Going to a winery tasting room used to mean a day of relaxation while sipping a glass of wine, taking in the view, and maybe listening to acoustic music that complements the atmosphere. Wine tasting meant learning about the wines and where they came from with a little wine education thrown in for good measure. You were entertained by your “bartender” who actually knew about what you were tasting and imparted their wisdom with condescending humor. It was what sophisticated people did (or those who wanted to seem sophisticated), complete with “pinkie-in-the-air” and nose pointed at the ceiling.
Thankfully, many wineries have lowered their noses and dropped their pinkies, but have they gone too far the other direction?
Forget the traditional local bar. Wineries seem to be the new party scene. Buckets of wine and beer slushies, cocktails, table dancing, blaring music concerts complete with pre-concert tailgating, vineyard sex, stumbling drunks vomiting in the bushes, the same stumbling drunks peeing in the bushes, three and four deep at the tasting bar, drunks who can’t drive home so the winery owner drives them home to avoid any police attention, bachelorette parties that often culminate in tabletop dances, raucous bartenders who seem to be leading the circus clowns….I’ve seen it all. And there’s some I wish I had never seen. That naked image is like a flickering TV where the knob broke to shut it off.
Wineries have become more accessible and approachable for the everyday wine drinker, which is a great thing. Too many people were being left out in the cold with the snobbish airs of wine. The wine world used to be a tough nut to crack. Don’t get me wrong. You’ll still find those pockets of haughtiness, especially when the price point goes up, but it’s not quite as common as it used to be. Wine should be approachable. It shouldn’t make a person run screaming the other way or forcing them to buy cheap plonk (bad wine) because they’re too ashamed to ask for advice. But there’s approachable and then there are doors thrown wide open, the key was lost, and House Party reigns.
I get it. Everybody wants a piece of the money pie. Growing a vineyard and making wine – quality wine – is damn hard work and expensive. You need to sell it, as any good winery should. However, with good wine and more approachable demeanors, wine regions are becoming more popular as destination events. The problem is wineries are now struggling to handle crowds who are looking more for a good time than a good wine, who are interested in quaffing quickly whatever is open without regard to vintage or fermentation. The consumers have no idea what they’re drinking and they don’t care.
I blame some of this consumer attitude on the wine festivals that are popping up everywhere. Wine festivals are free-for-alls. You pay a one-time ticket fee, get a free glass and unlimited wine samples. The gates open at noon, thousands of people down wine shots, and by 1:00 PM everyone’s plastered. Yet the event goes on until 6:00 PM which means fall-down drunk at that point. These festivals are touted as “drink fests.” It seems the wineries are inadvertently, or maybe overtly for some, bringing these festivals home to their tasting rooms.
Wine tasting and visiting wineries should be enjoyable and accessible to those who are new to the wine world. After all, the point is to create a memorable experience for the customer to encourage them to buy their wine. But wineries need to ask themselves, “How far is too far?”
When I was working as a Tasting Room Manager at a winery, we had a television with cable to play one of the music channels for atmosphere. It was a very busy Saturday with a crowded tasting bar. A male customer asked if I could change the channel to the current football game so he could watch it while he guzzled wine. I apologized and said, “No, the TV is just for music.” He got very angry and loud with me. He couldn’t understand why I would have a TV if I wouldn’t put the football game on so he could lounge with a bottle of wine and watch his team.
I said, “Sir, this is a winery, not a bar.”