The Unwritten Rules of Tasting Room Etiquette

Showing up in a party bus, making faces after sampling a wine or bragging about your 4,000-bottle cellar will not put you in the good graces of any winery. Here are tips on how to avoid the most irksome tasting room behavior.
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’Tis the season for weekend winery outings. Convivial, relaxing and educational, these visits can bring out the worst in some well-intentioned but inexperienced guests. We asked wine professionals from around the country to weigh in on the pet peeves they encounter in tasting rooms, and how visitors can sidestep them.

Reconsider rolling in with a large group. Alicia Ekeler-Valle, tasting room manager at Lieb Cellars on the North Fork of Long Island, suggests doing a little research if you plan to bring more than six guests. “There is nothing more disappointing than being turned away at the door, because you did not make a reservation or arrived in a vehicle that is not permitted,” she says. A big group can overtake the tasting bar, change the atmosphere with loud chatter and prove tricky to corral throughout the day. “You will be able to better appreciate each tasting room if you can take your time and relax.”

Check the rules regarding children. “Well-behaved kids are welcome, but as parents, it’s your responsibility to make sure they don’t become a part of someone else’s tasting experience,” says Thomas Fogarty, owner of Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, says. “As a parent of a four-year-old and a six-year-old, I try [to] remember that the only people who find my kids adorable as I do [are] my wife, and maybe the grandparents.” Call ahead to see if a winery is family-friendly.

Follow restaurant etiquette as a guide. If there’s a host stand, says Ekeler-Valle, then check-in first. Were you brought to a table with a server? Place your order with him or her, and be sure to leave gratuity. Is it a big open space with a very long bar? Then you can assume that you’re free to roam. “Pick up on the vibe, and you will be destined to have a great time,” she says.

Be unbiased. “‘I just love Cabernet Sauvignon, but I can’t stand Merlot’ isn’t a thing, no matter what you were told,” says Fogarty. It’s okay if you aren’t into a wine, but try it and let the staff explain its context, origin and food pairings. “[And] run through the whole flight in the order we suggest,” he says. “A lot of thought went into the selections and the order.”

Tasting Room Design that is Redefining the Winery Experience

Savor your sips. “You don’t go to a tasting every day, so give it time to be a special experience,” says Eric Bruce, hospitality manager at Lenné Estate in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. “Rushing through and gulping down the wine with hardly a sniff defeats the whole purpose.” Also, don’t overestimate the number of tasting rooms you can hit in a day. A few quality experiences are preferable to numerous and unmemorable pours that’ll end up swirling together in your head.

Don’t be that person. Insufferable know-it-alls are, well, insufferable. Chris Sparkman, co-owner of Sparkman Cellars in Woodinville, Washington, recalls guests quick to regale descriptions of their massive home cellars, and even one who told him how he should make his wine. Sparkman has learned to shelve his ego, but it’s still off-putting. So is using comedy to cover inexperience, says Bruce. “It was kind of funny the first time you said, ‘This one smells [or] tastes like grapes,’” he says. “It’s not funny the fourth time.”

Keep your reactions in check. Exaggerated expressions like grimacing, shaking your head, calling a wine disgusting or sticking out your tongue are actions suited for a toddler. “I understand all wines won’t be liked by all people, but respect the hard work that goes into each bottle,” says Ian Rossi, assistant tasting room manager at Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards in New York’s Finger Lakes. “If you don’t like a wine, simply dump it out or give it to a friend.”

Feel free to express your opinion. “Wine is subjective, and we never blame a customer for having a certain preference,” says Brooks Hoover, vineyard manager at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards in Virginia’s Monticello Wine Trail. If you don’t like a wine, be honest, but also be willing to try new flavors and styles. “At the end of the day, being open and communicating your desires is important.”

Don’t be afraid to spit. Flights may include up to seven wines. To really evaluate them, you can’t drink them all, says Fogarty, especially if you plan multiple stops that day. “There is something in the public’s psyche that associates spitting with disgust, but it’s simply a way to taste wine.”

Be a responsible friend. If a companion has over-imbibed, bring them water, let the staff know and discourage further consumption. “An intoxicated person will be much more receptive to a friend cutting them off than a server,” says Rossi. “The server will appreciate your effort, and your friend will appreciate it the next day.”

Kelly Magyarics DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, DC area. She can be reached through her website, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.

Published on May 8, 2018
Topics: Wine Basics



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