Wineries are trying to make their business more accessible these days. But knowing what to do and say when you visit one can make the whole experience of a trip to the vineyards more enjoyable. October’s Wine of the Month post tackles how to make the most of the cellar door.
When I first visited a winery, I had this picture of ‘the cellar door’ being just that: a trap door under a little stone cottage leading to lines of dusty old barrels full of wine. There we would meet with a rosy-nosed old wine maker, ankle deep in the next vintage’s grape harvest.
But no. The average cellar door is not like that at all.
Most of them are more like a shop with a bar in it… which actually sounds awesome when I think of it like that.
Since then I’ve been to quite a few wineries all over the world. These are the three rules of thumb that I try and follow to make my experience at the wineries as good as possible:
1. Be friendly
Smile, ask the person serving you how their day’s going. Pouring tastings all day is tiring. You’ll find you’re more likely to get more attention, maybe bigger pours and wine they don’t usually open for tastings.
2. Don’t try to be an expert
Even if you’re a wine genius, let the guys on the other side of the bar tell you what they know. You’ll only sound like a know-it-all if you try and do all the talking.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Generally speaking, the staff at wineries are proud of the wine they’re selling, and they know their stuff. Get them talking and you’ll learn a lot more about the wine.
Anyway, let’s get our Wine Saints on board to give some pro points for making the most of your winery tour.
- Do your research. There are lots of cellar doors out there – some excellent and some not so good.
- Often the true niche players offer the best experience. For example at Bloodwood Wines, you can book in advance and be treated with over an hour of wine tasting.
- If the winery charges, ask yourself why they’re charging. Otherwise ask them whether you get the fee back if you buy something.
- Set a budget and don’t get carried away… though I’m not really one to talk!
- If you’re really keen, ask the owner some questions like what food would this go well with and why? Is it suitable for medium / long term cellaring? How is it best served? i.e. 18dC / decanted / aerated…
- Make sure you can’t buy it cheaper in Dan Murphy’s or one of the other big liquor stores.
- Mmm. My number one tip is to relax and imbibe! Cellar door staff are more often friendly, down-to-earth enthusiasts than snobby wine bores.
- Be adventurous: visit wineries both large and small and try new styles alongside your favourites.
- Don’t fill up your boot with expensive ’boutique’ wines. Just because the wine’s small-yield and expensive, it doesn’t mean it will be all that good.
- $10 tastings are great for sampling a winery’s top wines without feeling you have to buy.
- Make a note of the wine you like the most at a winery: most places have take-away tasting notes. You might be able to find it when you get home – or you can order it online from the vineyard later.
- Forgot to mention: ‘eat something first’ and ‘swallow’. Those spittoons are for show only! If you’re driving, just don’t drink as much. It’s ok to share a tasting glass with your partner.
Winery tours can be a lot of fun. Driving (or even better – being driven!) around wine country, dropping in on different vineyards to sample their goods – there’s nothing better.
The feeling of coming away from the cellar door laden with clinking bottles, the beginnings of a purple moustache to match your red-wine grin, and the views over the vines are always incredible.
Good luck and enjoy!
Do you have any tips for buying from the cellar door? Do you feel at ease when you visit a winery? Tell us in the comments!
I hate when people try to be all experty at wine tastings. I’m like ‘What ever dude. As long as there’s alcohol in it, top me up.’
Oh absolutely, Smags! It just winds me up… I should probably listen to what they’ve got to say as there’s a good chance they know what they’re talking about… but then again, I don’t want to end up sounding like a berk. Thankfully, our beloved Wine Saints aren’t like that all. Humble with their ethereal knowledge, these gents!
Sonia from Sonia Styling
I love wine tasting (no surprises there)! I agree – be happy, smiley and friendly from the get go. You start off on a good note with the person behind the bar and you are IN, my friend. Ask questions, share what you think and enjoy it – it’s meant to be a fun experience not an exam!
I was hoping you’d drop in on this post, Sonia! Glad you agree with my tips – it’s what I’ve found to work but I never really know whether I’m doing the right thing or not. Love your tip too btw – it really isn’t an exam. It does seem to bring out the competitive streak in some though, doesn’t it?
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Great down-to-earth advice. I love learning more about wine, but have little patience for wine snobs.
Eating before wine tasting is smart too. Too easy to get tipsy quick on an empty stomach.
Totally agree, Ryan. No time for wine snobs either. Taste it; if you like it, good. If you don’t, drink something else!
Eating with or before a wine tasting is definitely a good idea. Great point. I quite like doing pairing events actually, where the venue puts together food that matches the wine you’re trying.