Sunday, 31 May 2009

Better Wine Tasting: The Winery Advisor Tasting Room Personality Profile

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.