Tasting at a Cellar Door
Many people travel and go exploring and make a point of visiting wine regions. Wine regions have beautiful scenery and usually a selection of good restaurants and wonderful places to stay. There are events such as concerts and opera in the vineyard, vineyard lunches, special auctions that raise money for charity, and so on.
Plan Your Trip, Make a Booking
If you are visiting wine regions, plan your trip. There are maps and brochures available – on-line and from tourist offices, guide books with maps, telephone numbers and guides to accommodation and restaurants in the regions. The interest in “wine tourism” as it is called, is recognised strongly by the wine industry and there are efforts in most states to promote it. In addition to generalised booklets and maps, there are specialised “wine route” brochures and cellar door guides available.
I recommend that you establish your own itinerary, with priorities for wineries you particularly want to visit. You can just turn up at many of the wineries, having checked their opening hours – the commercial wineries are open on most days of the year and particularly in the holiday season. If you have travelled some distance and you want to receive some attention, then it is a good idea to telephone or email and explain that. It helps, of course, to be able to say “I buy and enjoy your wines back at home and I now want to see your winery and learn about you”. Most wineries, under these circumstances, will be delighted and will probably suggest a time for you to call. Maybe you will not receive any special attention, but at least you might be told the time that the big bus tours are coming and therefore you can avoid that period. It is not necessary to be a wine expert – it is enough that you have heard of the wine label, you have enjoyed it, and now want to learn more.
In your trip planning, allow for meals. Be aware that it is tempting to taste at a winery in the morning and then go to a restaurant and settle in for a long lunch that then wipes out winery appointments that afternoon. If your itinerary has winery visits through the day then keep lunch to a snack and maintain your timetable, making the evening dinner the main meal for the day.
Particularly if you are in a larger group, then make a booking. Most wineries will be very pleased to look after you.
Appoint a designated driver, who also is responsible for punctuality of your appointments – it can be difficult to round up a group and get them back onto the bus. Many regions have tours where the driver is provided. In these cases inquire carefully about the wineries on their tour itinerary – you need to be happy that the tour operator will visit the places you wish to see and not the ones that they choose (because there is often a commercial link between the operator and the wineries selected).
Cellar Door Procedures
The staff at the winery cellar doors are outgoing and keen for you to gain a good impression. At a large winery they will be trained and knowledgeable. At a small winery it may be the owner and/or winemaker or assistant winemaker that spends time with you. These people are passionate about wine and they enjoy return enthusiasm from a guest.
The range of wine at each winery can be large and, unless you are an accomplished spitter, you just cannot try them all. There are large spitoons provided so you can try a bit of spitting if you wish – the knowledgeable wine drinkers do it. Perhaps try spitting out water in the bath first and become practised!
It is best to try a few wines that you are most interested in. Do a little research before you turn up. Know the defining types of wines for the area. For example the Hunter Valley is known for Semillon and Shiraz, Adelaide Hills for Chardonnay and Shiraz, Mornington Peninsula for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Stick to these. I strongly recommend that you try the suggestions of the staff. Simply say “Please give me a tasting that shows an overview of what you do best”. There might be some hidden gems from under the counter included in an order of tasting.
Don’t be shy to ask a question – the passionate cellar door staff can be a treasure trove of information.
Don’t be pretentious! If you don’t like a wine, quietly tip it out and move on to the next one.
Try sparkling whites first, then whites, then reds, then sparkling reds, then fortified wines. Drink plenty of water.