Many small, boutique wineries are family-run businesses. Chances are quite good that you will meet one of the winery’s family members while visiting a winery. When visiting a wine tasting room consider yourself a guest. The owners and staff are proud of their facility and wines. They want everyone to enjoy their visit. Expectations in tasting rooms are different than at wine festivals or in busy bars. After visiting 125 wineries in the last nine months and talking with numerous wine hosts and visitors, we have created a selection of ideas to keep in mind when visiting a winery and vineyard.
The atmosphere in a winery tasting room is one of a subtle sophistication. While shorts and athletic shoes are acceptable so are semi-dress clothes. Do not arrive at the winery chewing gum. Gum will distort the taste of wine. Heavy perfume and aftershave will also not permit you or others near you to taste the wine effectively. Sense of taste is highly influenced by the sense of smell. Loud outside voices are not appropriate. Conversational tones are perfect and fit in well with talking about the wines you taste and meeting others who have common interests.
Tasting rooms can be crowded on weekends. Weekdays are generally slower and wine hosts have more time to talk about the wines you taste. In either case, if the tasting room is busy, do not elbow your way to the tasting bar. On busy days, some wineries will set up tasting tables or bars outside the tasting room. Give yourself plenty of time at a winery. Relax and enjoy the wine tasting and the ambiance of the tasting room. If the tasting counter is busy, consider stepping back to discuss wine with other like-minded people. This gives others room to step up for a tasting. Many wineries have gift selections to browse while tasting wines. Take your time tasting and browse the displays.
The tasting representative pours the tastings in a particular order based upon the style of wine. If you choose not to drink a particular wine that’s fine. Gently cover your wine glass with your fingers to indicate you do not want to taste a wine. It is so much more subtle than declaring, “I don’t like that wine.” Not all wine drinkers like all wines and wine hosts understand. Visitors do not need to announce to everyone that they dislike a particular wine.
Another major faux pas is to pick up a bottle and pour your own tasting. Allow your wine consultant to pour the wine. Many wineries will offer to sell you a glass of wine if you would like more. If you ask to taste a wine for a second time, it is a common courtesy to buy a bottle of the wine.
What should you do with the wine in your glass you have tasted? If you do not want to drink or taste the rest of the wine in your glass, you can pour it into a spit bucket. It is perfectly acceptable. In addition, it is a good idea to spit your wine into the bucket. Even though tastings are small, they do add up after a number of tastings. If you are unsure about spitting, practice at home. A frequently heard suggestion is to practice in the shower.
Do you think wineries are being stingy when they set out tiny crackers or tiny bites of cheese? Remember this is not your lunch. The purpose of the crackers, dips or cheese is to cleanse the palate and to help one decide how the wine pairs with food. Some wineries have restaurants, so if you want lunch visit the restaurant.
Do you want to enjoy a picnic lunch? Many wineries encourage visitors to bring a picnic lunch. Frequently picnic or patio tables are available. Ask in advance if it is okay to bring a picnic lunch and where to picnic on the grounds. Do not bring wine from another winery or any other kind of alcohol. Laws restrict wineries and many wineries are not permitted to have any other alcoholic beverage on their premises. Besides, if you were going to someone’s home for dinner, it would be tasteless to bring your own entrée. Staff and visitors always appreciate good manners.
If you have the opportunity to visit a vineyard, do not pick the grapes. If you would like to taste a wine grape at harvest time, be sure to ask a staff member. One winery we visited this summer mentioned how they don’t mind visitors walking through the vineyards and taking pictures, but one day a visitor walked out of the vineyard with several bunches of grapes to ask what they were. It did not dawn on him until an owner reminded him that the grapes would have made wine. The visitor tried to give them to the owner who replied, “They aren’t good now. They aren’t ready for making wine.”
The best motto to follow in a winery or vineyard would be the National Parks motto, “Take only pictures and leave only footprints.” When you visit a winery, if you like the wine and want to buy it that is great, but you do not need to purchase a bottle of wine. Do not buy a bottle of wine unless you like it. Participating in a winery tasting room can be delightful for everyone.