I have worked behind the bar in three different tasting rooms (in two different California AVAs) off and on for the past seven years. During that time I have poured wine for a vast cross-section of humanity: wine enthusiasts, seriously moneyed collectors, tourists, famous chefs, bachelorettes in sparkly veils, sommeliers, 21st birthday celebrants, wine writers, foreigners who don’t speak a word of English, and The Dude (a.k.a. Jeff Bridges)…
Along the way I’ve learned a lot about wine, which was my original goal, but I’ve also learned more than I expect to about the behavior of the people who come to taste it. I believe wine tasting represents a social contract between the taster, the tasting room staff, and the other patrons. In the spirit of a better tasting room experience for all, I have put together a few guidelines I like to call What Not To Do in a Tasting Room:
1. Do not bring your children. Children do not like to go wine tasting. They get bored, which may lead to one or more of the following: running, crying, breaking things, or generally annoying the adult patrons. I have seen a mother set up an expansive array of blankets and toys for her child on the floor of one not especially large tasting room on a crowded Saturday and then proceed to tell other guests they couldn’t stand there because it was her son’s play area. I have seen another mother begin to set up a makeshift changing table on the tasting room bar. (She was politely directed to a restroom.) I have seen far too many parents blithely let their children run around large, unfamiliar vineyards unsupervised. Moral of the story – tasting rooms and children don’t mix. Hire a babysitter.
2. Do not pour your own wine. The Alcohol Beverage Control board frowns upon this. A winery could face stiff penalties for “allowing” such behavior. Be considerate. There is a reason why tasting rooms are not self-service. If you would like another pour of something, or feel you are not receiving prompt service, politely inform a staff member.
3. Do not show up three minutes before closing and expect to enjoy a leisurely tasting. Tasting rooms typically have their hours of operation clearly posted. If it’s three minutes to five, and a winery closes at five, and you know it takes at least 15 minutes to taste a few wines, it stands to reason that you don’t have time to taste. Please respect the math, and the fact that there is a lot of behind the scenes work to be done at the end of the day. Most of this work cannot be completed while guests are still in the tasting room. I always offer a quick and complimentary pour or two, along with a polite reminder that it’s closing time, to late arriving guests.
4. Do not rinse your glass with water between every pour. The notion that you must rinse between each wine is misguided. Tasting lists are generally arranged from the lightest to fullest bodied selections, meaning that subsequent pours will be heavier than their predecessors, rendering rinsing unnecessary. Additionally, rinsing with water actually dilutes the next wine, meaning that it won’t show as well as it could. If you taste out of order, wish to retaste an earlier selection, or simply feel uncomfortable not rinsing with anything, please ask for a small rinse with wine or a new glass.
5. Do not treat the cracker bowl, breadstick jar, or what have you as your own personal buffet. Eat a nice breakfast or lunch beforehand. Bring picnic supplies with you, but do not stuff your face with every last breadstick and free cracker you can find. In addition to being unattractive, this is selfish. Other guests might want a breadstick, too. Be thoughtful of others and leave some behind.
6. Do not ask for a to-go cup of wine. Duh. This is illegal. (And, yes, I really had someone ask for this. Twice.)