Seven Things To Never Say in a Winery

I get it.

 The wine is (sometimes) free and usually generous in its offering.  The winery staff enlivens the taste with glad stories of the winery – or the wines – or the places their grapes grow.  

so many glasses… so little time.

After witnessing a few of the following behaviors first hand, or first nose, here’s a few gentle reminders, by way of their errant phrases overheard, or self-confessionally rendered, where wine tasting happens.

Plan your visit, plan to have a good time and do the winery and fellow tasters the favor of avoiding these phrases:

“Is this too much cologne/perfume?” – Yes.  If wine were a beverage as loud as a rock concert, or if our noses were as sensitive as a dog’s, your Boss or Chanel might not matter.  Let’s just agree that Axe exists to eliminate odor not enhance it.  Further, if wineries were nightclubs, it would be great to smell like a Dior, a Flowerbomb or Jimmy Choo – so far they’re not.

 Wine’s volume resembles background Jazz, especially the parts that make them both worth the listen.  Strong outside aromas, self-imposed or not affect the way the wine’s aromas are available to our poor noses.  Leave the strong stuff at home to smell the good stuff.

“I dressed this way to stop by the gym later.” – Wineries are certainly not places for fancy dress; work gets done there.  If you’ve ever had to extract a stiletto heel from a floor drain or sod from the stitching of your Berlutis, then you know that a vineyard or barrel room tour makes no apology to precious attire.  But do dress the part.  

Sloppy clothes, gym shorts, tennis wear distracts from the winery’s raison d’etre, even if it says Lululemon on the tag.  Besides, who goes to yoga drunk?  Wine tasters aren’t expecting to impress anyone else but they are dressing to be among people who are also out tasting wine.

Bonus Tip – “I think my aunt got red wine out of cashmere once”.If there is one skill I could teach young oenophiles, it would not be getting a cork out of a bottle.  YouTube is overrun with demonstrations.  But, the single best skill for winetasting remains the swirl.  Practice at home.  Put a few ounces of water in your wineglass, place it on the counter, rotate the base of the glass to swirl the liquid enough to coat the inside of the glass – without spilling it.  Try it clockwise – go back for counter-clockwise when you’ve mastered that.  Practice over the sink.  Swirl exuberantly. ALMOST spill in the sink.  With your new proficiency, explain to your friends that swirling is for temperature, oxidation and therefore all the expressive flavors in wine.  Really say “expressive”.  The Six P’s of Winery Visits: Proper Previous Practice Prevents Problematic Phrases.  Remember, practice at home first so that you are never heard to say anything resembling the phrase above.

“I didn’t think it would be so cold!” – Some wineries invite their guests in to the barrel and fermentation areas of the winery where the effects of temperature more drastically affect the character of the wine.  It may be 55 degrees in the cellar.  That’s a good thing.  It means that glass swirling you practiced will actually be able to do something.  Winery wear may best be layered, like the flavors in the wine.

“Which wines are made with beer?” –  Maybe there are no stupid questions, but even my 5 year old granddaughter knows wine is made with fruit and beer with “not-fruit”.  Spend at least a little time and attention knowing that you are going to taste wine, why it tastes that way and why there are no Wine IPA’s.

“Wow. Does this horse have diabetes?” Part 1 – Not every wine you taste will be to your taste. It’s supposed to be that way.  The wines you like will be easily distinguished by those you do not, but the words to describe those differences will come later, sometimes much later.  In the meantime, save the disparaging comments for anyplace besides the winery; if it’s truly that odd, they already know you won’t like it.

“Wow. Does this horse have diabetes?” Part 2 – So it’s ok, even respected, to spit out most of the wine you taste.  Especially if you are having 2 ounces each of the twelve wines the winery has on offer.  Don’t get me wrong; when I am tasting Harlan or Quilceda Creek, I am not spitting out the wine; yet neither am I gulping it.  But here’s the point.  Spitting the majority of the wines you taste permits you to remember the ones you liked.  If I am at one of a few tasting appointments for the day, spitting the wines let’s me taste them and continue before my knees buckle and the gentle fog of inebriation renders them all distressingly similar.  Perhaps even more important is that inebriation removes the ability to whisper.  At any volume, incriminating drunk phrases escape the lips faster than the wine one shouldn’t have swallowed.  I know.  I can only hope that winemaker forgot me sooner than I forget my shock at my outside voice inside.

“Oh, am I in the way?” – Tasting room counters often host more people than can fit at them.  Once you and your group have your taste, move aside to enjoy the wine and let others or other groups up to bat.  Some of them may be unaccompanied wine writers who may have moved aside for your turn- who may be up for a conversation and maybe even help learn more about the wine than either of you knew.  And, it keeps the strain of jilted service away from the staff’s responsibility.

“How long is this tour?” – There seems to be one person in a group who could not care less about the winery, whether the charm of the alcohol has taken over(see above) or if someone just wants to get out of the ‘cold’(see above), there always seems to be someone who is more interested in the end of the tour than the way the sample in your glass arrived there.

Winemakers love to share why their liquid art studio produces unique art, don’t embarrass your friends by being the one who fails to get the point. 
With these reminders in hand, I hope to see you all out tasting wine, enjoying yourselves and making the world a better place for wine lovers and winemakers everywhere.  Please share this to make everyone’s wine world a little bit brighter!

A Tale of Two Champagnes: Roederer and Liebault-Regnie

It was the best of times. It was the most demanding of times. A recent foray through the region of Champagne demonstrated the prosperity and the divisions defining modern Champagne.

Liébart-Regnier makes what we Americans know as ‘grower Champagne’. The family has owned property and vineyard land for 8 generations, beginning to make their own wine in the late 1960’s. As a family, with a hired oenologist, they produce less than 60,000 bottles of Champagne every year across 10 styles or cuvées.

Alessandra Liébart-Regnier stands behind her crop in 2019.

Louis Roederer epitomizes a Champagne ‘house’, a conventional, large scale producer vinifying roughly 4 million bottles in a year across at least 9 styles or cuvées.

Aida presents the history and nobility of Louis Roederer and the family’s wines.

The great news for both of these produces is that demand for every level of Champagne’s price and production points is holding firm. The luxury drink market seems safe. Prices in Champagne for grapes, labor, machinery and bottles have not seen a dip in more than 6 years. The camps of itinerant workers harvesting the grapes have never looked as well-stocked with modern fifth wheel campers and the cars to pull them. It’s a good time to help pick grapes.

Motorized tractors lug the grapes up the steeper aspects of Champagne, but the picking is all human.

Despite positive cash flow, Champenoise are intrinsically nervous. Long production timelines, long distribution lines, sketchy growing conditions and fluid market conditions conspire to strain that same cash flow. Whether your winery is huge or tiny, large percentages are at stake every year.

Which may be why our hosts inquired after American tastes. The United States drinks the most Champagne, then Russia, then Britain – it has always been an export market symbolized in small ways like the anchor on labels of Veuve Clicquot. They are keen to know what we’re after.

An abundance of style.

Americans are pursuing both models for the time being. Louis Roederer makes capital-C Champagne, on the lighter side of texture and weight, with complexity, but with the comfortable, textbook, predictable demeanor. Open any bottle of Louis Roederer and I will happily drink it with you. While small producers make Champagne, as bubbly as any Grandes Marque, they know they cannot beat the large houses at their own game. So, they make capital-W wine.

Louis Roederer makes wine too, but the narrow scope of every large house’s wines is so narrow that they largely taste the same to most Americans.

Although they are very distinctive.

Small producers, growers, with the latitude and injunction to stand out, make distinctive drinks. Less predictable, yes. Less expensive, usually. Less quality, not usually. Less character, not by a mile, or a kilometer as it were.

Chandelier at Louis Roederer

Quick snapshots of the wines:
Louis Roederer Brut Vintage 2012 was my favorite for the warm depth and range of the darker flavors for which Champagne is more than capable as it comes to room temperature. One of my companions preferred the Blanc de Blanc 2011 with its depth married to nervy minerality while the rest were enamored of the bright, brilliant and food-happy Rose 2013.

From Liébart-Regnier, the L’Instinct and L’Amelie provided the nearest bridge from conventional Champagne while the Arbane/Pinot Blanc/Petit Meslier blend was created from three lesser-known grapes allowed in Champagne and provided the unique, spicy, brilliant acidity and almond/brioche character at the “this is t for everyone” end of the spectrum. Open any of these wines, I will happily join you and we will have a memorable dinner!