Wine Tasting & Touring Etiquette: The Diary Of A Tour Guide

wine tasting, wine tasting etiquette, wine tour tips

Do’s, Don’ts, Tips, and etiquette for visiting a Winery from an insider.

Visiting a Winery is a great way to spend either an afternoon, evening or in some instances several days, as some of us plan entire trips to celebrated “Wine Countries” of the world. 

Wine is an art and a science, and there is plenty to learn and enjoy. Wineries and wine tasting rooms are not merely bars, taverns, or pubs that we “belly up” to all day while we drink as much as we can. Wineries are places we visit to have experiences, learn, and ultimately come to a better appreciation of our favorite beverage.

As a guide of Tastings and Tours, I want to share with you some tips, tricks, and insight to maximize your experiences while visiting a winery.

First Tip: Take a couple of minutes and do some research on the internet prior to visiting a Winery where you’ll find ratings, wine choices, pricing, food options, and tour information.

What time does the winery open and close?

If you can, get there earlier in the day. If you are visiting multiple wineries in one day, this might not be possible. However, the particular winery that is your favorite or one that interests you, try to schedule that winery first or earlier in the day. As a guide, whether its tastings or tours, I am fresher earlier in the day and my first tour or guided tasting is always best earlier in the day.

As you can imagine, as the day carries out we encounter hundreds of people with hundreds of questions and yes as the day goes on the visitors get more rambunctious, inebriated, and sometimes outright rude.

So, visit the winery in which you want to experience, learn, and have minimal interruptions first, you will have a better more focused tour and tasting then later in the day or evening.  

Tip: Save the winery with the jazz band on the patio for later in the day.

Check the websites to see what is offered for Tastings and Tours.

Tips for wine tasting and tours
Man tasting a glass of red wine and using apps on his smartphone, wine culture and technology concept

All wineries are different, some don’t offer tours, or they are at scheduled times and require reservations. The Winery where I was a tour guide all three applied. That is, during specific times of the week we didn’t offer tours, and inevitably customers would come in and ask for a tour.

Sometimes, if I’m not busy on other tasks or if the winemakers or cellar persons weren’t occupied I would oblige, but most times I would have to refuse an impromptu winery tour. 

Find out if you need a reservation

We also required reservations for our weekend tours, especially if it is the busy season (June-Oct.)  Please be on time!!!!  There is nothing worse than a group joining a tour 5 or 10 minutes late. It’s disruptive for the tour guide and the visitors.

Are there tours at the winery?

Some wineries don’t offer tours at all, ever! This is not uncommon. Sometimes the winery doesn’t have a good setting for tours, or it’s unsafe, or the winemaker is temperamental, or there isn’t adequate staff. So, if you are looking to experience the winemaking process or tour at a particular establishment, please inquire with the winery ahead of time.

Wine tour photos

If they don’t offer tours at all, or at a specific time and you might be in the area visiting, write them a friendly email and ask if they wouldn’t mind showing you the winery. In many instances, I have people email through the website saying they are fans, love our wine, and would be in the area at such and such time and could they have a private tour?

If we aren’t surprised, we have confirmation, you are a super fan, and we have time on that given day and time, sometimes we will agree to a private tour!

Give advance notice for big parties

If you are planning a bachelor party, bachelorette party, or a group of more than ten people, always, always, always inquire with the winery about large groups. I cringe when I see a bus or limo of a wild crew pull up at a winery without prior arrangements.

wine tasting photos

Wineries are very popular places to visit, and most are accommodating in helping to celebrate your occasion; however, some of our visitors are looking for different experiences than that of a bachelorette party, ie quiet, relaxed, peaceful.

Please let the staff know ahead of time, and they’ll adapt your experience to coincide with your event. Some wineries even will have a group rate. Furthermore, I’ve talked to some owners that refuse bachelorette parties altogether. 

Getting to the vineyard

Do find safe transportation! Public transportation, designated driver, splurge on private car,  please do not drink and drive, we don’t want you to get hurt, hurt others, or get into trouble with the law. 

Tip: There are even some car services just for wine tasting, like Wine Tour Drivers. Check your area to see if a service is available. 

Do wine tastings and tours charge?

Wineries vary dramatically from place to place, in terms of prices and experiences. Some wineries charge for tastings, some don’t, some will waive the tasting fee with the purchase of wines from the store, some tours come with a hefty price tag, while others are complimentary.

Most of these factors depend on the size and popularity of a particular winery. Do visit a variety of wineries, the experiences are all unique, but you’ll take away memories from each!

Check Social Media Sites too!

Smaller wineries are short on tasting spaces; therefore often the entire winery can be booked out for an event such as a wedding and can close to the public for a whole day or even weekend.  

Tip: Do an extra check on a Winery’s Facebook page or Instagram for the latest information, as the website isn’t always up to date!

Tastings

Again, do your research and check with the websites. I worked at a winery where we offered flights, wine by the glass, and guided tastings. My suggestion is to try a flight if it’s offered, it’s the best way to sample wine and maybe the large spectrum of offerings at a winery.

The best thing about visiting a winery is that it’s our time to showcase the wine and the winery. Therefore, we put our best foot forward, and we serve our best wine, and the service in all aspects should be flawless. The ultimate goal is to make everyone in that winery a customer for life! 

We put out our best reds, whites, sparkling, sweet, dry, whatever your taste is we’ll try our best to get at least one that suits you!

Should I have a private tasting?

I’m not recommending a private guided tasting, it’s not worth the money and can be very time-consuming. Most of the staff tending the wine bar are just as versed in the particular wines as the wine guide and sommelier only without the fancy title. Hang out in the main tasting bar and ask questions!

Leave the lipstick & cologne at home

wine tasting tips

Please don’t wear lipstick, if you are serious about tasting and you don’t want to look like a novice, please, just don’t. Lipstick ruins the taste of the wine and obviously marks the glasses, and at a busy winery, this is an extreme nuisance. Beware, some wineries will ask you to wipe it off!

Same goes for perfume and cologne, please don’t drown yourself in your favorite smelling nectar. Again, it can ruin the smell, thus the taste of the wine, and in some instances, the winemaker won’t allow it on tours and in the winemaking area.  

To spit or swallow, that is is the question…

There are many theories on spitting vs. swallowing the wine; it’s really just a preference on how you think is the best way in which to “taste” wine.  

It’s not a bar, don’t get sloshed

I don’t care, and most of the winery staff don’t care either if you spit or swallow the wine tastings!  We don’t condone, however, getting sloshed.  We aren’t babysitters and prefer not to cut visitors off.

If visitors around you or in your group decide to use a spit bucket, please no comments or jokes, from my experience, most people that choose to use a spit bucket are serious tasters, and they’ve heard the jokes already and can deal without the ridicule.  

Don’t forget to eat; it’s part of the experience

Wine and food go together.  If it’s snacks, cheese, crackers, or bread, it cleanses your palate reduces alcohol absorption and can make the wine taste better if paired correctly.  If need be, bring your own!

Be adventurous with your tastings

Get out of your comfort zone! You are at a winery and have the opportunity to try a variety of wine. Explore new tastes, it’s okay if you don’t like something new, we appreciate when you try different wines!

Give feedback to the staff

Tell us what you think! We don’t get offended, everyone’s pallet is different. If you don’t like a wine, say, “It’s not a taste for me”. It’s not what you say for feedback but how you say it, and if you tell us we can help you pick out something that suits you. 

Tip: We usually have reserves, special small batches, winemaker’s limited edition, etc. on hand and not on the tasting menu. You can ask, but be kind, discreet, and expect to have some added pressure to buy. If we say “no” respect the answer and don’t haggle, hassle, or bargain.

Taking a Tour of the Winery

Excellent tour guides will correlate wines being tasted at the tasting bar to the tour, perhaps discussing aging wine on stainless vs. oak. This is why I like people not to have tasted wines prior to a tour; we can help guide you on wines that you might want to sample at the tasting bar after you have toured the winery.  

Just as the tour begins, I engage the audience with a question to break the ice, let the visitors know that this tour is light and somewhat interactive.

I usually ask, “Has anyone toured a winery before”? “Which ones”? By the responses, I can judge some of the experience level and how I need to conduct the tour. Answer and be honest, it will help the guide narrate the visit to your experience level.

Wine & walk?

Some wineries allow for the wine to be brought into the winery or on the tour. For me, it becomes disruptive and a nuisance. However, If you are allowed to bring in wine, please hold on to the glass, literally.

Don’t drop it and don’t leave it somewhere tucked in a corner or on a barrel, glasses break. It’s not about the glass it’s about the time it takes to clean up and to do so properly.

Be respectful

Don’t talk unless engaged by the guide or if you have a question, gently raise your hand. In fact, as guides, we like questions it keeps the tour light, and it makes us feel like visitors are paying attention, are engaged and interested. If there is no interaction, a tour guide might move the tour quicker and not cover all the topics.

Some tours, if I find it challenging to engage the audience, I ask a couple of questions like, *“Can anyone guess how many bottles of wine comes from a barrel”?

I’ll reward the correct answer with a complimentary tasting, this keeps the visitors in tune and involved, hoping for the next chance to earn a complimentary tasting!

Don’t be a ‘know it all.’

As I mentioned in the beginning, wine is art too. There are many styles and techniques in winemaking; in most instances, there is no absolute “right” or “wrong.” 

The last thing a guide needs is to be challenged on the winery’s particular technique and style. Nobody on the tour likes a “know it all,” the other visitors or the guide included.

It’s okay to be a beginner

We love all levels of expertise if you are a novice we enjoy helping you grow your knowledge!  We were all there at some point! If you are an expert, let’s “talk shop” when the tour is finished!

I (don’t) love Lucy

Please, Please, Please, when we show you the crusher or a fermentation tub, or really at any time of the tour don’t reference Lucille Ball and the I Love Lucy episode where they crush grapes with their feet. We have heard it hundreds if not thousands of times (There, I said it).

No pictures unless you ask

Please don’t take photos while we are conducting the tour, especially while we are speaking. It can be really disruptive to the guide and the other visitors.

Every winery will have its own policy regarding pictures; some won’t allow any pictures only in certain designated areas. My suggestion is to wait until the end of the tour and ask the guide for permission.

Most wineries are happy to have visitors take pictures, especially when they can end up on Instagram or Facebook; it’s great exposure and gives some transparency to the winery.

We, as guides, take thousands of pictures each year, sometimes visitors ask us to be in the photo too! As I mentioned, just ask! Most of us are happy to take pictures!

Should I tip the tour guide?

As an employee and a guide for a winery, most of us are living our best lives. We are working right where we want to be; I do this job because I love it. I have been offered tips before and refused. If you appreciate the tour and information, I always welcome compliments, handshakes, and “thanks.”

Lastly

Please buy some wine; this is how the winery survives!  If we have done our job right and well, this should be easy.

After all, you are a wine enthusiast, and you are visiting because you like wine, so take some home! If you are traveling, it isn’t always that easy. Do figure out and research your individual state laws if you need to ship wine, it can be quite disappointing if your wine is returned or refused for delivery.

Find out where your favorite wine is sold

If you like our wines and can’t take it with you to find out how and where you can purchase it.  We could be in a store near you or have a wine club. Nowadays, wine clubs can be very reasonable and efficient, and most wineries offer a monthly, quarterly, or annual shipment.

Tip: Please don’t join every wine club at every winery you visit!  

There are wineries everywhere, visit them

Black Star Farms Winery. Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

No matter which state you live in, California, Washington, North Carolina, New Hampshire, you have a winery in your state, do visit them!

Just because you don’t live in or near “Wine Country” this doesn’t mean you don’t have a good winery near you with very skilled winemakers and staff! 

Visiting a Winery and a Tasting Room is a great experience. You can’t get experiences from Amazon; you have to go out and see, smell, and taste for yourself!

Having proper wine tasting and touring etiquette will ensure everyone has a great time, so sip on!

Hint: 300 bottles of wine in a 60-gallon barrel, it just might earn you a complimentary tasting! You’re Welcome!

Have your own wine tasting tips? Leave them in the comments below…


Written by guest contributor Brendan MacDermott

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