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manners at wineries

As relative newbie, I have been trying out many of the local wineries in my area and I have a few questions of those with more experience. Should I feel obligated to buy a bottle if there is no tasting fee? And how do you politely leave a place with swill you dislike? Often these are small production places and I feel guilty listening as the owner or manger goes on about the micro-climate and special soil and such while I'm looking for the spittoon. I was at a small batch producer and all i can say is I hated the wine that was poured, which is not a problem by itself, you can't love everything. But then i had to drink it because there were no spittoons. But the wine maker was passionate and so enthusiastic that i bought a bottle anyway. By the way, what has happened to spittoons?
I guess my question is What are the rules of wine tasting at vineyards?

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  1. "Should I feel obligated to buy a bottle if there is no tasting fee?"

    No; If they give out free samples, it means they have enough sales to do so.

    "And how do you politely leave a place with swill you dislike?"

    Just swallow it and say "thank you for your time" and leave; if you like the producer, just tell him what you did not like in his products; it might be hard for you to say it and hard for him to get it, but that's the way it is.

    1. If you don't see a spit bucket, you should not hesitate to ask for one, even if they have to improvise something. Especially if you've arrived at the winery by driving yourself, you should not feel obligated to swallow.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Boswell

        It's hard to ask for a spit bucket with your mouth full! :-)

        1. re: maria lorraine

          thanx for thread. I figured there was one but I did not ask the right search question.

        2. I have been in a situation like that before and my party was the only one in the tasting room. I was skeptical as soon as he told us that all of his wines were $14. We were courteous tasted the vile stuff and then thanked him and left. After you have done it a few times it gets easier. I still have a guilt bottle in my cellar that my sister's guilt bought.

          1 Reply
          1. re: pairswellwithwine

            I gifted the bottle to someone who loved it so much that they asked me to pick up a case for them so I guess everyone makes out.

          2. I think it’s OK not to buy a bottle at each winery you visit. Keep in mind that it cost the wineries to have tasting rooms. It’s their way of getting their product out there and in your mouth, Doing wine shoots for free all day is frowned upon and I’m sure that’s not what your doing but people do. I think you will build confidence in asking the vintner the right questions so that when you don’t buy his wine you will leave with his respect. After all, he knows which of his wines are bad already.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Woodfireguy

              I have to disagree with one of your comments.

              I'd question the inference in the statement that a vintner "knows which of his wines are bad already". He may well know that a wine is not his best, but years of doing tastings have taught me that experience, preference, and palate differences are usually the more dominant factors in a tasters conclusion that they don't like a wine. We have a wine region near us that I consider very much sub-par for the most part, but I regularly speak with people who say they love the wines there. Junk is junk, but there is a huge area in between that and the best.

              Even at the 'best' level there is disagreement. At the lower price levels, this is usually about the difference between a 'bad' wine and a 'badly constructed' wine. Even a good winemaker can't make a great wine without good fruit and/or the funds to handle that fruit in the optimum way. And that's only layered on top of the fact that any two people can and do disagree on a specific wine at any level.

              Just my 2¢.

              1. re: Midlife

                I do agree at least in this, just because I did not like it does not mean the wine was bad. My friend who asked about and rec'd the bottle as a gift loved it. I would never tell someone that their product was bad, Hell I may not even know what is good or bad. I can only speak to what I like and don't like.

                1. re: Midlife

                  This is true. You can't please everyone. When the OP uses the word swill I'm assuming it’s bad. I just canceled one of my wineries wine club memberships because of bad wine. They are trying to clear older vintages and are using the best customers to it. I know this because the same vintages are on sale in local markets. That’s bad wine and they knew it.

              2. We enjoy visiting small local wineries as well. As for purchasing we know whether we plan to bring home a case, two cases or whatever and let that guide us. As for spittoons to me that is for when you are tasting hundreds of wines in a day. On a visit of a small circuit of maybe a ten wineries by the end you can just sniff take a small sip and dump the rest.

                6 Replies
                1. re: Chinon00

                  At your local wineries is there one bucket for dumping and another for spitting? I've never seen that.

                  1. re: Chinon00

                    <As for spittoons to me that is for when you are tasting hundreds of wines in a day. >

                    Rather than for tasting "hundreds" of wines, spitting is for any wine you don't like or don't want to finish. There's no way to accurately evaluate wines at several/many wineries per day without spitting. Spit to keep your palate fresh and to avoid getting drunk. Spit often; spit with aplomb.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      Can't you just take a small sip and pour out the balance of what you don't what to drink? Granted if you are tasting literally 300 wines then even sipping will cause an issue. But 25 sips followed by pouring out the balance is a problem?

                      1. re: Chinon00

                        I've been to many trade tastings where I've swallowed just a bit and poured out the rest. Believe me.................... after 50 or so, I can tell that I should have been spitting. And I'm not a small person or inexperienced in this.

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          <As for spittoons to me that is for when you are tasting hundreds of wines in a day.>

                          All's well. I didn't understand your comment above. Yes, "spittoons" -- spit buckets to me -- are used more often for pouring out than spitting. The point is to use them.

                          I doubt anyone even attempts to taste 300 wines a day. I've done plenty of tastings and judgings, and tasting more than hundred wines a day is rare and a bit brutal. Sheer work at that point, no pleasure.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            Yes, spitting is essential, no matter how good the wine tastes.

                            It doesn't take more than 10 reds in a span of as many minutes for noticeable palate fatigue to kick in for me. Anything over 50 in a day is brutal for me.

                            To be honest, I would be rather put off by a winery tasting room that did not have a spit bucket handy.

                      1. re: wino4vino

                        Gotta say once was enough for this link. Maybe more than enough.

                        1. re: Akitist

                          The best model for proper wine tasting etiquette is presented by Miles (Paul Giamatti) in Sideways.

                      2. I find myself both AGREEING and DISAGREEING with some of the comments so far which, I suppose, means I should leave well enough alone and not post anything, lest the wrath of Bacchus come down upon me . . . however . . . .

                        First of all, there are no rules.

                        Secondly, I cannot recall EVER being in a tasting room of any kind, anywhere in the US or Europe, where there wasn't some form of dump bucket, spittoon/crachoir available -- unless one just spit on the gravel floor, in the drain, what have you. Certainly one should ask for a spittoon or dump bucket if there isn't one available.

                        Third, there is a significant difference between wine that is swill and wine that is "swill." That is, between a wine that is truly, objectively, and often fatally flawed (swill, w/o quotation marks), and a wine that one doesn't like but is commercially sound ("swill" w/quotation marks -- at least for the purposes of this post only). Often, however, words like "swill" can be used to describe wines of either category, and this can lead to confusion.

                        Either way, however, the person behind the tasting bar/serving the wine should know your opinion. Clearly if the wine is flawed, it shouldn't be poured to the public in the first place and -- while all wines should be tasted by staff prior to being poured for the public -- I can speak from experience that this isn't always the case. But if the wine is not to your liking, this too should be conveyed to the server. Even simple comments like, "it's too dry/sweet," or "it's too rough/tart" can be of great assistance to the winery's host to pour you something you might like better . . . At the very least, the employee can always fall back on what I sued to use when I worked at a Napa Valley winery: "You know, we make a really good Zinfandel, but if you don't like ours, you might just like the one across the street better." OK, to be honest, they made both a White Zin and a "regular" one; we only made a red wine from Zinfandel, but you get the point, I'm sure.

                        As far as feeling obligated to buy a bottle, that is obviously a personal feeling. There is, in a sense, no right or wrong . . . it's like tip jars at Starbuck's or the corner donut shop -- do you tip them for just doing their job, when they don't do anything extra for you? i don't know the answer to that one; I'm sure we each react in our own way. What I *will* say is that, back in the day when NO ONE charged a fee for tasting, one hell of a lot of wine was poured away for free -- indeed at a loss, when you factor in tasting room staff, glassware, and all the extras . . .

                        Today, many wineries DO charge a fee for tasting. Sometimes it's credited towards a purchase; sometimes it is not. But i know that I feel much less of an obligation to buy a bottle if I've paid for the tasting compared to when the tasting is free. Again, that is ME, and I'm not trying to speak for anyone else.

                        Also, to be honest about it, I don't often go to tasting rooms in California -- at least I don't go from winery-to-winery. I may stop in at wineries I know that I like, or just buy their wines in a store. Most of the time, when I stop at a winery, it's to say hello to a friend, so if I don't by-pass the tasting room completely, I only go in to have someone there tell my friend that I'm here. So my tasting room experience is probably different than some of the people here, and that means readers should take whatever grains of salt they deem are necessary when reading my post.


                        1. Thanx to all who posted. I am trying to work out rules for a project of visiting all the bottling vineyards within 30 miles of my house and since this will be about 70 i was initially over my head. So far here is what I have learned.
                          1- Ask for a pour bucket
                          2- No thank you but that wine does not speak to me is a fair answer.
                          3- Eat first!
                          4-Paying for a tasting makes me more comfortable
                          5-No more than 3 or 4 stops a day!

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: budnball

                            Sounds like a plan.

                            # 1, yes ask, or if none is available, ask for a plastic/paper cup.

                            For # 2, the depth of your answers might well depend on the exact wines. One has a unique palate, and that needs to be factored into the "like/dislike" equation. If a wine is flawed, pull the tasting room person aside, and whisper into their ear - no one wants to pour flawed wines. As long as you do not shout about it, the staff will love you for pointing out an issue. This happens, and is sometimes missed by the staff, though it should not be. A busy day can get ahead of them. If it's a personal thing, talk to them, as there might be an alternate, more to your tastes.

                            #3, yes, but do not overdo the spices, or bold flavors. If you do, drink some unflavored water, and have some plain crackers handy.

                            #4, this can be tricky. Free tastings are just fine, and many wineries will waive the fees, if you talk to the people, and share your feelings, though if negative, not too loudly. Your interest in the wines, and winemaking processes can be very important. You might even get invited to do a barrel-tasting in the cellar, or maybe even find some "library" wines suddenly appear, just for you. Interest is all important. Talk, listen and enjoy. There is much more to learn, than just a few sips of wine.

                            As for # 5, that is my personal limit, unless it's a trade-tasting, and then spitting is a requisite. Also, a trade-tasting is not as much fun, as some would imagine. Also, when you limit your stops, you get to decide whether you wish to "taste" a wine, or "drink" a wine. The tasting room folk know (or should) the difference, and are usually impressed, when you find that "drinking wine." Just go easily on those, when you find them, or have a designated driver, clearly identified to the tasting room staff.

                            Buy what you like. If available at retail, let the staff know that you like the wines, and ask for retailers in your area, or at least the distributor in your area. Note: some wines, even from larger, oft represented producers, are available ONLY at the winery. Ask about the availability.

                            With airline travel nowadays, I seldom plan on buying much wine, but do take notes for later. If you love a winery's product, do not hesitate to ask about any "wine club." This is often a better option, even if driving.

                            Most of all, enjoy.


                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              Thanx for the tip about retail availabilty. The bottle price at wineries seems a bit high and i can't join every club. Asking only increases my options.

                              Also I was schooled abit my friend who rec'd the gifted bottle. The wine was a Sauvignon Blanc which I admit to not knowing much about. Its tinny green flavour was not my thing, but my friend who loves this grape, smacked me over the head and said "This is exactly what this wine is!"

                              So # 6 on my list is -Keep an open mind.

                              1. re: budnball

                                Yes, keep that open mind.

                                Now, SB has many flavor profiles, but in the US, the sub-set is a bit more restrained. Still, they DO differ. Some, from say Napa, are more fruit forward, so do not seem so astringent, but with the higher acid level, are still very, very food-friendly. They also do a bit better job, for me, when just sipping, before the food. In general, they are a bit of an aperitif and get me to almost salivating. Because of the citrus-like acid, they work well with seafood - like a squeeze of lemon.

                                A favorite area of production, New Zealand (especially the Marlboro Region), is better before the meal, IMHO, and is harder to pair with food in general. The grapefruit and damp hay/grass are great alone, but tend to get in the way of many dishes. The Napa (and some other CA AVA's) versions lack some of the initial character, but because of that, pair better with a broader range of food. Again, on MY palate.

                                At any winery, start with lighter whites, and work up. Do the same with the reds. If you hit a wine early on, that you do not like, just pour, and move on. One winery might do a weak Chardonnay, but an astounding Zinfandel. Taste them all, and discuss the flavors and aromas with the staff. Please ask questions, as they will love to share their knowledge, or should. Keep that open mind, and continue to explore everything produced. It could be that you'll love a light Marsanne, but hate their US$200 Cab blend. That's OK. It's about what you like.

                                Drink plenty of water, and especially when doing the reds. Nibble on the crackers, between wines. As much as possible, cleanse your palate between wines.

                                When it comes to glassware, there are many considerations, and a good tasting room will help you there. I like either a clean, fresh glass for each wine, or if you rinse, use a napkin to dry the interior. If you rinse, you do not want water left in the glass. In Italy and Spain, especially, the staff will "season" the glass with a very light pour, that is to be swirled, and dumped, between wines. Also, and this is my personal opinion, the stemware CAN make a difference on one's perception of the wine. Most tasting rooms will not have a different Riedel Sommelier Line glass, especially blown for that wine, but if they are pouring into "jelly jars," you will likely NOT be getting the best of that wine.

                                Most of all, do not hesitate to show enthusiasm (besides drinking some wine, you are there to learn too), and enjoy. Drive safely.


                          2. 1) Spittoon - I always ask if there is one beforehand. They should provide that at a minimum.
                            2) Buying wine - You shouldn't feel obligated to buy anything even if there's not tasting fee. Only buy something you like. I give my honest opinion, even if I don't really like it. It depends on how you couch it, and tell them what your preferences are. Tell them you're a newbie also, and that you're just getting your feet wet.