Warm spring weekends (which we swear are just around the corner) have a way of beckoning wine lovers to embark on road trips to the sunny patios and welcoming tasting rooms of local wineries. But unfortunately, winery visits can also bring out bad behavior.
We asked local vintners for a primer on wine tasting etiquette, so before you swirl and sip, keep these dos and don’ts in mind.
Don’t be like Miles
Remember how Paul Giamatti’s character in the film Sideways insisted he would never drink any f*%#ing merlot? Turns out that his favorite beloved wine, Château Cheval Blanc from Bordeaux’s Right Bank, is primarily a blend of merlot and cabernet franc. The point, say the tasting room managers from Early Mountain Vineyards, is to keep an open mind, even if you swear you only drink sweet wines or have never found a chardonnay that you like. “The beauty of visiting a winery tasting room is being able to taste and experience an array of wine varietals and styles without the commitment of a bottle or even a glass,” they say. "Keep an open mind and you might discover something completely new that you didn’t expect to love.”
Resist the urge to play dishwasher
Even a small amount of water actually dilutes the flavor of the next wine, says Brooks Hoover, vineyard manager at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards. “If you are sticking with one glass for various tastings, it’s better to leave a drop or two of wine in the glass than it is to wash it out," Hoover says. The exception? If you are going from something that’s exceptionally full-flavored or rich (like a fortified or dessert wine) back to a white or a red. “Don’t hesitate to ask for a new glass," he says. "We’re always more than happy to supply a fresh one for a new sip.”
Keep those sticky fingers in your pocket
Raise your hand if you have ever considered (or worse, acted upon), the urge to take a Moscow Mule mug, Champagne flute, gold cocktail pick or anything else from a restaurant or bar. While some wineries include a logoed glass as part of a tasting flight, staff at Early Mountain Vineyards have come across guests who seem to think they are on a shopping spree at Crate & Barrel. “We have certain visitors who think it’s their right to help themselves to their wine glass, those around them and even those on neighboring tables,” they point out. “A visit to a winery is not a chance to stock your cupboards.” If you really love their glassware, ask if you can purchase a set.
Watch those delicate vines
You may be encouraged to stroll around the vineyards and take all the Instagram-ready photos of those grapes that you want, but don’t touch them, Hoover cautions. “Each grapevine, while hardy, can still be easily damaged, [so] while they are beautiful, it is a beauty best left undisturbed,” he says.”We have experts who can help lead curious guests through the vineyards to learn more.”
Have a big group? Know before you go if they are welcome
Think about it: if your shuttle bus pulls up to a winery and you and fifteen of your closest (and admittedly rowdy, after a few stops under your belt) friends roll in, you are going to completely change the atmosphere of that tasting room--not to mention potentially take up every available spot at the tasting bar. That’s not to say that large groups won’t be welcome, but it’s something you’ll want to find out before you get there to avoid any awkward moments. “Too often a group of twenty will show up, with a birthday cake, multiple allergy considerations, and a large dog,” says Early Mountain Vineyards staff. “We will always find a way to accommodate, but the experience for all would be smoother with some notice.”
Call ahead to avoid disappointment
Warm weather weekends draw in lots of oenophiles, which can result in long wait times for a table, a spot at the tasting bar or even a parking spot, says Hoover, who recommends calling ahead to make sure there aren’t any special events or limited hours that might affect your plans. “This is also a great opportunity to ask about a specific wine that you might be hoping to experience,” he notes. “Wineries have rotating vintages that are not always available--if they love a wine, they should buy that vintage that year.”
Know the rules about kids and dogs
Chris Pearmund, winemaker and owner of Pearmund Cellars in Broad Run and Effingham Manor in Nokesville, is all about fostering an atmosphere of respect and enjoyment. Visitors to the latter’s website need to acknowledge their policy of no dogs and no children before entering the site--a policy meant to provide a civilized and relaxed environment for all. And Pearmund Cellars doesn’t permit children or coolers on the weekends. “A winery is a home, farm and place of business, not a faceless corporate entity that many have become accustomed to taking advantage of,” Pearmundsays. “So treat a farm winery as you would want others to treat your home, business and personal possessions.” Don’t assume your children (two-legged or furry) are automatically welcome. Some wineries are family- and pet-friendly, others have designated spots on their property for those with kids and pups, and others want to keep the atmosphere decidedly adult.
This should go without saying. Yes, a winery outing is super fun and meant to be social, but it’s not an opportunity to get sloshed. Don’t be embarrassed to spit out your wines (it’s what the experts do) or pour out any that you just aren’t digging. Stay hydrated by drinking enough water, help yourself to that basket of crackers or bread set out on the bar, and consider bringing in food (if it’s permitted) or buying something to nosh on while are enjoying that viognier or red blend.