Continuing with my examination of ten winery home pages and their application of Flash, here are the 5 which use Flash:
This is a good example of a winery "Flash intro" page. If you wait for the entire thing to play, it takes about 37 seconds before you can actually do anything (except click Skip Intro). It plays every time I visit the site (in other words, it doesn't remember if I've been there before). Two things keep this from being a complete disaster: you can skip it, and it takes you to the "real" home page once it completes (as opposed to waiting for another click).
Sit through the entire Flash intro. Now, quick! What do you remember? The cool running horse, I'll wager. What wines did you see? If one looked interesting could you click on it to go directly to that wine?
The ZD Wines home page combines a Flash slide show with "you must be 21 to proceed". Again, it gets in the way of a visitor on a mission. Other than assuring that the person knows how to click on "Enter Here", what does this page accomplish? At least make the first image of the Flash movie a picture of ZD wines, not Norman de Leuze (OK, he's the founder, but he's not on the shelf in the store or at your table in a restaurant). Better, proceed directly to the "real" home page where visitors can take action.
The dramatic Quintessa home page is largely given over to a Flash slide show. But it's not a problem because there are menu options immediately available to the visitor with a goal in mind. The real problem here is that their choice of menu item names doesn't help visitors choose an effective path to their goal (partly because it is non-standard, e.g. Inquire instead of Contact Us), but that's not caused by using Flash. Also, I'll bet the slide show doesn't get changed often, which means they're losing the opportunity to highlight new information or feature a wine on their home page (to be fair, they do have a What's New button, but a visitor must click it, and it doesn't offer a lot of room to intrigue the visitor with copy).
King Estate provides another example of "Flash as a slide show", not unlike the Inman or Quintessa sites. King Estate was another of our Top Ten Winery Web Sites of 2005, and it's here partly to balance the inclusion of top-ten Lynmar in the list of sites that don't use Flash on their home page. Unlike Quintessa, it appears that King Estate updates their home page slide show relatively often, based on the text:
Winter has arrived at King Estate. As the vines wait for spring, pruning is underway. Oregon Tilth, an international organic certifying agency recognized King Estate as their 2005 Producer of the Year. Our Visitor Center is open from noon to 5.
Of course, it takes 45 seconds to sit through this entire message. How many people do? The slide show dominates the home page real estate, and forces a lot of content below the fold, meaning that visitors become less likely to see it.
After reading this post and its predecessor, I hope you will see that Flash is neither good nor bad for a site. The real problem occurs when wineries and designers fail to consider that visitors come with a goal and a Back button. Visitors who are immediate buyers, members of the trade, or journalists on a deadline are unlikely to sit still for a Flash presentation that delays them from their goal. Browsers may be willing to sit still for a presentation, but it still needs to deliver useful information or an exceptional experience.
Ask yourself this: Is my Flash presentation so compelling that someone who sees it will tell others about it? If not, you're probably wasting time and money producing it. Please note that using Flash to rotate through images (a la Inman Family Wines) is simply a smart use of technology. My comment really applies to people spending lots of effort to produce a Flash animation (Iron Horse) or "presentation" (King Estate).
Feel free to disagree (or agree!) in the comments.