Across the United States, wineries, vineyards, and wine tasting rooms welcome visitors. Once thought of as relegated to the Napa Valley and Sonoma regions of Northern California, wine-making has gradually made its way into the tourism economies of every region of the country. Makers of fine American wines are eager to get wine lovers in to taste their products and perhaps find a new favorite.
Visiting a winery has an etiquette, and visitors to even the newer regional wineries will be expected to be familiar with it. With a few simple tips you can make the most of your winery tour. Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher write the Wall Street Journal’s “Tastings” wine column. The married pair of writers and wine lovers suggest these five tips for those visiting a winery for the first time.
1. Be Polite.
Perhaps this should go without saying everywhere, but a disappointing number of people forget to bring their “company” manners when visiting a winery. When visiting a smaller winery, you may be visiting someone’s personal home and should act appropriately. Remember to ask before taking photos or video. The people you meet at the winery may include the winery’s owners; be gracious to them and show them the proper respect. Owners of smaller wineries are often passionate about the quality of their product and the winery tour experience, so expect any remarks you make to them to be taken personally.
2. Bring an Empty Box.
This tip is a practical one. Should you happen to uncover one, two, or several new favorite vintages at the tasting, you’ll want to have a secure space in your vehicle for your purchases. Otherwise they’ll roll around on the floor or in the trunk of your vehicle and you’ll risk them breaking before you get them home.
3. Have a Designated Driver.
Even though many wineries offer relatively small samples of their wines, a few samples can quickly add up to a significant amount of alcohol. Keep in mind that the tasting room is for tasting, not for consuming large glasses of wine. You can enjoy the large glass once you get home with your purchases.
Having a sober driver can be accomplished in several ways. If you have a small group, you might drive your own personal vehicle to the winery. Be sure you have a non-drinking driver with you. A young person under the age of 21 will sometimes do; many wineries have family areas with snacks and non-alcoholic refreshments available for non-drinkers to purchase. Or perhaps you have a pregnant friend who won’t be tempted to taste wines that contain alcohol.
If your group is large and/or does not contain a non-drinker, you might want to hire a vehicle. In areas where the local winery is a known tourist attraction, it’s often possible to hire a van or mini-bus for a winery tour at a very reasonable rate. A taxi cab or riding-sharing app will also do.
4. Have an Answer to the Question, “What Kind of Wine Do You Like?”
This will help your tour guide recommend vintages that you might enjoy. If you’re not very familiar with wines, you can always answer the tour guide’s question with, “I’m not sure. Which wine would you recommend?” Tour guides are often happy to recommend a few favorites.
5. Taste Outside Your Comfort Zone.
Along with #4, this will help you find some new favorites you may never have considered even trying before. If you like sweet wines, try some drier varieties and vice versa. Try a sparkling white if you don’t usually drink wines with bubbles. If you’re used to wines made from traditional varieties of grapes, branch out to a new fruit; maybe even try a hard apple cider.
Most importantly, have fun. There’s no point at all to visiting a winery if you’re not going to take in your surroundings, meet interesting new people, try some new-to-you wine varieties, and spend time with family and friends.