Xavier Zamarripa of Vara Winery & Distillery: “Be genuine and vulnerable”

I believe it comes down to two words, being genuine and vulnerable. When a person is truly vulnerable and is willing to show that side of themselves it allows them to love deeper, feel empathy for others, holds them accountable, and creates a deep level of authenticity As part of my series about the five […]

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I believe it comes down to two words, being genuine and vulnerable. When a person is truly vulnerable and is willing to show that side of themselves it allows them to love deeper, feel empathy for others, holds them accountable, and creates a deep level of authenticity

As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Xavier Zamarripa.

Xavier is an international artist and the Co-founder and President of the award-winning Vara Winery & Distillery in the heart of New Mexico, the birthplace of the American wine experience. Xavier is breaking ground on a state-of-the-art facility and destination winery and distillery in spring of 2021 where his award-winning Vara wines and spirits will be showcased along the beautiful Bosque of Albuquerque.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My curiosity and pursuit of passion led me on the adventure of a lifetime; from becoming an expert in mosaic restoration at the Vatican, to studying with the master glass blowers in Murano, Italy. My travels introduced me to my wife Lori while in Rome, who coincidentally was born and raised here in Albuquerque. As my interest in viticulture grew, it led us back to New Mexico.

I dove into the history of wine and I discovered the story of a Franciscan friar named García de Zúñiga and a Capuchín monk named Antonio de Arteaga. These two individuals are really the originators of the American wine experience. They came to the new world with grape vine cuttings and in 1629 planted the first cuttings at a pueblo in the Rio Grande Valley of the “Province of Nuevo Mexico” — 140 years before the first missions of California were established!

This variety known as the Listán Prieto, or the present-day Mission grape, has been continuously grown and is still harvested in New Mexico today. I wanted to bring that wine history alive and create the next masterpiece in my life.

Serendipitously, I met my business partner Doug Diefenthaler. Doug has been in the wine business for over 40 years and, through some convincing, we began our partnership. I discovered that Vara means cane in Spanish, and that King Philip of Spain gave the Vara — Cane of Sovereignty — to the eight northern pueblos of New Mexico, a huge honor. “Vara” was born to celebrate the connection between Spain and the “new world”.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

WhenDoug and I were starting out we would go to many different restaurants that he had relationships with to study the art of wine and food pairings. It was powerful to see how the wine transformed with different food pairings.

I was overwhelmed by all the “deliciousness” of our tastings and couldn’t imagine leaving beautiful food and tantalizing wine untouched. While Doug was taking little bites and sips of wine, I overindulged.

We went from restaurant to restaurant with me getting an incredible education on varietals and pairings, and I just couldn’t help myself when there was food or wine left over. I ended up being quite sick to my stomach from the overindulgence. The lesson I learned was “everything in moderation including moderation.”

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Dan Hammett was my ceramics professor in college, and he saw something in me that I didn’t see at the time. One day he said to me “You need to make a decision. Are you going to be the first chair in the symphony or are you going to be the conductor? You have an exceptional gift. Are you up for the challenge?”

Those questions changed my perspective and made me realize that I wanted to be the “conductor” and I wanted to inspire others through my art. I believe art is made to inspire and the world is our palette.

Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?

Everyone wants to feel special, right? And everyone deserves to feel special. Valuing our customers is essential for the health of our business. The customers and the business are in a symbiotic relationship.

For us, it is a pleasure to serve and a joy to host our customers. In return their experience becomes intimate and they feel that they belong to something greater than “just dinner.” They become like family and through those relationships we express our love for the passion of the whole experience.

When our customers go home they go home feeling whole, happy, and satisfied as the experience touched each of their senses, and that is the desired goal. Our customers and employees share a mutual experience, and through that moment a bonding happens that connects us all.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

We as the consumers allow for the disconnect. It could be because of the convenience, time, or product. The consumer has to make a decision that service is more important than convenience in order to motivate a company to change the way they serve their customers. Often we as consumers “tolerate” for convenience.

Let’s take for example two coffee shops. The first coffee shop is on my way to work so it’s easy to pull in and grab and go. However, the service is terrible, lines are long, and the coffee is marginal. 5 minutes away but not convenient to get to is a coffee shop that has amazing customer service and excellent coffee. The consumer must make this choice — to prioritize service, quality and experience above convenience. When the consumer demands better service or products, that is when it becomes a priority for businesses.

At the same time, the quality of the product influences the quality of the interactive experience — it is the perceived value of that product. Great and memorable customer experiences are distilled into our brand culture and values at Vara.

Everything we do centers around how we are going to serve our customers. From their first sip of our award-winning wine, to the brand we curate, and the personal relationships we cultivate, our goal is to ignite our customers’ passions.

Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?

Absolutely. Perceived competition makes a company work to satisfy the customer with a memorable experience. Through that experience the customer will look forward to coming back and telling their friends about their experience. It comes down to making your guests feel special and valued. If you have that you have success.

Today we are living with Covid-19 which is a huge external pressure as we do not know from day to day or month to month if we will be allowed to continue to operate. It is a major stress for many businesses. That being said, people have been isolated from one another for so long they are craving human interaction. It is our responsibility to connect with our customers in a genuine way that makes them feel welcome and safe — to carefully look at all aspects of our operations to ensure a pleasurable experience for our guests.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

One evening a couple came in for the first time. I said hello to them and there was such a warmth between us that I stayed at their table telling them the story of Vara and the wines — of course the passion of my experience was matched by their passion for great wine and great food.

We continued to chat for a bit and then the server came to the table to take their order. They were like “Wait we thought you were the waiter” and the server said, “No, Xavier is the owner.” They became apologetic saying sorry for taking up my time. I said “What time? It is a pleasure to share with folks like you!” Its quality over quantity.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

Yes. The couple ended up being married outside on our patio. Vara has become part of their lives and we have become lifelong friends. Life is beautiful when you take an interest in people’s well-being.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.

I believe it comes down to two words, being genuine and vulnerable. When a person is truly vulnerable and is willing to show that side of themselves it allows them to love deeper, feel empathy for others, holds them accountable, and creates a deep level of authenticity.

Through showing our vulnerability, our guests recognize our genuine nature which connects us on a deeper level of humanity. With this connection our guests become an integral part of the Vara experience and with that an emotional response is created — forging a deeper more meaningful moment in time.

Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?

I believe that communication is critical in the moment. Listening to our customers is vital and that in turn allows them to know they are being acknowledged and what they say is important. This allows for a mutual gratefulness between our staff and the guests. Which will spread to the greater community through our customers.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Health and well-being are of utmost importance in having a happy life. Obviously they go hand and hand and if we as a society can create a balance between work and play that would go a long way in helping our society be healthy and contented. It is important to care for our body, mind, and spirit.

I think businesses have to make a conscious effort to help their team members to have an active life in and outside of the work environment. We have all seen the studies of companies that have shortened the work week so employees can have time for themselves and their passions. Productivity has gone up and health issues have gone down.

We need to look at this model across the country and start thinking about the wellbeing of our employees. Creating a more productive work environment and supporting employees helps a business succeed.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow Vara and find out what we are passionate about on instagram, facebook, twitter, and youtube. We can’t wait to show you what we’ve got planned for the future.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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