By Lenn Thompson, Editor-in-Chief
Visiting Long Island wine country has really changed for me.
There was a time -- before my son Jackson was born -- that my wife Nena and I would spend at least one day every weekend tasting on the North Fork or in the Hamptons. Back in those days, touring the local wine trails was pure fun, and relaxing. We could taste and talk without me having to ask about yields or spray schedules or brix at harvest or how many months a wine was aged in what type and what toast oak.
They were simpler days. No one, except our favorite tasting room folks at our favorite wineries, knew our names.
Now, with the growth of both this blog and my family, visiting wineries is completely different. Typically we are on a tighter schedule to work around Jackson's nap schedule and at many wineries, I know at least someone working there on any given day, which tends to lead to longer per-winery visits too.
I wouldn't trade it for the world of course. My family means everything to me and getting to know the people behind the wines that I've enjoyed for so many years is something that I appreciate and cherish. Wine without the people is a commodity. I never want wine to become that for me. I don't think it will.
That said, it's still a lot of fun -- and extremely valuable to me as a writer -- to find a way to taste without being recognized. Trust me, I don't think of myself as anything remotely special, but it's just a fact of life that between this blog and Nena having worked in a couple tasting rooms years ago that we are often recognized in tasting rooms.
So, when Nena and I had a day to ourselves while Jackson was with some great friends of ours, I wanted to taste at at least couple places where I knew -- or at least thought -- that no one would recognize us. It's the only way that I can get the same tasting room experience that most of those reading this post will get, and to me that's important.
The tasting room experiences couldn't have been more different.
We walked into Pellegrini's tasting room, which was quiet on an off-season Saturday, with only one other couple there, and stepped up to the tasting bar, looking at the tasting sheet and expecting the woman behind the bar to explain the flights or even say hello. She didn't do either, treating us largely with indifference.
Moving beyond that, we said we'd do the basic flight and told her what wine we'd like to try first, a white blend that I hadn't tasted before. She poured our tastes without a word, and the grapes that go into the blend weren't listed, so I asked her what they were. "All of our whites. It's very light," was her response.
We realized pretty quickly that we weren't going to get much out of her, so we tasted a few more wines -- some of which were quite good -- paid for our tastings and left. Before we did, she did mention the 2005 Merlot "won a double gold from the Appellation and Food Competition."
She meant Appellation America of course, but only a geek like me would know that.
Then, we met and spent some time with Gibson, who was pouring at the Macari Vineyards tasting room just down the road. What a difference.
We had barely walked through the door before hearing "Hi, how are you today?" Our next half hour or so like being in a tasting room training video for new employees. Gibson, deftly combining energy with consideration, explained all of the tasting options, told us about each of the wines as he poured them and asked us about where else we'd been and where else we're going. He responded to questions enthusiastically and when he realized he had a bottle of their high-end red blend open, poured it for us even though it wasn't on the tasting menu.
Most importantly, he paid attention.
I mean really paid attention. He listened to our impressions of the wines without eavesdropping or interrupting us. And, when Nena was checking out, he asked if we were in the industry. What gave us away as being on the periphery of the industry? We used the spit buckets, he said "No one does that."
It's possible that he suspected very early in the visit that we weren't tasting room newbies? Of course, but he never let on and I got the distinct impression that everyone gets the attention he paid us. For that, he is to be commended.
At the end of the day, Saturday's experience makes me no more or less likely to visit Pellegrini again -- or Macari for that matter. I like the wines at both places, have for a long time, and want to keep tabs on them for the site. But, I'm not everyone.
That couple in the Pellegrini tasting room with us? We ran into them again later in the day and they made a joke about our shared bad experience at Pellegrini.
I might be wrong, but I have a feeling they won't be back to Pellegrini. And that's too bad.