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…

Season 2, Episode 16: “AZ Uncorked: The Arizona Wine Guide, with Jenelle Bonifield”

Long-time listeners may know about my connections to the Wine industry in Arizona, where I got started, and it’s high time I return to my roots, pun intended. In this episode, I sit down with Jenelle Bonifield, who just released her fantastic new book AZ Uncorked: The Arizona Wine Guide. Alongside her in this episode is her daughter Isla, who you may remember from our group podcast at ODV featuring the New Jersey wines of Sal Mannino, and of course Megan and myself. Oh, and Jason Dudley makes an appearance giving us snacks to pair with the wine we chose to drink over the course of our discussion.

I’m not kidding when I say this book is fantastic, even though I helped write an introduction to a section. The photography is absolutely stunning and vibrant, and I’d love half of them to be sitting on my walls. (I honestly spaced about asking during the recording whether prints of her work in the book could be acquired; I was told later she is considering it). As it turns out, literal blood, sweat, and tears went into the production of this book. (For that particular story, you’ll have to listen to the podcast!) If you are outside of Arizona, you can grab a copy online at https://arizonawineguide.com/order-book/

The wine we drank while recording this episode is the 2017 Gallia, from Saeculum Cellars. This wine is a sultry, supple blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and is a perennial favorite of mine from winemaker Michael Pierce. The percentages change a little every year, but it’s always a great bottle to grab. The grapes are sourced from Rolling View Vineyard in the Willcox AVA; farmed by Michael Pierce’s father. Thank you once again, Michael, for letting us record our podcast in your barrel room!

Cabernet Franc Count: 6

AZ Uncorked
Jenelle Bonifield poses with her masterpiece, and the 2017 Gallia by Michael Pierce

Season 2, Episode 2: “WTF are tasting notes, anyway?”

I get asked somewhat often, “What are tasting notes, really?” Or rather, to be honest, I get asked: “What am I supposed to be tasting, anyway?”

Well, when you get down to it, you taste what you taste.  Sure, I can help, but really, wine is such a subjective thing that I generally hate to push what I think I’m tasting or smelling onto the drinker I’m with.  This can also make tasting notes (and notes on the aromatic profiles of wine) seem somewhat arbitrary to the beginner.  And that’s okay!

Basically, tasting notes refer to a wine taster’s (or, in some cases, a coffee taster’s!) testimony about the aroma, taste identification, acidity, structure, texture, and the balance of a wine, designed to allow the reader to get an idea of what the experience of imbibing that particular vintage is like. They can get as creative as you like, or as simple as you like.  Often-times, such notes may seem like gibberish, but this Sommelier-speak has a code that isn’t as difficult to translate as beginners think.  In short, what you taste, is what you taste.

These notes are NOT related to what is in the wine or how it was made, usually; these flavors are not added.  The winemakers for this wine didn’t pour in pickle juice during fermentation, for example.  In many cases, they aren’t even the same molecule, but they hit the receptors in the olfactory lobes of the brain in the same way as those flavors in food, drink, or spices do.  Wine Folly has a great article on how to approach writing your own tasting notes which can be found here.

For this podcast discussing Tasting notes, Elizabeth Krecker and I decided to drink the 2014 Sémillon from Dirty and Rowdy Family Winery, based out of Napa Valley, though they source grapes from multiple vineyards across the state of California. This wine is a complex blend of two different styles of fermentation; one on the skins (a.k.a., Amber Wine) and another aged in concrete. Elizabeth and I loved the tasting notes that they used to describe their wines and thought it would be fun to explore what we tasted in this wine versus what the winemakers tasted.  They’ve got a lot of fun wines, and I highly recommend them.

Dirty and Rowdy 2014 Sémillon
The 2014 Sémillon from Dirty and Rowdy Family Wines is not only our stepping stone into a discussion of what tasting notes are but also our first revisit of the California wine industry.

Episode 52: Mexico (Bonus Episode 1)

¡Bienvenidos amigos, al episodio cincuenta y dos del podcast Make America Grape Again! ¡En este episodio, volvemos a hacer uva de México con el Rosado 2017 de Casa Madero, la bodega más antigua del Nuevo Mundo!

Okay, sorry for my horrible Spanish there. Welcome to Episode 52 of the Make America Grape Again podcast, where we’re going to sneak across the border and explore the 2017 Rosado from Casa Madero, which happens to be the oldest winery in the New World! Founded in 1597 as Hacienda San Lorenzo, Casa Madero has been producing wines intermittently in the Parras Valley of Coahuila over the course of the last 422 years. There have been times when the vineyard was left fallow, but the winery is currently producing again.  I wanted to do at least one Mexico bonus episode, so I was stoked to stumble across this bottle randomly at Total Wine in Phoenix.

The 2017 Rosado is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, and for more information on production, we do a ceremonial reading of the tech sheet in this episode. (I should also note that I will have at least one more Mexico episode in the future… probably.)

Mexico is a wild frontier for winemaking, with only about 7,700 acres under vine. As I mentioned above, the history of Mexican wine begins with this winery. Winemaking here, and in other vineyards in New Spain produced such fantastic vintages that King Charles II decided to prohibit the production of wine in Spain’s colonies, except for the making of wine for the Church in 1699. This prohibition stayed in force until Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821. Naturally, this meant that from the end of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th, most wine production was done by clergy. The Santo Tomás Mission, founded in Baja California in 1791 by the Jesuits, reactivated larger-scale production of wine in Mexico. In 1843, Dominican priests began growing grapes at the nearby Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe del Norte mission, located in what is now called the Valle de Guadalupe.

Today, the Valle de Guadalupe is largely touted as the premium wine-producing area of Mexico.  No longer just a gag in Frasier, vintages of wine from this are, along with the neighboring San Vicente and Santo Tomás Valleys produce 90 percent of all Mexican Wines.  The region has become famous for wines made from Nebbiolo, Mission, and Zinfandel. Part of the reason for this region’s popularity is the ease of travel to this area from tourist ports and towns in Baja Californa, such as Ensenada.  In addition to the wine regions in Baja, wines are also being made in Durango, the aforementioned Parras Valley in Coahuila, Aguascalientes in Zacatecas, and Queretaro in Central Mexico. Wine Folly does have a brief intro guide and overview of Mexican wine on their website. In short, Mexico is producing some good wines, and those vintages are well worth exploring.

If you like the work we’re doing here at the Make America Grape Again Podcast, please kick us some wine money over at our patreon, located at https://www.patreon.com/TheMakeAmericaGrapeAgainPodcast

2017 Rosado
In this episode, we explore a little bit of the wine scene of America’s southern neighbor, while drinking the 2017 Rosado from Casa Madero.