Charlotte Chipperfield is an experienced sommelier with more than 10 years of experience in the wine industry and is the founder of The Wine Key, a San Francisco-based business focused on consumer wine education and brand consulting. Charlotte is also busy working full time in wine marketing, as well as pouring part time for Chateau Montelena winery. Charlotte volunteers as the marketing and social media director for the Bay Area Wine Enthusiasts, and serves as the membership director for Women for Wine Sense in San Francisco. Basically, if the wine is flowing, Charlotte is no more than a straw’s length away. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.
The romance and allure of the wine industry is often what draws wine drinkers to plan weekend trips to Wine Country and sip the days away in tasting rooms. I’ve spent a significant amount of my working professional life in winery tasting rooms, which has allowed me to geek out on soil types, rootstocks, average rainfall, and clones, and has also led to many laughs (nothing compares with experiencing Pat Sajak’s cheesy jokes firsthand). I also love watching a guest experience his first aha moment, when he connects the dots between the vineyard and what’s in the glass by tasting specific characteristics of a grape for the first time.
These moments are all among the highs, but unfortunately it isn’t always as elegant and dreamy as you might imagine. These exhilarating experiences are often interspersed with desolate moments that have made me unsure about the human race.
Having experienced a guest spit gum into my hand so they can better taste the wine is, unfortunately, not the most repulsive experience I’ve had. Tracking down guests who have disappeared to the tank room to “ferment” their love, if you will, was rather distasteful but so was serving as a backsplash for a guest insistent on knowing if the spit buckets were from Ikea by flipping the mélange of wine and saliva upside down. True stories. And then there is always that guy who likes to tell me the history of the wine industry because he saw the movie Sideways.
The allure of the wine industry may seem to stretch a little further than my liking but then that’s just it—the real story being told is how wine brings people together from all walks of life. So as much as these stories may have you questioning why anyone would ever work at a winery, the passion lies with connecting people with a product that has the ability to be the center of celebrations and many stories to come. That is a powerful romance you don’t fight, but embrace.
So unless you want to become a gum-chewing, cracker-spewing, flipping-the-dump-bucket drunk, I’d like to share my 10 tips for making your day of wine tasting the best it can be for all involved.
- No gum, perfume, or cologne. Wine goes great with food but doesn’t make a great pairing for gum, perfume, and/or cologne, which can easily dominate the flavors and aromas in wine and affect the tasters around you.
- Use dump buckets. It really doesn’t matter if they are from Ikea or not, I recommend making use of these. Life is too short to drink bad wine—spit out the wine if you don’t like it or if you’re feel a little tipsy. Using dump buckets can slow the pace down while you still get all the flavor.
- Learn: ask questions of your tasting room associate. If you don’t understand something, ask for further explanations. If the associate is anything like me, she will be more than happy to impart all her wine knowledge.
- Come prepared with water and snacks. The majority of wineries do not provide food or allow for picnics on their property, so bring food to fend off the munchies.
- Plan for a lunch stop along your wine route. See no. 4.
- Make appointments ahead of time. This is a great way to get a private tasting and personalized attention from trained wine professionals.
- Pick one geographic location and stay there. Don’t try to cover multiple regions or appellations in one day. Select a few wineries that are close to one another.
- Hire a car or plan for a driver. Drinking and driving will get you sent straight to the slammer, a hefty fine, and the loss of your driver’s license. Just don’t do it. Be smart, plan ahead.
- Know and accept that you can’t do it all. Plan to visit three or four wineries in a day. You can expect to taste, on average, about five wines at each winery. If you’re not making use of the dump buckets, the amount of wine you will drink can add up fast.
- Have beer on hand at home. Nothing is more refreshing at the end of a long day of wine tasting than an ice-cold beer.
With these tips in mind, wine tasting is more than just an excuse to day drink. It’s a lot like trying on shoes: you get to try on something new, and decide if you love or hate it. I just ask that you don’t leave basic etiquette at the door. But please, by all means, feel free to snap a selfie in the vineyards on the way out.