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 T., 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.
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear from Lindsay and Kristina, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
Photos from KC Wineworks
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