Hey Look, It’s Just a Beverage

Since I have started this blog, I like to think that I take tasting and describing wine rather seriously even though the stories around those tastings tend to be a bit, well, let’s just say that I try not to take myself all that seriously. After all, wine is a beverage. It can be a complex, intoxicating, and at times expensive beverage, but it is ultimately a beverage–one made, ostensibly, to provide joy to people. I try to keep this in mind while writing this blog since I am not curing cancer, solving the problems in the Middle East, or even repairing a few potholes. I am just getting my drink on and sharing those experiences with my horde of six loyal readers out there.

I have never kept track, but I spend a bunch of time on this little writing project of mine. I am approaching 200 posts, and I probably spend a couple hours (or more) on each one of them (although many of you might have assumed I spend about 7 minutes on each post…). It takes time and I try hard to produce good content. Sometimes, hopefully I am successful and manage to produce a smile or two and maybe even provide some useful information.

Why do I write all of this now?

When I attended the Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC12) this past summer, I experienced something that I did not anticipate when I started writing–many wineries really appreciate bloggers and go out of their way to make them feel welcome. This can take on different faces from opening a reserve wine to a tour of the facility, even an impromptu barrel tasting–which rarely if ever happened before I started the blog. Most of the time, they just make you feel welcome and answer as many questions as they can and I am amazed at how well we are ‘taken care of’ during these visits. In return, when I write a post about the visit, I make sure to write an honest, thoughtful review.

Over the past two days, I have visited ten tasting rooms in Woodinville, Washington and almost all of the visits fell into this mold: the staff were all welcoming and understood that in the grand scheme of things, wine serves the primary purpose of making people happy. Most of them seemed interested in the blog (although not an expectation by any means). A couple of places, however, stood out for the opposite reason–they seemed to take themselves far too seriously and did not seem to give a hoot that we were there with no attempt to connect on a personal level at all.

The first was Gorman Winery. The tasting room is not even a year old and is really a beautiful space with a modern vibe and a rock-and-roll themed decor. The wines are equally well done, perhaps in a bigger style than I prefer, but really well made with prominently displayed scores to match. The tasting room staff, while certainly professional, did very little to make us feel at home or even at ease. Questions about the wine and wine making process were often met with blank stares or cursory responses. I had heard great things about the wine (which seem to be justified), but I will likely not be back.

The other was Lachini Vineyards–an Oregon winery that opened a tasting room in Woodinville. I was excited to visit since the winery produces mostly Pinot Noir and I am nothing if not a sucker for good Pinot. Again, absolutely top-notch juice (this time in a style I very much enjoyed), and a beautiful room, but the tasting room staff seemed more bothered by my questions and presence than anything else.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not expecting any sort of red carpet treatment–far from it. I just don’t understand why every winery is not bending over backwards to make all of their visitors feel welcome.

What do you think? Am I being unreasonable here?

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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29 Responses to Hey Look, It’s Just a Beverage

  1. I have found tasting room staff to be wanting a lot. To a certain degree, it is like those people running the wine sections in several places I have been. Many lack proper training and can get by with that because most customers cannot really call their bluffs. What it does to the shop’s or winery’s reputation is a whole different story. It’s why I like wine tasting in Germany so much: You usually taste with the winemaker or a family member. All of them know what they are doing and are more than happy to share their thoughts, ideas, stories. I expect a winery’s tasting room to give me that experience: That once they recognize you care about wine, they are much more willing to share and go out of their way. I am with you on this, and glad I was groomed for this in Germany…

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    • I was chatting with the staff at another winery about the experience and he said something similar. I am not saying that I am all that knowledgeable about the wine making process, but I figure I know more than the average tasting room visitor and I was spitting everything. When I started asking about malolactic fermentation, more than one had no idea. I was not trying to intimidate by any means–just trying to talk about the wine and hopefully learn a bit.

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      • I think wineries should not be concerned with only catering to the knowledgeable. I think their staff should be able to recognize whether someone is there and really interested in it (whether they know a lot or not). That should trigger a “better” treatment. If people just come to jug I don’t blame the winery folks to not bother. But if you show keen interest, that it is a whole different story. So you should get that treatment because even if you claim to not know much, you are clearly interested!

        BTW, I will be trying to open a bottle of cava with the knife while up here in Alaska. Your video was way too enticing!

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      • While I guess I agree, should they not also be responsible for the neophyte and welcome them into the world of wine? If someone’s initial experience in wine is negative, are they going to return or run away screaming (and go back to beer)? In my opinion, the more wine drinkers there are the better–we all benefit!

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  2. wineismylife says:

    Well considering the current state of wine sales, the glut of wine in the pipeline, the number of retail wine stores filing Chapter 11 and the like I would say you’re not being unreasonable expecting all wineries to treat all of their customers well.

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    • I am with you. If you listen to Joe Roberts (1winedude) he asserts that the future of the wine business is personal relationships between wineries and consumers. Even though we (bloggers) might reach small audiences, we still can perhaps make a difference between squeaking by and profitability.

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  3. PSsquared says:

    I thought when that happened, it was because I’m a novice wine student. I didn’t realize it could happen to those who know their stuff. I hope you’ll also write about the places you liked in Woodinville.

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    • I think it happens on both ends of that spectrum. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, tasting room staffs are not always up to snuff on the products they are selling. It makes sense that they want to be the authority on the wine and when a neophyte comes in, they are élitist, and when someone with slightly above average experience comes in, they are threatened (?).

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      • PSsquared says:

        That sounds like a fair assessment. After a really awful experience, we went to another tasting room, and really liked the people. When we relayed our negative experience, the person pouring sympathized with us. I wonder if blogging and other social media won’t bring these issues to the forefront a little more quickly than has been the case in the past? It might force people to up their game, so to speak.

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      • So my question would be, if you had the choice to drink a bottle from the place where you had a negative experience and the place where you had the positive experience, which would you prefer? My guess (not just for you but for almost everyone) is that even if the ‘nice winery’ wine is a bit below the ‘mean winery’ wine on the quality scale (let’s say 87 vs. 89 or some other ‘measure’ of quality), you still might prefer drinking the ‘worse’ wine due to the memories it evokes, no?

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  4. Ezra says:

    You are certainly in no way being unreasonable. All customers/guests at the winery should be treated as I would argue any human beings should be treated, with respect. And then furthermore, when you’re providing a service for someone–and I think this goes anywhere from a bank teller to a bartender, to a wine taster–should be there to provide a positive experience for the person on the other side. Questions should be encouraged, not discouraged or scoffed at.

    Red carpet treatment is far from asking for simply a positive experience. Anyway, glad to hear you got out there and some really great experiences, can’t wait to hear more about them!

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    • Thanks for the comment! I am glad you responded because my only real experience about being on the ‘other side’ was when I managed a bike shop. I have heard so many stories about rude bike shop employees who do not give you the time of day unless you shave your legs or can cite gear ratios in your sleep. I always felt that it was our job to encourage cycling at every level–the old rising tide raises all boats argument. I think it is the same for wine. The more customers that make connections the better. Every body wins.

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  5. Stefano says:

    I think you did well to share your not-so-great experience at those wineries: I think if they are in a retail business they should know that customer care is key and that through the Internet word of mouth comments (positive or negative) travel fast and far.
    Also, best wishes for the New Year!

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    • Thanks and Happy New Year as well! I could not agree more–I think with the internet, the axiom of the ‘customer is always right’ has never been more true. I am not saying that my blog can move mountains, but a little snowball always has the potential to become an avalanche.

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  6. ncenvoyage says:

    Discordant note: I would make a sharp distinction between your humanity and your role as a journalist (for bloggers are very much replacing journalists for many readers).

    We all have feelings, and most of us would be put off by poor treatment. But.. the job of a winery is to produce a good product. Most of us will never see the winery or discuss the wine with anyone from the winery, and so their PR division is on no concern to us, and of only passing interest. I generally don’t drink a wine because I like the producer, but rather because I like the wine.

    The job of a journalist is to get answers from sometimes unwilling sources. If the wine is worth drinking, you take the beating, but give us the news. Comes with the territory (my Dad was a wine journalist, as you know, and he was not always well-received). I don’t want to seem unsympathetic, and I know that this is not your “day job.” But, for me, the interest of your posts is not increased when you tell me you were badly received at such-and-such a winery, unless you can make it relevant to the wine, or turn it into an entertaining piece of writing. Which you sometimes do!

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    • While I agree that above all else, the wine needs to be good. I also feel that there are more ‘good’ wines now than ever before and boutique wineries can’t afford to turn people off–when you make a few thousand cases, every sale would seem to matter. As you know, I never had the good fortune to meet your dad (I would have loved to meet him for many reasons, perhaps the least of which was his profession), but I would venture to guess that he would agree that the wine industry has changed drastically in the internet age and will only continue to evolve. As I mentioned in another response, there are many that feel that the ‘old’ theory of wine production: make great juice and they will buy it, is being slowly replaced as a result of the internet and social media. As I mentioned in the piece, I am not looking for a red carpet (as you know, that is not my style and would likely be even more put off by an obsequious host), but come on. At one of the wineries, I was tasting an older vintage and I informed the tasting room person that the wine was bretty. I also added that I tend to like a little bret, but she did not hear that–she was already busy telling me I was wrong (I wasn’t). As you know, I am one of the last people to make a big deal about a fault in a wine–I often find it just as interesting as a ‘proper’ bottle.

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  7. talkavino says:

    Jeff, you are absolutely right – wine is just a beverage, but winery is just a business. Not any different from any other business, some people are passionate about what they do, and some people are just drawing the paycheck. Some wineries are inundated with attention, so people there sometimes couldn’t care less – but again, as any other business, it will be different at the different places. From my personal experience, I’m quite happy with the service and conversations, I would say 8 or 9 out of 10 times, so I can’t complain. Also, I’m sure you don’t need my advice – but – call ahead. Try to get in touch with the social media folks or may be a winemaker before you will come to the winery, and there is a good chance you will receive proper attention once you are there…

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    • You are absolutely right as well Anatoli–a winery is a business and they have every right to conduct their business as they see fit. I also agree that I am well received over 90% of the time whether I ‘announce’ my ‘hobby’ or not. As I mentioned in the piece, most often, when I say I am a blogger it gets a positive response. What I should have mentioned in the piece is the reason I mention it at all is not for any special treatment, per se, but more for ‘special’ conversation–to let them know that I am really interested in wine, the wine making process, and even the business of wine (and I will likely ask a ton of questions).

      You are also correct that I should have contacted them first–absolutely correct and it is my fault for not having done so. Again, I am not looking for ‘special treatment, just for stories that will make both the wine more interesting and my blog a little more informative….

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  8. I agree with you indeed about some of the tasting rooms. My worst experience was at a very famous winery in Napa, which shall remain unnamed. I went in to try their flagship wine, as I had allotted myself enough on that trip to buy a case of this wine, that is not easy to get here. I left with one bottle, only because I had gone there. My Bride and I were so insulted by the arrogance of the winery, that I have still not opened the bottle.
    I do enjoy reading your works, and I am sure that some of the readers feel that all bloggers only spend about seven minutes writing and just assume that we like to pontificate.
    Keep up the good work, and enjoy the New Year.

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    • “I still have not opened the bottle.” That speaks volumes for me. Correct me if I am wrong, but your experience was so bad at this winery, that the memory prevents you from opening it since it will cause you to relive (at least to a small degree) your experience. And that is exactly my point here.

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      • I have been in customer service, my entire life. I was appalled, and I am sure that when I do open the bottle, the negativity associated with it, will lower the appreciation of it. I never wrote about visiting this winery and I may never write about the bottle of wine either, as I do detest being negative.

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  9. If I were a winemaker, I’d like to think I’d treat visitors as I try to treat a commenter to my post – he or she took the time to read it and type in a comment, so I need to take the time to acknowledge that effort. Obviously, it’s an even greater effort to visit the winery so I would think there should be more than just the simple acknowledgement. So I definitely don’t think you’re out of line with your expectations.

    Do you think your experiences have to do with the region? I think that Washington and Oregon are in the big leagues when it comes to wine regions. So I wonder if there’s a certain amount of elitism there. In the past few years I’ve been to wineries in less-premier regions – Traverse City (MI), Niagara, Williamsburg (VA). All of them were very pleasant and made strong efforts to make visitors feel welcomed and appreciated. With the MI and VA wineries though, I did find that their level of expertise didn’t match their enthusiasm. I think that definitely has to do with the regions not being in the same league – there aren’t as many people around those areas who are able and willing to make a career out of wine.

    Side note – that whole paragraph where you describe the time it takes you to write a post and what you’re hoping to get as a reaction is 100% my thoughts on mine. Thanks for putting in the time – you do great work.

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    • Your question about the region is a good one, I think it might play a role, but not quite sure in which direction. The most positive reaction I have received from the ‘Hi, I am a blogger’ line was at some of the more prestigious wineries in the Willamette. So I am not quite sure. And thanks for the note about the time we put into this madness–you can tell that your posts are well thought out and well put together!

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  10. I’ve had very similar experiences. Most times I visit a winery I don’t let them know I write a wine blog. During some of the tastings I’ve had comments from the staff pouring that I know more than the average visitor, at that point I may let them know I write a humble wine blog. My reasoning for not announcing myself is to find out how they treat the average joe. Unfortunately, some of my favorite wines have had the most unwelcoming staff.

    When I want to write an article about the wine, I will call in advance and make an appointment.
    Cheers!

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    • That sounds like a great approach, one that I will likely adopt–I always feel awkward saying ‘Hi, I am a blogger.’ Sounds a bit dopey….

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      • I’m totally with you on that, Jeff. It is usually Nina that touts it, and I still haven’t figured out to shut her up. I don;t go to the wineries because of my blog, I go because I care about the wines. And it should not matter whether I will write about it or not. Actually, wineries should be aware in this day and age that social media spreads experiences fast – both way. Probably even more negatively than positively. I cannot understand how they can hire staff that does not do their wines justice.

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  11. Pingback: Woodinville Notes | the drunken cyclist

  12. Pingback: Woodinville Notes–Day 2 | the drunken cyclist

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