Season 2, Episode 17: “Tasting Room Etiquette”

In the old days of the Long Long Ago, Before Corona, people would sometimes leave home and visit wineries directly to obtain their wine. This was often done as a ritual, accompanied by wine tasting, often with friends, sometimes even creating a party-style atmosphere. Everything changed when the Fire Nation Attacked Covid came into the picture. Now, with vaccines starting to be distributed, someday we might return to the halcyon days of visiting tasting rooms directly. But this leads to a couple of questions. The first is, “How should I act in a tasting room as a visitor?”

The second? “How should I act if I’m a tasting room employee?” When I visited Nassau Valley Vineyards a few years ago, I was horrified at the way the people on the other side of the bar were treating my fellow customers, and me. The two folks (who were not the owners, nor the winemaker, I should stress) would curtly and rudely answer questions, did not know the information about their wines, acted very put-off that they were working, and generally acted snobbishly and unwarm towards us. They would also ignore us at times. It was so bad that my compatriots at the bar actually asked me afterward if this was normal for a tasting room, once they found out that I worked at one myself. You see, this was their very first time visiting any winery. They found themselves completely put off by the experience, and were close to having decided that the whole thing wasn’t worthwhile until I told them that this was not normal, or proper. As an industry person, I was absolutely horrified by their behavior.

I decided, though, that I needed to get this bottle of their 2017 House Red (a blend of 70% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon) simply to talk about that side of the etiquette question. As for the customer side of the equation, I was specifically asked to do this episode by Dan Pierce, of Bodega Pierce Winery; we visited one of their wines last episode. This episode was our attempt to make a Meta-Episode, where we sort of acted like problematic tasting room people to show the point, though I fear this doesn’t come through as well as I would have liked. I apologize for this necessary train wreck of an episode…

Etiquette As A Customer:

  1. Be curious. Try new things! Break out of your box. Sure, you may like only Cabernet Sauvignon, but there’s a whole world of different full-bodied red wines out there, but you never know, you might find your new best friend.
  2. Don’t be afraid to be honest. It’s okay if you don’t like anything, and you can be polite about your dislike. That’s perfectly fine. But don’t go out of your way to say that something is miserable.
  3. Don’t wear heavy perfumes. These can block some of the delicate aromatics of wine from both your nose and the nose of other patrons.
  4. Spit if you’ve visted a lot of tasting rooms. Yes, you can swallow your wine. But if you’ve been visiting more than four or so, it might be wise to spit so as to preserve your palate, at the very least. It also helps you keep your wits about you. After all, we sometimes have that experience at the end of the day where our palate is shot, we visit the last winery, buy everything because we’re drunk and we think it tastes good and we open them later to be… disappointed.
  5. Corollary: Feel free to dump a wine if you don’t like it. That’s why the dump bucket is there.
  6. If you are part of a bachelor or bachelorette party, make plans in advance. Tell the winery you’re coming a few days ahead of time. It can be easy to be overwhelmed in a busy day when there’s a full crowd and suddenly another 15 people walk in.
  7. Do Buy wines, but don’t haggle. We’re happy to sell wines! That’s why we’re here! But just as you wouldn’t haggle in a supermarket over the price of a block of cheese, you shouldn’t haggle with the winery over the price of a bottle. It’s just rude.
  8. Don’t be an insufferable know-it-all. Yes, it’s okay to flex a little bit of wine knowledge. But the person next to you who is here for the first time may not know anything (more on that in a moment), and might feel super intimidated. There’s also a huge difference between being a wine geek and enjoying the sharing of information, and being the asshole who is trying to impress everyone for no reason (or to impress their date). Sometimes the tasting room staff don’t know as much as you might, either. And that’s okay…
  9. If you don’t know anything about wine, that’s okay! A good tasting room staff person should know, at least, just enough to make you comfortable with wine. One of the great things winery staff can do is teach the basics about wine to make you more comfortable. And remember, it’s wine. It’s not nuclear physics, it’s alcohol. There’s nothing that will explode in your face here if you DO get something wrong.
  10. Don’t be super loud. Don’t scream. Don’t yell. Some people want to contemplate the mysteries of glass. It’s okay to talk to others in a tasting room; indeed, encouraged, but be mindful of other people and their experiences. But your fellow patrons (and the person behind the bar pouring your wines) do NOT really need to know AT ALL about why your lover’s penis is better than your husband’s. (Yes. This happened to me. No amount of brain bleach has removed this memory. I’ve tried.). Save that talk for the ride home with the girls.
  11. Don’t Pressure/flirt with your wine pourer. We’re here to teach you about wine, and introduce you to new worlds within a glass. We’re not here to be flirted with. It makes us very uncomfortable. If you’re a dude pressuring a woman who’s pouring your wine, that’s not nice, but it has happened with women pressuring me as well, and I’m a dude. Neither side is okay.
  12. Tip, unless explicitly told not to. At least, I would say this is the rule for America. Many of us are barely making enough to scrape by, and that tip money will come in handy for rent, or helping pay off a student loan. You can tip based on tasting price OR total tab, but it doesn’t matter as long as you tip.
  13. Have Fun. Really, that’s what you’re hoping to do, right?

As for the rules if you’re working in the tasting room? Well, you’ll just have to listen to the episode. I’m sadly running out of space as to how much text will show up on the show notes…

Cabernet Franc Count: 7

I strongly recommend not doing anything you see in this photo inside of a tasting room. Things got a bit, uh, crazy when we recorded this episode…

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