This is why wine country can no longer stay static. For far too long it has been a hum-drum, belly up to the bar or sit down with a dash of cheese while someone droned on about how the flavors mingled perfectly together.
Long story short, many tasting rooms and experiences are boring. How do I know? I know because when I ask people where else they have tasted on their trip to Napa and/or Sonoma they regularly don’t remember all, much less a couple, of the places they have been. Luckily enough this isn’t always the case but it rears its ugly head far too often. I also know because there is a reason I don’t go wine tasting regularly outside of my usual R&D: it’s boring. Too many places rely solely on the wine or its ratings to speak for itself. Now don’t get me wrong, you definitely want to have some good wine to taste or else the experience could be a bust no matter how much fun your host was. That said most places between Napa and Sonoma (and countless other wine regions) make at least one wine that is pretty damn good. Bad wine is hard to find in this area but bad experiences are fairly common.
Gone are the days where people flocked to Napa just for the wine. People come to wine country because they want an experience. Nay, many experiences with which to fill an entire rack. People visit because they want to create a memory regardless of whether or not it is just a vacation, honeymoon, a day out of San Francisco in between business meetings etc etc. In fact that is probably how it has always been but we as an industry were flying by the seat of our pants and we grew. Many tasting rooms and wineries have wised up to this which is a good thing but there are still plenty that don’t put a focus on receiving guests, being personable and extending hospitality. When someone comes in for a tasting with me I want them to feel comfortable, like a home away from home, like they want to come back the next day or the day after even though they are only in the area for a few days; and that is what they do because we focus on the experience.
Creating a great experience can be intricate or simple in nature. In its simplest form it could be a great tasting host. In its most complicated form it could be a full on event with a tour, wine and food pairings so on and so forth. Whatever the case is you can have a great experience or a miserable one. Like winemaking there are a ton of little levers and knobs that can be flipped or turned to make sure that a guest has a great experience. It could be opening that one wine that isn’t on the tasting flight but its the one they really want to try. It could be tossing in a complimentary bite or food pairing, maybe a great lunch or dinner recommendation. Maybe talking about how the upcoming NFL season is looking and comparing the teams you root for or simply remembering the names of the people you are hosting.
From wine novices to wine geeks you have to be able to adapt. A week ago I hosted a master of wine who didn’t want me to know that he had a bit of wine knowledge laying about (it just so happened the friend he was with outed him). Just based on the questions he was asking I knew he wasn’t new to wine. The questions were very to the point and very specific and tackled everything from production, vineyard management and terroir. Earlier that day we had some folks who knew what wine they liked but that was about it. They asked basic questions like, “Is Zinfandel the type of grape or how it was made?” In both cases they left with smiles on their faces and wine in hand. I hope it was because they really enjoyed themselves, and the wine, not because they were just trying to be nice. This is a hospitality industry and you are going to get each end of the spectrum along with everything in between. It is my (our) job to make sure that we cater to that part of the spectrum and make you feel welcome no matter where you fall in terms of wine knowledge, experience or preference.
I guess what I am trying to say is that the wine world in the good ole US of A is learning and progressing, especially in the premium areas that have been snobby at times. We are learning that wine is a part of everyday life; that as serious as we can be about wine it is ok to not take it seriously at times.
For you wine geeks reading this who feel like you know more than someone else just remember that there is some industry professional out there who will make you feel foolish. If you are new to wine remember that all that matters is what you like and that you have a good time, plain and simple.