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January 02, 2008

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Lenn,
Glad to see you are looking to put together a LI guide... and even happier to see you would have portions devoted to the tasting room itself.

For the last 5 years that I have visited LI wineries, I always make notes and grade the wine and the winery/tasting room separately for each of my visits. Each has a very important place in the wine experience.

I don't want someone chewing my ear off, but I do want someone to tell me a bit about each wine they pour. I also want the staff to be knowledgeable about their winery when I ask questions. Bonus points for those who are semi-knowledgeable about surrounding wineries, restaurants, and local happenings.

Some of my favorite tasting rooms to visit related to the staff include Waters Crest, Roanoke, Lieb, and Jamesport. Unfortunately Bedell used to rank near the top of my list, but I feel they have slid a bit over the last 2 years in terms of personality and interaction.

I'm very interested to see the places you like best and those you think needs to step up a bit more.

PS: I often find I have much better tasting room experiences on off-days (Mon thru Thur); sometimes I think the weekends can get too hectic and rob visitors of an engaging, personal tasting experience.

I've only had one tasting room experience and the pourer couldn't tell me much about the wines. I wouldn't care (much) what the room looked like but I'd love to hear someone talk who was passionate about the wines.

As a fairly seasoned pourer myself, I would certainly say I approach a tasting room's staff with reasonable expectations. This is, by and large, a tourist industry after all! On the whole, negative experiences have been few and far between.
I would agree that Roanoke goes above and beyond. Their staff is both informative and equally passionate about wine. The owners and staff at one of the island's newest wineries, Diliberto, are also remarkably friendly and eager to share their knowledge with visitors.
I would further agree than when patrons choose to visit plays a major role. During the busiest weeks of harvest, I frequently fall victim to "pour-n-go" syndrome accompanied with terse, quickly delivered tasting notes, when I would most certainly prefer to give all of our guests a more personalized experience. To do otherwise, however, on Saturdays and Sundays in October (with customers 5 deep at the bar by noon), would be utterly impossible. Weekdays, in the off-season, I find I can spend as much time educating, listening and answering questions as our visitors need. Keep in mind that many tasting rooms are closed Tuesdays and/ or Wednesdays throughout the winter.

I have visited tastingrooms in many states and countries. One of the best was at Va La Family Vineyards in Gap, PA. The room was beautiful, the staff was knowledgable, and the tasting experience unique. I don't think when you visit is as important as who you visit with. Bad pourers make bad visits. End of story. Entertaining people, young or old, who like people and handle people well are what it's all about. And of course the wine.

I've gone to places where the pourer was good and the wine was not so good, and walked out with a case. Conversely, I've walked out of a winery where the pourer was bad or obnoxious, and I liked the wine, without buying a bottle.

Also, the tastingroom person needs to know how to handle a crowd. I was at Johnathan Edwards in Connecticut and the tasting room was full. But the young lady behind the bar joked and was very witty, and kept everyone's tasting going. It was quite the trick and very inspiring. The crowded room might have disapated from disorganization, but instead she turned it into a veritable party, all the while chatting up the wines very knowledgably.

It really is inexcusable for a winery to let a tastingroom person pour wines who cannot talk about their wines at the very least.

In the end, a tastingroom is like a restaurant - like it or not. That's the chance a winery takes when it opens a tastingroom to the public. I truly believe it is the winery's responsibility that you have a good experience.

Lenn,

Good wines, proper storage (temperature, decanting wines and not letting them oxidize) knowledgeable pourers are a must for me. However, the setting and atmosphere (quite literally) in the tasting room can really kill a visit.

In Monterey County, I visited a winery (which makes quite good wines) whose tasting room doubled as a display and sales room for all things over-scented: candles, potpourri, etc... I walked out of there with the smell of the stuff sticking to my hair and clothes.

In Dry Creek Valley, a very charming tasting room was thick with smoke and soot billowing from an antique wood stove. Granted it was cold, but man, my eyes watered.

A Solvang winery with a lesser know label, mediocre wines and a manager lacking customer service training, has a new tasting room with a floor made of old telephone poles that stink like railroad ties in the hot sun. They make it worse by putting down black rubber mats that add to the headache-inducing mix. It was impossible to smell the wine. The tasting room doubles as their barrel room.

Another producer (established and well-liked) in the same general vicinity has a 'second label' focusing on Spanish and Italian varieties. The new tasting room is nicely decorated, but they made the mistake of staining the wood of the ceiling joists and panels a few weeks before opening - in December. The place smells like a furniture factory. I could not smell anything but the stain (which did not have the chance to air out - and there is a lot of it on all that wood - before the place opened). I was starting to get high off the vapors.

I've been to a few tasting rooms, and I can agree with one of your previous callers that peak weekend is definitely not the best time to go. Winter is a great time to go.

When out wine tasting, I like to have a flight of selected wines that represents the winery well, with each one discussed a bit while pouring and tasting. I found Channing Daughters does an excellent job of that--or did when I went.

I once attended a wine tasting seminar that Louisa Hargrave gave, and that was fantastic. Ask her how to do it, she knows.

I suppose there are those who go into a tasting room already knowing what they want to try? Something for the pourer to, perhaps, ascertain right away.

If the taster has no agenda, pourers may wish to offer a selection of flights--or at least one well conceived flight of newer stuff.

Assuming that everyone is a tourist is probably a mistake. Personally, entry to my winery tasting room would be by invitation only. I don't have a winery though.

I think it's very helpful for pourers to be adept at customer service, well-spoken, and knowledgeable--for example, you won't see me doing it anytime soon! It's really up to the winery owner and tasting room manager. Skimping on staff, allowing the tasting room to run amok, and giving no sense of what the winery's about--mistakes, unless you consider yourself primarily in the tourism business and not the wine business. Again--mistake.

I cannot recommend the three-ring, crowded, free-for-all circuses that occur all too frequently. For some reason, free rock music is usually a good indicator that you're in for a sucky time. Call me a grouch, but I generally like to hear the sound of a pin drop, otherwise I get a sour taste in my mouth no matter what.

Thanks, I feel better now.

Hey Lenn
What a great topic and by the length of the posts, one that people have some opinion on. I actually did a post about tasting room staff back in October (http://anythingwine.wordpress.com/2007/10/07/my-thoughts-on-virginia-winery-tasting-room-staff) mostly aimed at wineries here in Virginia.

I feel that knowledge is definitely key when I go to a tasting room. Knowledge about the wine (how it was made, oak treatment etc...), the winery, what grapes they have in their vineyard (if they have one), basic wine facts and so on are all in my mind, what should be a must for winery tasting room staff.

I have been to wineries in California, Canada, Virginia and North Carolina and ITaly. Italy is a whole other world when it comes to tasting that is completely different than tasting rooms in the US. (in a good way) I am always impressed with the quality of staff in CA tasting rooms, they always are above and beyond, in almost all of my experiences with them. Other states and here in Virginia it is hit or miss. In Virginia it is getting better, but has been a problem for instance the issue that sparked the post I linked up above.

As far as the atmosphere I think that is a key element too. A nice cross between commercial and rustic tends to be the right blend. I always love tastings that are done in the barrel room although it is sometimes a little chilly, it defnitely adds to the enjoyment.

Take Care
John

The tasting room experience in my opinion is defined by the knowledge of the tasting room staff. I have travelled the world visiting tasting rooms - france, italy, california - and I personally call out Sherwood Vineyards as the best one I have visited in Long Island. On each flight, I was able to engage in a very knowledgable and lengthy discussion about the each wine with the pourer, and it was just a great experience for my husband and I. Add to the experience, one of the most unique tasting rooms I have encountered, and it was a magical experience. Kudos to Sherwood......without a doubt, I will become a regular.

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