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What’s that “Customer Service” Thing you Speak of?

Over the years, I’ve tried to accept that customer service is a very foreign concept here in Spain. Unless I’m shelling out hundreds, if not thousands, of Euros for a service, the likelihood of my getting someone to greet me with a smile (even if it’s hokey and completely disingenuous), listen to my concerns without being defensive, use problem solving skills, work in a quick and efficient manner, and generally place my needs as a customer before theirs as a provider, is as likely as my being able to recreate Michaelangelo in my apartment. And if you’ve seen my stick figures, you’ll know how improbable this truly is. So you’d think I’d be used to this, but unfortunately, I’m not.

Why can’t I let go? Why can’t I abide by the AA principle of learning to accept the things I cannot change? In short, because I feel like I can change the situation, even if that means a simple post on what good customer service means to me.

I bring this issue up today, because I had the unfortunate experience yesterday of talking to a representative of Castillo de Perelada, a large Cava producer in Villafranca de Penedes. While planning a visit to the area last week, not only to meet with the Denominacion de Origen, but to also visit wineries that we could potentially recommend to you, I made an effort to contact them.

So what did I do? I sent a few emails over the course of two weeks, giving them a full report as to who we are and why December is such an important month for Cava producers at Catavino. What did I receive from them…nothing! Plan 2: I jumped on their website and tried to search for a working telephone number. Once again, nothing because the phone number was incorrect. Plan 3: I contacted DO Cava for a potential contact at the winery, or a number was even functional. What I did I get when I finally got through? A highly sarcastic woman on the other end who made light of the fact that I wanted to simply visit their winery! Not cool.

“Hello, my name is Gabriella Opaz from Catavino.net. Catavino is a website… I’m called to ask if your winery might have some time next Monday to visit with us. We’re interested in writing a profile on your winery, spa, hotel and restaurant for our readers based in the US, UK and Canada…”

“Excuse me, but we don’t set up visits by phone. So I need to you to send in your request by email.”

“Sure, I understand you must get several requests, but I’ve sent two emails and haven’t received a response. So I thought this might be a more effective way of scheduling a visit.”

“Ma’am” (a word that should be banned from all languages), if we haven’t contacted you by email, we’re obviously not interested in your request.”

Incredibly long silence from complete shock.

“Excuse me? Did you just say that you’re not interested in having us visit your winery!?”

“If we haven’t contact you by email, then once again, we are not interested.”

Having spent a decade supporting myself through an undergraduate and graduate education in customer service related jobs, I believe that customers should always treated with some semblance of decency, respect and professionalism. Therefore, if I email or call a winery, I would hope they would do their best to communicate their position in clear and kind manner, rather than spreading on a thick layer of sarcasm. I’m perfectly happy with a rejection, telling me that they don’t have time or interest in our visit, but let’s remember that I am more than business owner, I’m also a wine buyer. I, too, peruse the wine shelves looking for wines that interest me. I also share suggestions with my friends and family as to wines I enjoy, beyond my writing for Catavino. Hence, my frustration doesn’t only stem from my being a wine writer, but it also originates from my being a wine buyer. And maybe I wouldn’t be so frustrated if this were the first and only time this has happened to me in Spain, but unfortunately, the number of similar experiences are too numerous to count. Now, to be fair, I have received great service on several occasions from Spanish wineries, but it’s never been consistent.

Portugal, on the other hand, follows the beat of a completely different drummer. Regardless of our manner of communication (telephone, email or visits), we have almost always been attended to quickly and with the utmost professionalism. Come to think of it, we’ve had more people bend over backwards for us in Portugal than we’ve even experienced in the customer service kingdom of the USA. Sure, there have been mishaps here and there, but in general, we’ve walked away feeling as if we had a positive interaction.

Spanish wineries, government agencies, tourism companies and every other service oriented enterprises in Spain need to learn a little thing or two from their neighbor to the west: treat your customers with respect. Beyond respect, open your doors so that people can learn about your fantastic product. And by people, I’m not only referring to world famous wine writers, wine tasters and wine investors, but also the little folk who want to buy your wine. Remember that these people are your bread and butter.



PS: There is a side chance that Castillo Perelada wasn’t interested in having two bloggers come visit their bodega. Blogs are still a bit confusing, and I understand their hesitation in scheduling time for us; however, I think it would interesting for them to understand how far reaching a blog’s influence can be. So if you have a free moment, may I kindly ask for your help. Send an email letting them know that you read this article and feel that blogs are an important resource in researching wineries, their wines and their services. Maybe together, we can offer another perspective as to the importance of independent media.

Email Castillo Perelada at: perelada@castilloperelada.com

And please leave a comment below telling us you forwarded your thoughts on to them~!

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