The Tasting Room Experience

"You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you might just find, you get what you need!” ~Rolling Stones

Spring is fast approaching, for many aspiring vino-sapiens, with warming temperatures on the way soon, some of you may still be looking to do some wine tasting under blue skies. In the vineyard, spring activities to look forward to; birds are chirping, the vines have awoken from their slumber, and the first buds will start to break open. Here in Oregon, the weather is still quite hilly, pruning for some is delayed, some gambled and pruned already, but the days are getting longer.

Perhaps last season, you took a tour, grabbed a group of friends, or it was just you and the significant other, off on a wine-tasting adventure for the day. Most likely you were not the only one with that idea, which means some of the more popular wine tasting destinations are going to be quite busy. I've experienced this more than once myself, and I either wait and politely wade through a sea of thirsty vino-sapiens, or I attempt to find a winery far off the beaten path. Somewhere the crowds may have glossed over when they planned their wine tasting route for the day, one that does not service Limo Buses and the like, if you know what I mean.

Here's my strategy for a successful wine tasting trip is pretty simple really. I typically try to avoid weekends, I like to go mid-week or when it's not the high season. If I know the place I'd want to taste, and it will be crazy busy later in the day, I'll go there first right when they open. For a better experience (if offered or required) I book tasting appointments in advance. Some wineries provide enhanced experiences that I've found are very much worth the price of admission.

With the advent of Social Media in today's world "everyone's a critic," and they'd like to have their opinion heard by the entire world, or so they hope. I mean who doesn't like to pontificate from their portable soapbox (aka your phone). Often it's a good thing, but other times because of improper planning or unrealistic expectations some folks take to "rant" sites like Yelp to voice their displeasure. Still, other folks will use other platforms such as Twitter and or Facebook to let these businesses know they're not pleased with their perception about the quality of service.

Still, you can't just pin it on the customers, sometimes the folks in the tasting room (who are only human) make decisions when interacting with customers, which can put the winery in a bad light. There are always two sides to the argument, but I believe both customers and tasting room attendants bear equal responsibility on their own shoulders in the tasting room experience.

If you're a wine club member, that's awesome and thanks for supporting small wineries with DTC sales, which help these businesses stay in business. So kudos to you and on their behalf, thanks for your patronage.
Now most wineries, because they're in the customer service business, don't want to tell you this, but since I don't work for a winery, I'm going to tell it to you straight. 
However, just because you're a wine club member, it doesn't entitle you to special or fawning attention by tasting room staff. Someone who will remain nameless posted an email from a "wine club member" who didn't get the special reach-around-service they believed they were 'entitled' to, because of their 'status' and because they were buying wine. Some folks just need to get over their sense of entitlement, but those in that camp don't want to hear those reasonable recommendations, instead, they want to throw temper tantrums, to show how victimized they truly were, it's so not fair.

So before you blow your cork (see what I did there), spouting off on social media, slow-your-roll just a moment, take a breath, step away from the situation. Enjoy that glass of wine, while sitting on their patio overlooking the vineyards, it will help you to gain some perspective on the things that really matter.

Which is why I put this list together in such a way as to speak to both sides of the tasting bar. I've never worked in a tasting room, but I've poured at many other events and at a wine tasting bar in La Jolla. So I think I understand both sides of the coin, pretty well. By all means, if you have something you'd like to add, please do so below in the comments.

1. Wine Enthusiasts (tasters) need to manage their expectations. Walking up to a tasting room door five minutes before they close up for the day is a recipe for sour grapes, this is a practice I'd avoid.

2. Customers should call ahead, this is common courtesy. You do this to assure yourself that the winery is indeed open, that way you don't drive all that way for nothing, as not all wineries operate on the same schedule either, so plan ahead.

3. Customers do well to remember like I said above tasting rooms can be hectic places for both the consumer and the staff. Speaking of the tasting room team, it's easy for a tasting room staff to become overwhelmed (See the picture above) by even 2-3 groups of folks visiting at the same time, so please be patient. If you see limousines parked outside, be prepared it's going be a bit of wait making your way to the counter.

4. Customers (tasters) should remember you're there to taste and not to drink this is an important distinction. These are samples, to help you form an opinion about the wines being tasted and to hopefully help you make an informed purchasing decision.

5. Tasters, please have a designated driver who is either committed to spitting or not sampling wines at all.

6. As a wine 'tasting' customer, please remember to stay hydrated, this point cannot be stressed enough.

7. If it's needed/required to make appointments ahead of time, please do so. This is an excellent way for you and the winery to be on the same schedule. And while winemakers need to be good stewards of their time, because they have a lot going on in the winery and vineyards [behind the curtain] - and it's possible for an "oops" to occasionally happen. So always call to confirm the day of the appointment, is welcomed and appreciated.

8. Tasting Room attendants should never bad-mouth their neighbors (other wineries) that's poor form and a very tacky move.

9. Tasting Room attendants should do their best to acknowledge each new customer who walks through the door with a "Smile, hello, I'll be right with you!" This honestly works every time and if you'll be delayed further just excuse yourself a moment to let new arrivals know you'll do your very best to accommodate them soon.

10. Tasters [customers], please remember when you belly-up-to-the-bar other folks may have come in behind you, and they would be delighted that you've made some space for them.

11. Lastly, please remember this should be a fun experience, follow some basic guidelines of common courtesy and common sense, plan ahead and everyone will have a better experience in the long run.

Bonus: Wineries I know you've probably have heard this before; but don't you think the Tasting Room should be a 'cool' environment where you can fairly evaluate each of the wines sampled? I've been to far too many tasting rooms which are hot and uncomfortable. That's not a fun experience.

Until next time folks, I hope you all remember that life is short, so sip long and prosper cheers!


Anonymous said…
Love this! Thanks for taking the time to write this. It helps EVERYONE have a better experience.
Carl Tiedemann said…
These are great points and hopefully helpful to all. Enjoy your blog. Cheers
Carl Tiedemann
Will Eyer said…
Nothing like a little straight talk about the basics of wine tasting, before folks hit the trail!
Milton P Wadsworth II said…
Bill, you don't seem to grasp the responsibilities of catering to certain customers like myself, I buy large amounts of wine each year and expect a certain level of appreciation. Perhaps, the winemaker could stop by the tasting room to shake my hand, and talk about winemaking with me. And the tasting room staff should know who I am, and bring me a few "members only" snacks, or offer a customized tour, I mean, after all, I'm a wine club member.

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