Saturday, December 6, 2008

Small wineries "etiquette"

One of my readers mentioned that he -so far- avoided going into a small winery because he feels he doesn't know what's the custom. Do you phone before or just knock on the door? Are they open even if no signs are out? What to expect?...so here is my 2 cent worth :-)
This is based on my experience visiting many small wineries and how my visitors behave when knocking on our cellardoor.
I'm not an etiquette expert :-) so feel free to correct me or add anything you think it might be useful for novice cellar crawlers.
  • Dilemma (D from here): They have a sign out with OPEN on it. Resolution (R form here): This is too easy :-) just wander in.
  • D: No OPEN sign, only their name. R: Is it a reasonable hour? 10 am - 5pm... or you have just waken up and want champagne for breaky... have a sunset BBQ on the beach and run out of piss? No worries mate! Try your luck. If they are home, they probably will be more than happy to show off their wines at any hour. Any sales at any hour help to pay for that tractor repair...
  • D: Phone or not to phone? R: Not necessary but if you have their number whip out that mobile 15 minutes before you turn up to let a bit of time for the poor farmer to clamber down the hill from the vineyard, wipe his mouth from his lunch, kick the dog out, wrench that stainless steel tank out of the way or tidy up that tasting area to be presentable for your esteemed visit.
  • D: You couldn't phone, you are at the door and there is deathly silence R: Make a noise. Slam the car door, toot your horn, start singing...and wait a bit before you drive off in a huff. He might be on his tractor spraying or vacuuming the carpet. He didn't hear you arriving. Don't wander around the property. You might get zapped by the electric fence, the Head of their Security might taste your calf or the resident snake will get angry. If after a few minutes you hear only the birds singing, you can safely assume that nobody is home. Oh well, next time...
  • D: He comes running and ushers you into the tasting room R: You might find written somewhere that tasting is free or they charge 2-5 $ for it. If no writing on the wall, assume: free. His problem if he has to ask for it :-) The fee covers all the wines tasted and usually it is to compensate for his time and for his wine that you didn't drink but he opened the bottles for you and now he has to sacrifice it by drinking it himself. This sounds fun to you but he will not get paid for it! He doesn't have 20 customers a day to empty a bottle for tastings and wine doesn't stay the same opened longer then 2 days even in a fridge. I use carbon dioxide on opened bottles but I can't afford yet to buy a -damn expensive- professional wine saver :-( I haven't seen it yet at any of the small places.
  • D: Buy or not to buy R: At most places the tasting fee is 'refunded' aka. calculated into the price of the wine you buy, so the tasting was free if you buy. If you do not intend to buy, pay the tasting fee upfront. (But why did you visit a small winery when you can get sloshed free at a big one?) You have tasted all his offerings and you didn't like any of them? You buy at least 1 bottle of his cheapest. Uncle Bob will like it for Christmas :-)
  • D: You're talking to the winemaker directly or his wife/son/daughter/mother-in-low not a badly trained staff member. He knows a lot about wine. Pretend or not pretend? R:If you are just tentatively straying off you Beer Path, own up :-) He will be happy to teach you and infect you with his enthusiasm for wine. No shame in learning! You have to meander your way through several hundred bottles on the Wine Path before you'll be able to know your dark berries from wet barnyard floor :-) It is an Eureka moment when you distinctly recognize a wine aroma. It happened to me with a Gew├╝rztraminer. It smelled sooo lychee that I had a picture in my mind of the luscious fruit cut in half, white flash glistening :-)
  • D: Can you ask for a discount? R: If you are buying at least 6 bottles you can!
Any other dilemmas? Yours truly is here to answer it :-))
Don't deprive yourself of the pleasure of learning, discovering obscure wine varieties or just talking to the farmer/winemaker directly. Go on! Knock on that cellardoor!

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