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Better Wine Tasting: The Winery Advisor Tasting Room Personality Profile

Apr 27, 2008
Want to know how to maximize your wine tasting experiences? Of course, you can read blogs about wine, but I'd rather go to the tasting room and enjoy my wine right at the winery.

This article is where I'm offering assistance on How to Enjoy Better Wine Tasting through the Winery Advisor Tasting Room Personality Profile.

As the Winery Advisor, I visit hundreds of California tasting rooms each year collecting information to prepare detailed winery profiles for the California Winery Advisor.com website (http://www.californiawineryadvisor.com). We document the wine tasting experience by cataloging the amenities, ambiances, tasting fees, pricing and wines. And, yes, we like our job.

With over 2000 wineries in the state, competition for the winery visitor is keen. Establishments now frequently outfit their tasting salons with five-star styling and lavish amenities. Even smaller operations may offer horse-drawn vineyard tours, custom bottle blending programs and high quality events and hospitality.

I have to admit I like tasting wine in tasting rooms. It's largely about the wine of course, but the people, the setting, the stuff to do, perhaps the vibe in the room and being out in the countryside also play their part.

The tasting room staffs are generally delighted to see me, ready to answer my questions even though they have been answering them all day, and for five dollars will pour me wine in a glass that I sometimes get to keep. On top of it they usually invite me to join their special club or join them for a dinner (with a hundred other like friends). How can I not like this?

For those who don't have the good fortune to visit all the tasting rooms, I submit The Advisor Tasting Room Personality Profile. It might even offer a virtual tasting room opportunity for you. After visiting almost 600, I have found they fall roughly within five categories. Each has its special advantages.

1. Family Run Wineries. The winemaker and family do 90% of the work, from growing grapes, making wine, selling, marketing, writing the newsletter and pouring in the tasting room. They stock shelves, wash glasses, lead tours and generally look a bit tired at the end of the day (and often well before).

These wine stops have the advantage of letting you talk directly to the players who have created the stuff we so desire. Tasting rooms are generally smaller, with fewer crowds and less pressure to join their club. They are good for individuals, couples and small groups. It is best to call for an appointment if your group is over six people.

At Milat Vineyards in Napa Valley the owners are two brothers, Bob and Mike. Their wives, Carolyn and Joyce, do the back room work and manage the tasting room, switching off every other week. At nearby Corison Winery, Cathy Corison makes the wine, while hubby William Martin, who designed the winery, keeps all the equipment humming, does the books and keeps the computers online. Husch Vineyards in Anderson Valley has been in the business for years with second and third generations still working the harvests and pouring in the tasting room.

2. The Big Personality winery is dominated by an owner whose name is frequently on the label but has a hired hand making the wine. The big personality is the big draw. They are generally self-made men and women who are leaders in the industry. They are often great company and provide a great tasting room experience.

Wine clubs at these wineries frequently have waiting lists or tiered club benefits where you wait months or years to move up to get the prized wines. Amenities usually include good picnic areas interesting gift shops, VIP tasting programs and unique tours and events. These wineries can usually handle larger groups, but it is always best to call ahead. The Paso Robles region's Big Personalities include, Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery, Tobin James of Tobin James Cellars and Justin Baldwin of Justin Winery.

3. The Hip & Stylish wineries are set up like trendy restaurants or private nightclubs. Italian tile, exotic wall coverings, pendant lighting, couches, leather chairs, flat screen monitors, eclectic gift items and lots of cool vibes abound. They may have private dining rooms and special VIP tasting rooms.

Great customer service usually prevails along with good facilities for hanging out. They may have a bocce ball court, fireplace or lavish gardens. Some may have a private chef making gourmet treats from their pizza oven or hold evening wine tasting seminars and VIP events. For these wineries, bring friends you want to impress and keep the kids at home. Check out Tolosa Winery in San Luis Obispo, Melville Vineyards in Santa Barbara County, or Stryker Sonoma Winery near Geyserville.

4. The Destination Winery entertains its visitors and promotes its brand with summer music series, festivals, grand parties and regular weekend events. Come for the Show, Stay for the wine! They often have restaurants, park like settings, sculpture gardens, impressive art galleries, guest houses, children's playgrounds, tram rides, shopping, and yes, even wine.

Rodney Strong Vineyards in Sonoma, Castoro Cellars in Paso Robles and Thorton Winery in Temecula have outdoor summer Jazz concerts. Wente Brothers in Livermore provides visitors a first class restaurant, wine caves, music and even a round of golf.

Some of the latest entrants to this group use their winery as their sole marketing tool, selling wine only at the winery and online. Examples include Roblar Winery in Santa Ynez, Black Stallion in Napa and Villa Toscano in the Sierra foothills.

5. The Something Special Winery offers a unique twist to its wines, winery or tasting room. Sonoma's Ridge Lytton Springs Winery and San Luis Obispo's Claiborne & Churchill Winery uses rice-straw bales, earthen plaster and recycled lumber for their facilities. Frog's Leap uses solar and geothermal power and their tasting room is made from reclaimed lumber and low-toxin paint. Bonny Doon Vineyard, Benzinger Family Winery and Quivira Vineyard & Winery grow their grapes use Biodynamic farming practices. Clautiere Vineyard near Paso Robles has one of the most outrageous tasting rooms described as an artistic cross of "Edward Scissorhands meets the Mad Hatter at the Moulin Rouge."

Other wineries specialize by producing just one wine. For instance, Silver Oak Cellars makes great Cabernet Sauvignon, while Cardinale Winery in Napa excels with their Cabernet based blend.

And for the latest trends in tasting rooms?

A Wine Bar can offer a tasting experience that an individual winery cannot: tasting multiple wineries from one wine tasting. Wine bars are growing in popularity, opening across the wine country regions and even in non-wine country locales. What I enjoy about a wine bar is trying more wines more quickly. Perhaps this is the equivalent of "10 minute dating" mixers for the wine connoisseur, which to some might be defeating the purpose. But, to the wine enthusiast with a hip and fast-paced urban lifestyle, wine bars can be an interest addition to the wine tasting experience.

The Virtual Wine Tasting Room is something that only a dot-com internet junkie could come up with. But, for those wineries putting most of their wine tasting room experience into selling on the web, this idea might become more popular. One website, Tastoria.com (http://www.tastoria.com/tastingevents.cfm), is putting an emphasis on how wine can be enjoyed and the HUMOR and FUN of the wine tasting experience. I enjoyed watching some of their tastings online, although I'm still not quite certain I could actually TASTE the wine myself!

To narrow down your search for the right tasting room experience, check out the advanced winery search feature at http://www.CaliforniaWineryAdvisor.com. Cheers!
About the Author
California Winery Advisor visits hundreds of wineries each year, then offers profiles on wine tasting and better wine tasting experiences. Visit http://www.californiawineryadvisor.com to build your own customized wine tasting tour and learn more about California's exciting wineries.
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