giant ceilings. We’re only one full story, but we’re open all the way to the top of our ceilings. They don’t make timber like that anymore. These are giant cuts of wood that literally existed in the 1900s and are still here today. And so we sacrificed stuffing more people in and upping our occupant load.
I mean, obviously that’s probably detrimental from a business standpoint and probably any banker would be like, that’s not the best idea, but when you see these rafters on our ceiling, you’ll see why we made that call. They’re beautiful. They’re old. They have stories to tell and they’ve seen a lot of stuff.
It’s a modern, urban setting, with bright white walls. We have a beautiful mahogany bar with stainless steel on it. It’s a custom-built bar. That’s usually what people see when they first come in. We have a little lounge area as well. Our barrels are up there so they can see into our barrel room, which is a lot of fun.
And I’d like to think of it as a warm and welcoming space because wine can be really intimidating for a lot of people.
EMILY: That warm and welcoming space isn’t the only thing that Lindsay uses to break down those traditional images of stuffy wine tastings. She and her husband made sure to make their winery a proud part of the city, something that reflects the heritage of their grapes.
LINDSAY: Our name is a little different. I think a lot of times when you think of wineries, you think of last names, you think of chateaus and places. But we really wanted something that Kansas city could really embrace as their own.
I think a lot of times people dismiss the Missouri region for making good wine. Coming from our roots in the Pacific Northwest, we really wanted to bring that style, which we didn’t see being shown in Missouri. And show people that Missouri wine is multifaceted. It’s not just sweet wine and it’s not just fruit wine. And not that that’s a bad thing. Those are all very good things, but to be just another one of those was not where we wanted to go.
I think unlike beer or spirits, there’s this pretentious wall that for whatever reason has been built and we’re about breaking those barriers. We want to be approachable. If you know nothing about wine and you want to keep it that way, you’re just there to drink the alcohol, have a wine slushie, hang out, we can meet you at that level.
So when people come in, we don’t just automatically say, “Where are you in your wine experience?” We’re like, “Hey, how’s it going? What have you guys been doing? What brought you in today?”
When I look back at my wine journey, growing up in Oregon, visiting Napa, Sonoma, there were times those barriers were just up and I thought to myself, man, if I was ever on the other side, I wouldn’t want that for someone coming in. I want people to feel comfortable no matter who they are, no matter where they are, no matter what they look like, what they feel like. I just want them to feel welcome.
With all the information that’s out there, a lot of us like to feel confident in what we’re doing. And so having already convinced yourself that you’re going to go in and then to be shut down by that person behind the bar, the tasting room, no one wants that. And I think, unfortunately, that’s just been an experience that people have had happen. So we really want to focus on not doing that.
EMILY: Lindsay and her husband had typical, 9 to 5 corporate jobs before taking the plunge into winemaking. Her extensive background in hospitality, including a stint with the Marriott hotel chain, taught her how to approach her business from the customer’s perspective, and create a place where locals just want to hang out. KC Wineworks isn’t a massive distributor, so you won’t be finding their bottles in your local grocery store. They’re still very homegrown, so with a limited wine selection, Lindsay’s got to rely on her friendly staff and great atmosphere to keep people coming back.
LINDSAY: These are not just customers. These aren’t just a number. These are people.
I think what the pandemic also taught us is you can get wine from anywhere. That’s not why people are coming in. People are coming in for the experience. People are coming in for the interaction with the staff.
At the end of the day, we’re all a little vain. We’d like to talk about ourselves and we also like when the focus is on ourselves. And in wine, that doesn’t happen very often. I’ve noticed that with a lot of places. So we strive to really make it about that individual.
Since our wines are pretty small and we have roughly the same varietals, there’s not a lot of variance in that. For example, we’re surrounded by beer. I think the thing that our reviewer touched on was how we are in, I think the media calls it Brewer’s alley, but I think there might be close to 10 breweries, two distilleries, one winery, partridge in a pear tree, you know, it’s a lot. So I think since we don’t have that variance people come to expect with beer, the variance happens in that, besides our varietals changing years, it becomes a situation where our people get to interact with our staff.
EMILY: That attention to the customer works. They have a loyal following of repeat clients, like Kristina. And that sort of loyalty stems from hiring a staff that not only knows about wine, but knows how to work with people who don’t. Kristina explains what it is about KC Wineworks that makes it approachable for a wine novice.
KRISTINA: So I am not a wine connoisseur at all. Like I love alcohol, but I am not a wine connoisseur. You can tell me a wine is this or that, but I’m not going to off the top of my head, be like, oh, this is how it’s supposed to taste, or this is dry or not. I don’t know those things. And so I had a tasting. I enjoy it. But then after that, I kind of forget, and then I’ll go and I’ll do a tasting again. And every time I went, whoever was working there, they explained it. They’ll ask, like what kind of wines do you like? And after that you, the tasting, they explained everything very well.
EMILY: Of course we recommend every small business claim and use their Yelp Page, and the free marketing tools that come with it. But as Lindsay points out, it’s equally important as a small business owner to also own your social media strategy and use it to let people know who you are.
LINDSAY: I think it’s, it is really about, having that presence online. That is the one place that we can control our narrative. Because obviously there are going to be things that are either beyond our control or someone’s going to have a different perception of the service that we provided, than what we think that we’re providing. But the one place that we can control all of that is through social media outlets.
EMILY: Reviewers leave feedback for a number of reasons. Most often, they just want to help business owners improve either a product, service, or both. You can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken. And reviewers can help you keep a pulse on your staff, your service, and your products.
All reviewers have their own motivation for sharing their experiences with a business. And for Kristina, she uses her Yelp reviews as a digital keepsake to help her track where she’s been.
KRISTINA : If it’s a place that doesn’t have a whole lot of reviews, I definitely want to write a review for it because that’s how businesses get feedback. And that’s how it gets other people to go there as well. Those are kind of the factors for me when I write a review.
I love taking food photos. My phone is more food photos than like actual photos of me or other people. I’d say it’s 90% food. So I like taking pictures of food so I can remember what I’ve had. And then honestly posting it on Yelp is the best way for me to remember, because then I can look up a place or I can scroll through my photos, if I don’t remember where it had it. And that’s how it triggers my memory.
EMILY: Every business dreams of being perfect in the eyes of every consumer and having a Yelp page filled with five-star reviews. But studies actually show that customers don’t fully trust Yelp pages that only have glowing reviews. They like to see businesses with critical reviews so they can come to their own conclusions. And as a business owner, marketer, or manager, you have an opportunity to respond to critical reviews in a way that shows your customer service practices.
That doesn’t mean those critical reviews don’t sting a little bit though.
LINDSAY: There’s no sugarcoating it, I mean, I know I’ve heard people like, “Oh, you know, we always put a positive spin,” but at the end of the day, it just sucks.
Nobody likes to see that and especially when it’s you. It’d be different if somebody wanted to write a review on a major conglomerate and it wasn’t my company. I’d be like, all right, whatever. We got a bad review. Maybe I’d read it for fun and laugh about it. But when it’s you, and it’s something that you’ve built and, you know, the sacrifices that you’ve made. Oh, gee, it cuts. It cuts. It hurts.
I know they’re trying to give us feedback. I don’t know that a one-star Yelp review is the best way to give that feedback, but if that’s the way that they feel they can communicate with us, then that’s just what we have to do.
Honestly, I’m grateful for the reviewer that you picked because what she does, I love reviewers like that. The who, what, where, when whys—perfect. It doesn’t matter if it’s a one-star, two-star, three-star, four-star, 10-star. Those are the ones that I like to read. What can I expect? How was your experience? How were you treated? How much is it going to cost? How long did it take? Perfect. I love the full picture. I think at the end of the day, if I had to sum it up, it’s a love, hate relationship with reviews.
You do want that, this is your baby. This is what you have given up that steady paycheck for and nine to five, Monday through Friday and what that constructs for, to live this dream. You want everyone to share your passion with these people. To say, I do want you to have a five-star experience.
EMILY: In the end, at KC Wineworks, it’s really about cultivating an inviting space—from the charming wooden decor, to the friendly staff, to the feeling you get when you drink a really great glass of wine—that’s exactly what Lindsay and her husband strive for every day with their business.
LINDSAY: I think, too, the pandemic really did show that we need that human connection more than anything. Being isolated, I mean, yes, there are some people that can do that, but for the most part, we’re social, we’re a social group. Humans at the end of the day are more social than not. So I think having that and feeling in a comfortable, safe space is really important.
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