When you visit a cellar door, it’s easy to forget that you’re meeting the people directly connected with the wine you’re trying. It’s likely you’re even speaking to owners. We’ve asked Sally Scarborough from Scarborough Wine Co in the Hunter Valley, NSW what are good questions to ask at the cellar door… and also what’s not appropriate!
Sally Scarborough and her brother Jerome have spent their whole lives in the wine industry. And when their parents Ian and Merralea took the opportunity to start Scarborough Wine Co in the ‘80s, their fates were sealed.
Jerome and Ian work together to produce the wine while Sally is in charge of marketing and running their cellar doors.
We’ve spent quite a lot of time at various cellar doors over the years, but we’re still not entirely sure of the etiquette or the right questions to ask when we’re there.
Thankfully Sally has been able to give us some pointers. Now there’ll be no more… or at least fewer awkward moments when yours truly has said the wrong thing!
The Dos and Don’ts of the cellar door – Sally Scarborough
Questions we like to hear from cellar door visitors
Engage with our staff.
Cellar door tastings can sometimes be an overwhelming experience but our staff are there to help you to navigate the experience. So ask us questions – that’s what we are there for.
I don’t know much about wine/your wines. What can you tell me about them?
They don’t have to be in depth wine based questions – it can be about anything – restaurant recommendations, where to get a good coffee or even where to go to get the best sunset shots.
That’s not say that we don’t want you to ask questions about the wines – we do, but we are here to give you a whole Hunter Valley experience. Our staff are here to guide you, so don’t feel ashamed to ask. You might just learn something as well as having a fantastic experience.
It is sometimes hard to know how much wine you’re consuming at a cellar door. You go from one wine to the next and sometimes without any thought to how much you’re consuming before you jump in the car to go to the next cellar door and do it all again.
How much is in this pour/ taste?
Staff are trained to serve in accordance with Responsible Service of Alcohol Guidelines, so please ask them about how much you will be consuming – how much is in each pour. They will know and they can then guide you to how much you should try based on this.
Don’t be afraid to spit. If the pros do it, so can you. It may seem like a fairly strange thing to do for the uninitiated, but it means you can get the flavours and structure of a wine and know that you are all OK to drive.
Try something new.
I usually only drink [insert wine variety here], so what do you think I might enjoy in your range?
The cellar door is the perfect place to try something you haven’t ever had before. If you don’t like it, that’s OK, but why not take the opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new.
You never know, you might just find a wine that you adore and never knew!
Always ask if you don’t understand.
If you don’t understand a wine description or process that has been explained to you, don’t be afraid to ask a cellar door server to elaborate; we truly want to give you knowledge to make the best decisions you can.
I don’t quite understand what you mean about ‘grippy tannins’ and ‘hints of crushed rose petals’. Am I supposed to taste those flavours or experience that sensation in this wine?
But remember that every winery uses different processes and methods for winemaking, so just because Vineyard X does something differently to Vineyard Z, it doesn’t mean they are doing something wrong – it’s just a different way…
It’s not a house party.
Please don’t pick up the bottle and pour another taste for yourself – just ask and we will be more than happy to repour a wine for you. A cellar door is a licensed premises and that means that you can’t just help yourself to another taste – even if the tasting is free of charge.
Be polite if you don’t like a wine.
We understand that you aren’t going to enjoy every wine we serve you – in fact we expect it. But we are going to ask you if you enjoyed a wine or not – a simple yes or no answer is sufficient.
Know that we love the wines that we are selling, so keep in mind how you might feel if you’ve lovingly created something and then someone grimaces or says that it’s awful when they try it – please don’t forget your manners when tasting wine.
Remember why you’re here.
Please don’t say “fill it up” or something similar. Most cellar doors in Australia offer a tasting as a free service to initiate you into their wines and style. A comment like that will only convey that you aren’t all that interested in tasting the wines as opposed to getting some free drinks.
[Ed. I think I’ve said something like this in the past thinking it was really funny. And I bet it was… the first time they heard it! Won’t do that again!]
Consider others’ cellar door experiences.
Don’t wear overpowering perfumes or deodorants. A cellar door is a sensory experience. The smell of the wine is a very influential factor in whether you will enjoy a wine or not, and perfume or strong deodorants will impact on this. It may not bother you, but it may bother the person next to you, so try to be mindful of this.
When it comes down to it we want you to have a great experience at our cellar door so relax, ask questions and above all drink responsibly when visiting.
We love these tips from Sally and I’m sure it’ll make our next cellar door experience even better. So thank you, Sally.
Scarborough Wine Co in the Hunter Valley are well worth checking out. Their Pokolbin cellar doors – one on Gillards Road and the other on Hermitage Road – offer the perfect setting to try some iconic Hunter Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. And the new Vermentino they’ve released is very drinkable.
Best of all though is the friendly service this family owned and run winery provides. If you want a real Hunter Valley experience, head to the Scarboroughs’ place.
Scarborough Wine Co
972 Hermitage Rd and 179 Gillards Rd
If you want some more top winery tips from the Scarboroughs, you’ll love their recommendations in our post on 15 Hunter Valley wineries only locals know about.
What do you ask when you’re at the cellar door? Do you have any tips for what to say when you’re visiting a winery? Tell us in the comments!