Virginia Wine Time

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Yelper Helper

This place was completely terrible…as others mentioned families are relegated to a fenced in “pen.” I get that it is private property, your business, etc. but please mention your lame rules before I drive a mile down your crappy unpaved road.

The whole process felt a little like an assembly line for me, although we did come in with a big group without reservations.

On the plus side, they did squeeze in our group of 14.

Her reasoning was that if she gave me a cup, I might pour my wine in it and give it to some underage minor who would sneak around the corner and drink some.

There were 6 couples plus kids. The owner was unhappy with our kids playing soccer during the picnic in a tiny field next to the parking lot. He was also unhappy we set up a sun cover over a picnic table and several other things.

I lifted these comments from Yelp, the popular online review service that allows customers to rant and rave about any and all establishments that provide goods or services to the public. Disgruntled tasters left these particular comments on Yelp in regard to several Virginia wineries, but rest assured that virtually every Virginia winery has been negatively Yelped at least once. Some Yelpers do keep their comments focused on the wines and their impressions of them; however, others, like the ones presented above, follow a similar pattern and center on poor customer service due to _____(fill in the blank:. Large party of tasters, toddlers on board, Fido gets the boot.) And oh—the wines suck. So there! There is certainly no excuse for poor treatment at a winery, and customers have every right to speak up on the matter. However, I do think that customers owe winery owners, their harried tasting room staffs, and other customers some basic courtesies. Here are my tips to make certain that your winery visits are pleasant ones.

1. Here Comes the Bride: Most wineries consider groups of more than six to be large, and their ability to accommodate large groups can be rather limited especially if the group arrives during peak hours. It therefore makes sense that the winery would appreciate some notice before your large group arrives. The most notorious violators of this common sense rule are the bridal parties. Nothing throws a tasting room staff into a panic more than the sight of the unannounced limo dropping off a bride to be and her tipsy band of bridesmaids at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Yes, some wineries will be more than happy to help you share your special moment and may even provide you and your guests with a private tasting. However, do not expect deluxe treatment if you suddenly pop in as part of an afternoon winery crawl. Therefore, make your plans early and contact the winery well in advance of your trip. Be sure to provide as many details as possible, and have at least an estimate of your party’s size. Will you all be travelling in a limo? If so, the limo or bus may take up too much parking lot space; perhaps special parking arrangements can be made. (A limo or bus might be a great idea since no one in your party needs to worry about drinking and driving.) Therefore, call ahead! I’ll repeat that one more time. Call ahead! The same advice holds true for any large group (party of more than six) that is planning a visit to any Virginia winery. Call ahead! Trust me, this basic courtesy is greatly appreciated by the winery staff.

2. Kids in the car: Remember that wine tasting is really an adult activity, and children cannot be anywhere near the tasting bar. Most Virginia wineries do maintain a kid friendly environment; however, some may prefer to maintain an adults-only atmosphere. Therefore, call ahead to find out. Please be aware, though, that many tasting rooms do have small gift areas with breakable items that may be attractive to curious toddlers. And I cannot tell you how many times we’ve seen little ones at food tables helping themselves to snacks with their own tiny hands while mom and dad are sipping at the bar. Teens on board? Again they cannot be near the tasting bar, and even if your well-mannered teen is somewhere outside waiting for the adults to finish their tasting, I would advise informing the tasting associate that you’ve brought a minor along on the trip. ABC agents do not announce themselves when they visit wineries, and their mission is to be sure that rules are being followed. If they suspect that minors have access to alcohol at the winery, the consequences could be severe for the owner. Keep an eye on the kids, and the tasting staff will be glad that you did!

3. Fido the Wino: Dogs—I love dogs. However, I am not certain that I like dogs at a winery. At one recent winery visit, Paul and I attempted to share wine and conversation at an outdoor table when we were treated to a nearby barking duet between Fido and Fluffy as they sang sweet love songs to each other. Our conversation ended when we could not hear a word we were saying to each other. However, I do understand why some tasters would want to bring their dogs to wineries, because I am sure that even Fluffy would appreciate the mountain views that many Virginia wineries offer. However, rather than risk being told to keep Rover in the car, call ahead to find out if he can come along for the trip. Also, while Rover may be friendly to you, he is still an animal and other customers may not want to find out just how friendly he can be. And there is a liability issue to consider. Fido’s bad day may cost someone a trip to the doctor, but who’s responsible? Does Barney sometimes take a nip? Open wine bottles and bar snacks may not look or taste too appealing to others once he has been allowed a sniff, sip or nibble. (Yes, we’ve seen this happen.) I attended a recent tasting where the owner, despite toothpicks in clear view, grabbed cheese squares with his hand and fed them to his dog as it then voraciously lapped at the tasty morsels. Owner then took his slobber-covered hand and used it to take more cheese squares from the same bowl. (I’m not kidding.) As in tip #2, if indeed you can bring your dog, be mindful of the dog’s (and your own) behavior.

4. Time Is On My Side: Not really. Tasting rooms get really crowded in the afternoon, and you will have to wait for service. Most Virginia wineries and their tasting rooms are small, because most Virginia wineries are small agricultural businesses. In fact, the guy behind the counter who will be pouring your wine may also be the winemaker. The cashier? Probably his wife. So why not hire more help, you ask with your ears steaming? Because wine making is an expensive operation, and the staff that you see behind the counter is probably all that the owner can afford to maintain and still stay in business. In fact, some tasting room associates work for wine in lieu of pay. So know your patience level before making that late afternoon trip to the winery. For example, if you avoid the supermarket at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon because you hate standing in long lines, then do not make a visit to a tasting room at that time either. We hit the trails early in the day for that very reason. And that way, you really can have that intimate chat with the winemaker and ask as many questions as you’d like—just like we do!

5. Stay Focused: Virginia winemakers have a focus—to pour their passions for winemaking into the vineyard and then into a bottle for you to enjoy. Party halls? Kiddie Korners? Dog parks? Probably not part of the vision for most winemakers. Therefore, remember why it is that you want to visit Virginia wineries in the first place—to taste passion in a bottle. Winemaking starts in the vineyard and getting the grapes into the bottle is a difficult, expensive, and time-consuming task. Therefore, do the winemaker a favor and maintain your own focus—on the wine. If your priority is to really just to have a party or to give Rover some exercise, then find wineries that offer those perks. How can you be sure that any particular winery will meet satisfy your own agenda? Plan ahead and call ahead!

6. Respect: This last tip is probably the most important. We’re rather spoiled in this area. Virginia offers outstanding wines while providing tasters with nature’s own spectacular views. Most area wineries will allow you to stay and picnic while appreciating a bottle of favorite wine with your meal. Napa? Bordeaux? The expectation at most wineries in other regions is that you will taste, purchase and leave. In fact, most regulars on the Virginia wine trails may have noticed that more wineries are adopting a “no picnic” rule these days. Why? Stories of facilities being trashed by inconsiderate visitors, guests bringing in outside alcoholic beverages (this is illegal by the way), and other tales of rudeness have become more frequent in our chats with winery staff. Remember, the tasting room that you are visiting is part of the owner’s personal property and in some cases is a room in the house. The vineyard? His/her backyard. So think twice before loading up the van with all of the kids’ favorite toys, your own lawn furniture, and that secret six-pack in case you opt for a brew instead of a chardonnay after the tasting.

So still want to rant on Yelp? Reflect on these tips before you pound the keyboard, and ask yourself how you might react from the other side of the tasting bar. Some planning and preparation as well as a large dose of common courtesy will go a long way to ensure that you, the winery staff, and fellow customers can all have an enjoyable and memorable experience.

5 Comments

  1. As a Virginia winery employee, I truly appreciate you writing this article. These items that you touched on can be the most frustrating for the employees as well as other patrons of a winery. Hopefully as Virginians get used to a more well respected and quality wine industry in their own back yard, they will begin treating wineries and winery staff with the respect they deserve.

  2. I am very confused about parents feeling that bringing their under aged children to a winery is acceptable. To me, this should be an adult only activity. I know when I go wine tasting I do not want kids running around, playing soccer or what have you. To me, bringing children to a winery is the same as bringing children to a bar (and yes, I do have children and would NEVER think of bringing them with me when wine tasting.)

    Parents need to take others into consideration when out in the public and not feel that whatever their children want to do is acceptable behavior.

    In regard to accommodating large groups, you would not go to a restaurant with six couples plus children without a reservation. If you do, then you would expect a long wait or no service.

    The bottom line is be courteous and have common sense.

  3. This is a GREAT article! As someone who has been to several VA wineries I wish more people knew what was and wasn’t OK behavior when attending a winery. I can’t tell you have many people I see get outraged when the winery can’t accommodate their large group. More importantly I go there for the wine, not just the buzz (though the buzz can be great sometimes!) and I hate when people can be so rude just because they don’t know the proper etiquette when doing a wine tasting.

  4. Thank you. As someone who enjoys wine tastings, I have certainly observed all of the situations you described and felt for the owner and my fellow patrons. I wonder if the vineyard/playground/dogpark situation is a “Virginia thing?” Parents here seem to think all environments are appropriate for their children and pets and there are precious few places left where adults can interact with each other exclusively. I have been to Napa several times and did not observe this kind of thing going on.

  5. You certainly hit the high spots. We in the winery biz want to accommodate everything/everyone we can in order to provide a tasting experience for anyone that wants it (and to stay in business). These tips, however, are sage advice to the wine enjoying public and ought to be thought of as common courtesy. Thanks for sharing.

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