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Winery Etiquette 101

Ah, that wine country freedom. You're outside, surrounded by nature, far from your usual day-to-day. Peace and quiet and a glass of rose'. Until that guy plunks himself down next to you, grabs a Bud from the cooler, and waves his kids in the direction of the vineyard. "Go play! Take the dog."

Don't be that guy.  

Wineries have changed since COVID. The nearly-universal model of wandering into any winery and standing (or waiting in line) at the tasting counter while staff pours tiny samples from a large list has turned into a menu of options that may include required reservations or smaller flights with bigger pours, delivered to your table and hosted by a staff wine educator, or accompanied by a simple sheet of tasting notes.

But the (mostly obvious) list of do's and don'ts hasn't changed.

Kids: Keep them with you at all times. Wineries are full of kid-hurting stuff: yummy-looking grapes with yucky chemical spray; farm animals that bite; equipment that bites; snakes that get it. It's bitey out there. Some wineries don't accept kids of any age or size, so check in advance.

Dogs: Most wineries love dogs. But some have dogs of their own who don't tolerate pretenders to the throne. Make sure yours are welcome before you go. Keep them leashed at your side. Clean up after them.

Outside alcohol. Would you bring a bottle of Freixenet to Hardywood Park? Huge no-go. It’s illegal. Beer, liquor, anyone else's wine. And they've seen it all; stashing booze in a cooler gets you booted. 

Dump bucket (aka spit bucket, spittoon). If you'd rather not finish your pour, you can dump it into one of the buckets most wineries keep on the bar. Spitting your wine into said bucket is technically fine, too, though you (and the person next to you) might be more comfortable if you bring along a Solo cup. 

Group reservations: Some wineries are so vast and so green that you'd be forgiven for thinking they're public parks awaiting your volleyball net and big green egg. Alas, not so. The number of guests allowed per unreserved group varies by winery, but six is generally the limit (including kids of any size; not including dogs). Luckily, many (if not most) wineries are happy to let larger groups visit, with an advance reservation and often a fee.

Tasting glasses: Gone are the days when glasses are included in the tasting fee, but many customers don't seem to have noticed, according to wineries. Before you slip that glass in your bag, ask.

Food: Many wineries don’t allow food in the tasting room, unless you purchase it there. Fun food tip: Never eat at the tasting bar.

I'm important. “I’m personal friends with the owner, so I’m entitled to ….”: Wineries say this happens all the time. Just be sure you’re not talking to the owner if you try this; they may be the ones pouring your wine.  

Perfume: Nothing says newbie like wearing perfume or cologne in a tasting room.

Tipping: Yes, tipping has found its way into tasting rooms. But so, too, have more customer-focused services, like table service and education flights, which merit tipping. There's no standard amount (a Napa Valley tourist guide suggests $10-$20 per couple) but just as in a restaurant, consider the effort of the person who helped you when deciding. A $5 tip on a $20 tasting fee is much appreciated. There's no expectation that you'll tip on the price of bottles you buy to take home. 

Finally, be kind: Show a little wine love. Winemaking is hard, especially in Virginia, and some years (and wines) are just better than others. Also, just because you don't like it doesn't (usually) mean it's technically flawed. If you don’t care for the wine you're sampling, it's completely fine to tell the staff that it's not your favorite. Just be nice.  

Don't steal. Glasses aren't the only things that walk from wineries. The bad behavior could fill volumes (and sell millions!). Just remember: wineries are your friends and toilet paper belongs in the bathroom. And while we're at it, vineyards are not for trysts, winery dogs should not eat charcuterie (no matter how much they beg), and just because you dropped $100 on wine doesn't mean you now own Breaux Vineyards' corn hole board.


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