Tales From The Tasting Room
by Randy Smith, The Wine Write
The Wine Write has been fortunate to meet some very nice folks over the years working in winery tasting rooms. The best ones are wine educators, entertainers and ambassadors of goodwill for their vintners.
From my own observation, some real characters visit tasting rooms. I surveyed several tasting room managers recently to hear their stories.
Q: What's the most rewarding part of working the tasting room?
A: There are definitely some perks:
"When you have return customers that look forward to seeing you (as well as the wine)!"
"Definitely getting to interact with our customers on a very personal level. We have great customers and Club members, and it's nice to get to know them in person over a taste of wine! It's also a great opportunity to introduce our wines to new people. If someone walks into our tasting room, we get to hand-deliver our wines and our message. Hopefully, they find something they like and are able to enjoy it again at home."
"The single most important thing is sharing my love and appreciation of wine and food with others. There is nothing better than introducing someone to a new varietal or blend and open their mind to something different."
Q: What customer behaviors are the most frustrating?
A: A wide range of comments from tasting room managers on this topic:
"The 'quick, let's taste one more place' groups. These folks usually arrive five to ten minutes before closing, and have clearly had a full day of tasting. Pouring a taste for people only interested in a last cheap sip of alcohol is a bummer."
"The condescending 'expert' can be a challenge. I'm always open to learning more about wine, but tasters that need to interrupt and inform me are a challenge. The customer who enters the tasting room acting as though they know everything about wine...and those that try to argue about small, minute points...both are challenges."
"This is definitely a personal thing, but it makes me a little crazy when people grab the bottles off the bar without asking!"
"We have bread or crackers out as palate cleansers...it's really annoying when customers graze on them like it is a personal lunch buffet."
"People that are drunk and disrespectful are problems. This is a Tasting Room, not a drinking establishment!"
Q: Most bizarre experience(s) you have encountered in a tasting room?
A: Who'd a thunk it:
"In the tasting room where I used to work, a couple came in and started their flight. They were very nice and kept referring to their son 'Charlie' while they were tasting the first few wines. Before pouring the third wine, they said they'd like to bring Charlie inside since it wasn't
too busy. They came back with a black cat on a leash. It took some effort for me and my co-workers to keep our composure while they finished tasting."
"My female tasting room manager was once asked by a male client to make out with his wife for their wedding anniversary. The couple was in their 60s."
"Our winery dog once peed on a customer's leg. He also likes to hump small children...he's a winner."
"I once had a group of twenty celebrating a birthday. One girl was so drunk that after asking what the dump bucket was for, she placed her hand in it, spilling its contents all over the counter. She started crying; it was a miserable experience."
Q: Served any celebrities in the tasting room?
A: Several mentions:
"Natalie Portman and her husband visited a tasting room where I used to work."
"One of the guys from Gilmore Girls and an actress from The Perfect Storm. Of course, I didn't recognize either. We also had a cast member from the television series Castle in our wine club for awhile."
Q: Your funniest experiences while working in the tasting room?
A: A laundry list:
"'Charlie the Cat' was pretty funny. Another funny day featured a younger taster who obviously had been to too many wineries...he tried to walk around the bar and leave with a free case of our wine."
"Me getting tipsy after work and trying to learn how to 'dougie' while simultaneously watching the you tube video demo. There's video proof somewhere."
"We've had a couple of occasions where some 'cougars' were at the bar when a group of young guys came in. Phone numbers and interesting words were exchanged. I don't know where the night took them, and don't think I want to know."
Q: If you could advise a person visiting a tasting room for the first time, what would you tell them?
A: Some good tips here:
"Be open to trying new grapes and styles."
"Always feel free to ask questions--if the person pouring for you makes you feel silly for asking it's definitely their problem!"
"Don't forget to eat and hydrate--it doesn't look like that much wine but it adds up!"
"Have fun. At the end of the day, wine is an alcoholic beverage meant to be consumed, and more importantly, enjoyed. Screw the snobby wine tasters, it's more fun to drink the stuff. All the wine knowledge and tasting expertise will come with the more consuming you do."
"Come in with an open mind. Ask questions and try everything, even if you don't think you'll like it...that's the only way to learn."
Read More Wine Tales on Randy's Blog: The Wine Write