The Wandering Wino Blog

This poses an interesting question. If you ask most people, what is important when wine tasting,  they will typically respond "the wine." People often see that a particular wine received a high score from somebody in some magazine and now they want to visit that tasting room or winery. Something to consider, if you have done this yourself, is whether a tasting room poured that high scoring wine? In many cases when a winery obtains a high score, the winery will  stop serving it in the tasting room because they know it will sell anyway, or exclusive to club members. Or, it sells out so quickly that it is gone before you arrive. 

Many often do not consider that the wines scored are selected and submitted by the winery that asked to be scored. This now leaves only the wines that were not rated. Consequently, you do not know what you will taste, nor the quality. It does not mean that the other wines are not good or even great, but it is something to think about.

When this happens, the wine score criteria used is now worthless and the wine tourist is at the mercy of hoping he/she has a good experience and tastes some good wine. Sextant from Paso Robles hit #1 on a big list for 2010 wine of the year. My guess is this tasting room will get hit with more visitors big time in 2011 because of this ranking. I have never been to Sextant, but I am pretty sure they are not pouring that wine in the tasting room, and you would be real lucky if you could get a bottle.

Now, let's revisit the question. The wine or the winery experience? If someone says the wine is more important, it is not a bad response because it is in fact called "wine tasting." When you tell that person that you know of a place that will handcuff you to a pole located in a damp, moldy basement, beat you, place a crown of thorns on your head, call you names, charge you $100, and then pour for you the best, magical wine you have ever tasted, you might reconsider thinking the wine was the most important rather than the winery experience.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I've tasted some of this magical wine and would take no issue at being dressed in leather pants on a 110 degree day in the sun, while taken out back, beaten, water boarded like a terrorist,  just to lap up that wine again out of a dog bowl. But let's be honest; those moments are like unicorns, very very rare.

Not too long ago, I saw a list of some important aspects to consider when going wine tasting: the wine itself, wine education, and the wine setting were at the top of the list. I have also included staff friendliness to the list.

Recently, I was very excited to taste at a legendary winemaker's tasting room. I've tasted his wines many times and was never disappointed. Upon entering the tasting room, the tasting room associate turned, looked at, and glared at us. She then turned back around without acknowledging our existence. I found out later, the tasting room associate had been just as rude to the others in the tasting room as they had just finished electric shock treatment.

My guess is that most people that enter that tasting room knew the very good wines that come from this establishment and this was their #1 motivator in getting them into this particular tasting room. Will any of those people return to that tasting room again? My guess is they are as likely to return to the tasting room as are the Beatles getting back together.

Consider your personal worst experience in a wine tasting room. Now consider the best experience you have ever had in a wine tasting room. How much did the wine play into it all? Some for sure, but my guess is it was not the main motivator.

A well-known author wrote a book about how to connect with people and provide high quality service. People want to be made to feel valued and important. When a wine tasting room associate acts as though you should be honored to be here, he/she misses the boat in a big way and loses more business than he/she even realizes. I have had favorite wines completely ruined by a bad tasting room experience. Why? When I see that wine in a restaurant or retail store, I think about how much I've liked that particular wine, and what a terrible experience I had at the winery. Now do I buy that wine? Very slim chance.

Some of my personal favorite experiences came from tasting rooms that valued me. They treated me special, or at least I felt like they did. I have visited some wineries that offered barrel tastings when it was my first visit. It was not a special event. I was not a club member, but they were, in my opinion, above and beyond in how they interacted with their customers. Two experiences come to mind: one is located in an industrial area behind a chain link fence with barbed wire. It was the owner/winemaker who was very funny, interesting, and valued us. He treated us like we were his best customers. The second was in a rural area in a warehouse with a 7 foot slab of wood placed over 2 wine barrels. Again, it was the owner and winemaker that helped create the positive experience. He, too, made us feel valued and as though he was there to take care of us.

One of these tasting rooms submitted their wines for scores, the other does not. If scores alone are the driver, then at least one of these tasting rooms would be missed. By the way, both wineries make wines that I buy often.

What is important to you, the wine or the winery experience?


  • Wesley Cook
    Posted Tuesday 22 March 2011 18:09
    Hey Shawn, Good article and nice take on this phenomenon. I have to say I go both ways. The geek in me wants to only care about the wine but of course, as you mentioned, the experience will always play a role in how I remember the wine and influence my buying decisions; in the TR and in the future. Most of the quality wines on my "do not purchase" list got there through a lousy TR experience. I currently work in a TR so I may be more sensitive to what I consider bad service than some people (and hold a grudge longer!) but I think many of us can quickly recall the worst experiences we've had. Those memories fade very slowly! On the other hand, a lot of average to good wines make the cut and go home with me to the cellar when I have a very positive experience. The atmosphere, story and overall experience absolutely influence buying decisions in the TR context. Did you see the recent Heimoff piece on cult producers, tasting and scores? It's not addressing the exact same issues but I think you'll find it a good read. Check . good comments there, too.
  • Leslie
    Posted Wednesday 13 April 2011 19:45
    So Wesley, I too have purchased average tasting, expensive wine due to a great story and the limited quantities available. I must say the service was excellent and the pouring generous...a definate influence on opening my wallet. As for the rude and cheap, they rarely get my cash. There are many good options available today and my cash flow does not support rude behavior or bad service. Some owners should pay a bit more attention...looks like Shawn found a couple so they are out there
  • Sherrie
    Posted Thursday 22 September 2011 01:02
    Great customer service is always a plus at a winery - when they can't answer your questions about where the vineyards are, whether it was in stainless steel or old French oak - this is also a huge turn off to me. I comb my memory and honestly - every place that has exceptional wines also had an exceptional experience in their tasting rooms. The pourers were often in the fields with the winemakers, or there for the bottling, or are studying winemaking at a nearby university. They have been thoughtful guides, providing glasses of water and crackers and lots of commentary.

Post your comment