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The Free One - Pro Tips For Wine Touring #7
Innovative Winery Experiences and 14 Tips on Tasting Room Etiquette
New Winery Tasting Experiences and A Reminder that Manners Matter in the Tasting Room
As the Summer holiday season approaches, many people will be going winery touring. After a couple of uneven years due to covid considerations and regulations, most wineries will be open this Summer and looking forward to welcoming guests.
Some properties are now doing things a little differently regarding the tasting room experience so here is a head's up on those changes.
And to make the wine tasting experience a better one for yourself and those around you, I have pulled together a list of tips on what you can expect and what is likely to be expected of you when visiting winery tasting rooms. Some are Do's, some are Don'ts and a couple are Don't Evers.
“Be kind, be calm, be safe” is pretty good advice for winery touring too.
Before You Arrive
These days, for most every winery, large groups arriving unannounced to their tasting room is not really welcome. If your group is larger than six, you should do some research and contact the winery ahead of time to see if and when they can accommodate you as tasting rooms vary greatly in size.
Wineries want everyone to have a fun time but bigger groups can take over smaller tasting rooms and change the atmosphere. Your comfort and pleasure shouldn't be at the expense of that of others. If you arrive unannounced you may well find that you get turned away at the door and that will be disappointing for everyone.
Have A Designated Driver Or Arrange For Safe Transportation For Everyone In Your Group
"no shirt, no shoes, no service" of course but you can also overdress. High heels for instance may not be that practical in a winery & vineyard situation. Wine cellars can be cooler and the weather can change, so bring a sweater or jacket just in case.
Don't Taste On An Empty Stomach And Stay Hydrated
Wine will have a greater immediate effect on you if you haven't eaten recently so make sure you don't arrive hungry. Wine also tends to dehydrate you and dehydration can decrease your energy so try to match up your wine intake with your water intake.
Wineries usually do their best to be family friendly but it’s up to you to make sure that children don’t get in the way of someone else’s tasting experience. It's also not a bad idea to call ahead and find out the particularities of the winery property (e.g. outdoor areas to run around in, kid friendly distractions). Visiting a winery once with children on a hot Summer day in the Okanagan Valley, the winery let my grandkids cool off by running through the lawn sprinkler to their great delight (and ours).
No Fragrances Please Ladies and Gentlemen
Wine can have very subtle aromas so strong scents from your deodorant, aftershave or eau de toilette can ruin the tasting experience for those near you in the tasting room. Again, be considerate of others.
Winery Experiences Are Now More Varied and Tasting Fees Are Increasingly Common
One of the trends that has emerged more recently in wineries over the last few years, driven in part by accommodation to the realities of the pandemic is that wineries are offering a wider selection of tasting experiences and more wineries are charging tasting fees for all types of wine experiences. This is common in the U.S. and and increasingly in Canada. The fees are almost always waved with any wine purchase.
Some people gripe at this trend but if you think about it, where else can you enjoy a hundred dollars or more worth of wine poured by knowledgeable people for a relatively small fee in a short period of time?
“Wine Concierge” & Other New Tasting Experiences
In addition to, or instead of, the usual "come one, come all" tasting bar with a kind of wine bartender, many wineries have created different formats for you to choose how you experience and taste their wines.
Lots of wineries now offer what I would call a "wine concierge" type of tasting where one of their staff will accompany you to a separate area outside or inside and go through the wines with you, providing information and insight on each one. Some introduce the wines and leave you to assess on your own and others stay with you. Depending on your situation, interest and style, this can be a great way to have a quieter, focused time with the wines and to enjoy yourselves.
Yes, the "concierge" is a salesperson too but I have yet to feel any pressure to buy in the tastings I have experienced at B.C. wineries. This way you either like the wines our you don't and the rest is up to you. You may also find VIP versions of this that might include exclusive or library wines, a walk through the vineyards and/or food.
In another scenario, you may sit somewhere separately and staff will bring the tasting wine by wine to your group. There are other variations too. Some wine experiences have to be booked ahead. So, it's a good idea again to do some online research or call ahead to see what wine experience are offered, what they cost and if they have to be booked.
I have really welcomed these wine experience innovations at B.C. wineries and in wine country elsewhere. It gives you additional choices to the buzz of the wine tasting bar so you can match the wine experience you want to your situation and mood.
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In The Tasting Room
Be Polite Whether You Know A Little Or A Lot
If you know a good deal about wine and are fortunate enough to be able to indulge your interest with a five thousand bottle cellar, that's great. Lucky you. But the tasting room is not a place to brag about it or be a long winded, wine know-it-all. Please don’t be that person. If you are really a fan of wine (rather than yourself), you will not contribute to wine's image of snobbery and compel winery staff to maintain forced grins in the face of your rudeness.
Naturally, if you enjoy wine and know a little more, the tasting room is great place to get into some deeper wine talk with tasting room staff. I certainly enjoy that. But be aware too that it isn't necessarily that much fun for the average tasting room employee for whom this might just be a Summer job. And even if they are quite knowledgeable and you are having a good wine chat, set a mental timer to cut it off at a certain point as the employee also has a duty to ensure that the winery’s products are widely showcased and everyone else in the tasting room is enjoying themselves too.
On the other hand, if you don't know a lot about wine, try to resist covering your inexperience with loud comedy "Well, they all taste like porch climber to me!". Funny once (perhaps) and nothing wrong with some anti-snobbery to provide some balance around wine but it gets tired quickly if you keep carrying on. Likewise, be moderate in your reactions, Exaggerated expressions and comments like shaking your head, sticking your tongue out or saying loudly that a wine is awful is not called for and is really pretty juvenile.
Different people simply like different wines and if you don't like the one you just tasted, there's no need to trumpet a judgment. Just dump it (perfectly acceptable) and keep looking for a wine you do like. A lot of thought and hard work went into that bottle whether it happens to be your style or not. Again, your tasting room experience shouldn't be at the expense of that of others.
Do Ask Questions
Winery tasting room staff are there to tell you about their wines and are very happy to share what they know. You came all this way, this is your chance to ask those wine questions you’ve wondered about and find our more.
Lean Towards Quality Over Quantity - Savour Your Sips And The Experience
Regardless of your level of experience or expertise, a winery tasting room is an opportunity to deepen your wine knowledge. Take your time and get the most out of it. Wine always has something new to show you.
If you are relatively new to wine this is a chance to try new grapes or wine styles. And if you are more knowledgeable you might taste a new vintage, a new wine or a new wine making innovation from that winery.
Regardless of your wine knowledge try to put aside your assumptions and listen to winery staff when they are introducing you to a wine. Gulping your way through the flight in order to get to another winery defeats the whole purpose which is to take time to taste, enjoy and also learn a little.
Try to Get Over It - Learn to Use the Spit Bucket
It seems kind of gross at first I know but using the spit bucket has a lot of advantages when you are in a tasting room. Don’t be afraid to spit.
Here’s why. After about five to ten minutes, when you have had a few wine pours, two things usually begin to happen. One, your sense of well being and enjoyment increases greatly as alcohol does it thing in your bloodstream. And secondly, your ability to evaluate and discern the differences in different wines goes dramatically down - it's over. You will be feeling great and think that all of the wines that follow will also taste just great too.
Of course it depends on what wine tasting mode you are in, it's up to you. But if you are drinking all the wines in a flight you will lose discernment whether you are a knowledgeable wine person looking for terroir in that pinot noir or relatively new to wine and trying to decide if you really like merlot.
Spitting into wine bucket needn't really be that daunting. To begin, the key is to place your mouth clearly over the bucket and let that mouthful of wine go relatively slowly into it.
Lobbing liquid is more of an acquired skill and can have “splashback consequences” if the bucket is relatively full so start off easy and slow. Many wineries provide smaller personal sized buckets that make it pretty easy to do. If you are looking to learn a little about the differences in different wines you will find that this will help a lot. Just give it a try.
And while we are talking about spit buckets, it is perfectly OK to dump the rest of your wine into the bucket if you prefer, even if you happen to like it. You will not give offense to your server as wineries understand that people's tastes vary.
Be A Responsible Friend
If your friend has had a little too much, encourage them to have some water and throttle it back or stop all together. They will be much more receptive to you letting them know than a server who at some point is going to have to draw the line.
Don’t Pretend To Be In The Industry
“Industry” means those who make a living within the wine trade. Pretending to be a professional with your fold-and-tear business card, just to get a discount or special treatment is rude in the extreme and is just not acceptable.
Should you buy a bottle?
It's completely up to you. I have yet to be at a winery that conveyed any pressure for me to buy or disappointment if I didn't buy. Personally, I find the tasting-fee-waved-with-purchase offer pretty tempting as it makes for a sizable discount on that bottle or two.
So “Be kind, be calm, be safe” and enjoy the tasting room season.
All photos by Brent Gushowaty
Until next time.