Whenever you go some place new, there are always unwritten rules you discover when you get there…the ones you wish you knew about beforehand. The first time you went to New York, why didn’t someone tell you black was the way to go? Bright color? Save it for an accessory…your scarf, your bag, your shoes (but never “all of the above”). Where was that rule book when you needed it? And then there was the first time you went to Italy. Why didn’t someone tell you that to be able to sit down and eat at a caffe or trattoria, you have to pay more? It was embarrassing when the proprietors gestured at you to leave…wasn’t it?
What about Wine Country? Are there unwritten rules or is there “unwritten Wine Country etiquette” you should be aware of before you go? As with traveling anywhere, the answer is yes.
Many people who go to Wine Country for the first time are surprised to discover some wineries they want to visit are open only by appointment. How do you know which ones? Very simple…go to the winery’s website. Almost every one has a “visit us” tab. This is where you find out if a winery is open to the public or if it is open “by appointment only.” You’ll also see the days and hours of operation, which is important, since some wineries have limited hours (e.g. 11am-4pm) or are closed certain days of the week. If you’re part of a large group in a limo or a “party bus,” be aware that some wineries–because they are smaller, have limited staffing or already have several groups scheduled that booked in advance–will not be able to accommodate the size of your group. Limos and large groups = advance reservation.
There’s nothing like a scenic, relaxing Wine Country picnic. You check online and find the perfect spot…a winery with gorgeous grounds and picnic tables. Some may allow you to reserve tables in advance for a slight fee, which can be worth it on a weekend day if you are going “in season” (May – Oct). When picnicking at a winery, know the expectation is that you buy and drink wine from that winery, in exchange for the use of their picnic grounds. Some wineries police this and will ask you to leave if they see you picnicking on their property with wines that are not their’s.
If you have children with you, check in advance to make sure the winery is “kid friendly,” meaning there are other things for them to do or see there. If you want to bring Fido, check ahead regarding the winery’s policy on dogs.
Should you tip at a winery? If you have a positive experience–your host was informative, friendly and accommodating–absolutely! You tip at a restaurant or a wine bar when you have a positive experience. Why wouldn’t you tip in response to a wonderful experience at a winery? The absence of a tip cup signifies the winery doesn’t “divide and share” (it’s not Starbuck’s!) You simply hand the tip to your host when you are leaving. The tip is not based on your purchase…it should be based on your experience. If the tasting was complimentary, unless your experience was a negative one, always tip.
Also, remember the term is wine tasting. A tasting room at a winery is not a bar. You are a guest there. If it’s apparent that you or someone in your party has been doing too much tasting, it is the right (and responsibility) of the tasting room host to refuse to serve you…for your safety and for the sake of the tasting room’s license.
And, finally, unlike you first trip to New York, there is no “preferred color” to wear when wine tasting. However, there is a saying that if you wear white, you are a very confident wine taster (or one who will soon discover Wine Away red wine stain remover!)