I’ve seen a few articles lately, published by tasting rooms, discussing proper etiquette for individuals visiting tasting rooms. I’ve read everything from the obvious (not to get drunk), to the less obvious (not to wear sneakers). I agree that there should be a certain level of respect from tasting room visitors. However, there is a big elephant in the room here which has not yet been addressed: What about the tasting room’s etiquette? Yes, for the individuals pouring the wine. Fortunately for me, my negative experiences while tasting have been minimal (I commend BV Vineyards for consistently doing a great job). But the few times when certain etiquette rules have been broken by others really left a horrible taste in my mouth (that pun was intended). So here is my guide to proper etiquette for tasting rooms only:
1) Not Available for Tasting – Unless you are Carlos Rossi and everybody knows what your wine tastes like, don’t expect people to just accept this rule. If your wine is a limited production wine, offer customers a premium tasting where they at least have the option to pay a little extra in order to taste.
2) Wine Club Members VIP Treatment – Joining a wine club should be an exceptional experience. Still, I find that sometimes this can come at the costs of others. If you manage a wine club, have a separate room or corner of your tasting room that can be dedicated to these special customers. Otherwise, you run the risk of alienating other customers that cannot participate in all the added benefits, but are close enough to watch or listen in on the extra perks, often not even realizing that the other individual has paid for these extra services, special tastings, etc.
3) Sold by the Case Only – It’s perfectly fine to sell a wine by the case only. I completely understand that some wines are simply that good. Here’s where the etiquette comes in. If you are only selling a wine by the case, don’t tell the person who you know and are familiar with that you can sell a case-only wine to them individually when other tasters are close enough to hear you, then tell the others that it is in fact sold only by the case.
I was recently at a tasting room, where the pourer broke all 3 of these etiquette rules. First, I was tasting at the bar and reviewing the menu, when I noticed some wines labeled ‘Not Available for Tasting’– annoying! Now I wanted to taste and there was no option to. I asked if I could buy a bottle, even though the menu said ‘Sold by Case Only’. He said that buying individual bottles wasn’t an option. Well I certainly wasn’t going to buy an entire case of something I couldn’t even try…oh well, maybe it was a small lot production and they simply can’t waste the precious stuff – BUT WAIT. At the same time, I hear a Club Member talking to the same guy about this special wine, saying how wonderful it was and how he’d really like a taste. The pourer says, he is unable to, but then gives the gentleman 2 glasses of red, one of which is from the exact bottle that supposedly was not available for tasting!! The pourer said ‘You know, this is only available to sell by the case, but what people don’t know won’t hurt them. I will sell you individual bottles if you want’. I was simply appalled at this point. Not only did he hand over a tasting right in front of me, but he also is cutting a deal with the guy that he said wasn’t an option for me (selling individually). Did he think I couldn’t hear him? Hey buddy, I was standing right there, quietly sipping my Chardonnay, with an agenda and one agenda only – to taste every wine on that menu. You better believe I heard you!
To conclude my disappointing experience, I carried on in the tasting room and met other staff members who were very friendly, responsive and great examples of the label. I decided to approach this guy one more time after I realized the club member had left. Maybe he bought a few bottles from the case and some were now available for individual sale. After checking once more about the bottle that I was extremely interested in at that point, I was told to buy a bottle downtown. Yuck!
That happened yesterday and I’d like to point out that I still have this bitter taste in my mouth. I am a huge fan of that wine, but the experience definitely has tainted me. Where’s my spittoon?