There has never been a better time to go visit a winery near you. All over the world more wineries than ever open the doors to visitors and are happy to welcome you and your friends!
Lots of wineries plan special events during the whole year and entire wine regions now are heavily promoting their wine trails.
Winemakers and winery owners are among the worlds most charming and interesting people, and many are always happy to receive visitors, even during the hectic days of harvest. But if you intend to visit a smaller producer, please call ahead of your visit and make a reservation.
So here are some tips on how to visit wineries, with some suggestions for winery etiquette. I’ve focused on visits to wineries in newer wine regions, where tourism might not be as well advanced as in places like Tuscany, Bordeaux, Napa, Sonoma or Stellenbosch.
Get an empty box for wine. Grab one at your local wine store, or think about buying a Styrofoam wine carrier from Lazenne (you’ll find more info about Lazenne further down). Trust me on this: You are going to start buying bottles of wine, that will rattle around in your car, unless you’ve brought a box. You’ll thank me for this advice when your box is full.
Hire a car or have a designated driver. Chances are, you will taste more wine than you expected to — those little tastes add up. Not only that, but if you’re not used to drinking wine early in the day, it could catch up with you fast. In many of the newer wine regions, the wineries might be spread out, so you have some driving ahead of you. Various tour companies are popping up in wine regions all over the country, that are happy to chart your visits to wineries and take you to them.
Take the kids, or better yet, leave them at home. If you do bring them though, find something for them to do. Wine regions are always very pretty all year around, and winery people are nice, so it’s a shame for children to miss the experience. But tasting rooms can be boring for kids, so ask right away, if there are cookies or crackers, animals to play with or anything else for kids to do. Some, though not nearly enough, have basketball nets, bocce courts, coloring books or Play-Doh. Take along a Rubik’s Cube, or an iPad!
The early bird catches the winemaker
Go early, especially on weekends. The thing that’s the most fun about a winery visit, is chatting with the people at the wineries, who are often the owners or winemakers, especially at smaller wineries. They won’t have time to talk with you if it’s busy. Or even better, call ahead and make an appointment.
Small is beautiful
Focus on the smaller places. There can be something uncomforting and intimidating about the larger places with big parking lots, T-shirts for sale and lots of hired help. But to feel the passion of wine and wine making, it’s important to seek out the smaller places, where you can really spend some quality time with the people behind the bar.
Rough and tough?
Be polite. Yes, this seems obvious, but I’ve visited hundreds of wineries in the last 7 years and I am always amazed, how rude people can be. In a smaller winery, you are likely to be in part of someone’s home and possibly talking to the owner. And you’re probably getting wine free, or for a small charge. Be nice, and show them the respect they deserve.
I know my grapes
Try new, unfamiliar things. In many parts of the world, the grapes that grow best are autochthonous grapes or hybrids. Perhaps the winery makes a Chardonnay, but it’s not as good as its Sumoll. If you stick to grapes you know, you could miss out on the regional specialties.
If only I knew what I like!
Have an answer to the question, “What kind of wine do you like?” Winery staff tends to ask this reflexively as an icebreaker, but many people who aren’t totally comfortable with wine, find it hard to answer on the spot. In any event, we’d be hesitant to answer it directly because we don’t want to try only the kinds of wines we already know we like. Even if you think you only like dry wines, you should try some that are sweet, and vice versa. Think about saying something like, “I enjoy all kinds of wines. Which would you start with?”
Ask where the grapes were grown. The wine originated in the vineyard, so most likely and in most cases, the wine makers or owners are very proud of their vineyards and the origin of their wines. Asking about specific locations and listening to the answer, will set you apart from most visitors. Follow up this question with, what is the soil type in the vineyards?
Ask, ask, ask
Ask questions. Don’t be shy. If you ask simple questions like “Does this look like it will be a good year?” or “What food goes best with this wine?” the person behind the counter will appreciate your interest. Don’t try to show off with questions like, “Did this get any ML?” unless you really, really care about malolactic fermentation. There are no stupid questions.
Oops, I don’t remember who I am
Remember that it’s a tasting room, not a bar! If you want to drink a big glass of wine, buy a bottle and have a picnic. And even if you are not driving, be very careful about how much you’re drinking. People who have had too much to drink, ruin the tasting experience for everybody.
A bottle, a case, a container
Be careful how much you buy. It’s a nice gesture to buy a bottle or two, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to. Still, we tend to get carried away at wineries and buy more bottles than we intended. You’ll be amazed how quickly those bottles add up. Many wineries now can ship all across the world, so you can probably call and get those wines after you get home if you have non-buyer’s remorse later.
Do you enjoy cooked wine?
Keep wines out of the hot car. A car that’s sitting in the sun will cook your wines in no time flat. Find a way to avoid that.
Happy flight home with all your wine
Ask wineries how to ship your wine back. If you have bought a case or so at various wineries, you might find it easier to ship it back, so ask if there is a local shipping place that specializes in this. This might not be possible, depending on various country laws, so this is where your Styrofoam carrier comes in: Just pack it and check it on the plane with you. There are obviously some risks involved, but I have done this for decades without incident. (Check with your airline to make sure it has no rules against this.)
Where are those wineries?
How do you find the wineries? You might ask: This is probably the easiest of suggestions to make. Simply download the Wine.Pop app:
or visit our website and that problem is solved! Oh, and if you visit one, which we have no listed yet, send us a mail! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tell us all about your winery visit!
Once you have visited your winery, why don’t you help other wine lovers by rating your visit. It helps the community and it helps the winemaker.
Sorry for this one
Finally, keep this in mind: The wines you bought at the winery will not taste as good at home as they did at the winery. We’re sorry to end this list with a downer, but it’s true. When you’re there, surrounded by the wondrous sights and smells of a winery, with the winemaker across the bar, pouring wine in pristine condition that has never traveled, the wine tastes special. You simply can’t replicate those conditions at home. But this is exactly why you should go taste wine at a winery this week.
Happy Winery Visits!