Winery Tasting Room Wish List Essentials

For many small wineries, the tasting room is their public face to the world.  The winery tasting room is their primary means to entice and engage customers – a true, full-on marketing opportunity. The experience of tasting the wine can leave a longer impact on our memory and our pocketbook than the nose of a wine, no matter how enticing.

Wine Club Tasting Room at Alexandria Nicole

Lately, there have been a number of conversations about tasting room experiences and how they impact the prestige and perception of a winery. In early November, Eric Hwang wrote about  5 Easy ways to improve the tasting room experience .  Weeks later John, of Wine Peeps, compared and contrasted exquisite and dismal tasting experiences.

Bean participated in the conversations that those blog posts inspired, and our small group started talking about our own tasting room experiences and how much they influence our connection with and passion for a winery. With so many new wineries in Washington, we wanted to keep this conversation going. It is going to be more difficult for Washington wineries to stand out from the crowd, but creating a great tasting room experience is one way to do so. In Margot  Savell’s Write for Wine post on wineries that she especially enjoyed in 2009 and looked forward to enjoying in 2010, she talks about tasting room experiences as much as the wine. Tasting rooms really do make a difference!

I have had some fantastic wine tasting experiences and some really terrible ones. They both stand out in my memory and my conversations with other wine lovers. I sat down and spent some time thinking about what I think are essential to a winery tasting room and created this short series on winery tasting rooms.

Louie Waggoner in the Icicle Ridge Winery

The Tasting Room – Essentials

  1. Detailed tasting notes that I can take with me in order to remember what I sampled and the myriad details that went into the winemaking, what it costs, and have something onto which I can record my own evaluation.
  2. Please, please, please have crackers so that I can cleanse my palate, especially when I’m tasting red wine!
  3. Water.
  4. Friendly, knowledgeable pourers.
  5. A dump bucket within easy reach.
  6. Seating. I really like to be comfortable and take my time when tasting.
  7. Appropriate (and need I say a sufficient amount) of glassware.
  8. Sufficient space to accommodate any special events that you want to host. If you don’t have the room to host a party, just don’t do it. Doing so will prevent repeat visits from those who didn’t enjoy feeling like a sardine, while all their wine drinking friends will hear about it. If you want to serve the masses, consider participating in a larger event hosted by a third party. Speaking of which, wouldn’t it be nice if the Woodinville Chamber would continue to host the Washington Wine Highway to offer such an opportunity?

What is on your list? What do you think is essential to a great tasting room experience? I really hope that wineries will join us in this conversation as well as wine consumers. I am curious to hear from wineries in terms of what they think is essential in their own tasting rooms.

12 Responses to “Winery Tasting Room Wish List Essentials”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bean Fairbanks, Wine Beer Washington. Wine Beer Washington said: Winery Tasting Room Wish List Essentials | Washington State Beer and Wine by @nancyfeasts […]

  2. Bean says:

    I really like your list Nancy. You have pointed out some really important aspects. When I am going out for a long day of tasting, Ed and I pack a small cooler so we can bring our own water, cheese and crackers. It makes a huge difference in keeping our palate fresh and our head clear.

    If you do much wine tasting and actually want to be able to taste the wine all day, you learn to get really good at dumping and spitting. Very few winery tasting rooms make it easy to discretely spit. Even dumping the rest of my glass contents after evaluating the wine can be challenging. No one wants to have juggle through a crowd at a wine bar to get to the only dump bucket.

    Lack of seating in wineries was one of the reasons that I finally broke down and bought my walker with the seat. Most places I can get by with my cane, but at wineries, we have to drag out the walker. Standing and falling on cement floors can really ruin a good time. Not everyone has physical limitations that prohibit standing but it convey a totally different message when you are offered to grab a seat while you taste so you can sip and savor the wine. Do you want me to stay and really taste your wine or do you want me to hurry up guzzle my glass so I can clear away from the tasting bar for the next group?

    • Nancy says:

      Great points, Bean. When we plan on going tasting, we also pack a cooler. However, sometimes we find a place to stop at unexpectedly. I have such a hard time tasting multiple reds when there aren’t any crackers or water to be found to help me cleanse my palate.

      You’re right, being offered a seat does send a different message. That’s why, disability or not, I think everyone should be offered a seat. It’s an act of hospitality.

      • Bean says:

        Very true Nancy, especially when tasting tannic reds. I like tannins and I love wines made to pair with food. It is hard to fully appreciate those wines in a tasting room, one after another, without something to clean and refresh the palate. We bring our mini-cooler and store it in the walker basket so we can do just that.
        For me, it is all about showcasing the wines so I can appreciate them fully and as close as the winery intended the wines to be enjoyed.

  3. Chris says:

    Nice list, Nancy!

    Bean alluded to it, but one I’d like to add is access. Not everyone needs to comply with ADA requirements, but parking within reasonable walking distance and easy to negotiate paths, ramps, or one or two stairs, make the experience much better for us.

    The opposite of this (which I recently expereinced) is second floor tasting rooms up rotting wooden steps. For a big guy with bad knees (me), those were a lawsuit waiting it happen.

  4. Chris says:

    While I’m here, I’ll go ahead and add another essential.


    The room and bar need to be clean and neat and not a moldy, dusty place where you can feel the bacteria growing on the walls and in your wine glass.

    This may seem like it doesn’t need to be stated, but unfortunately we’ve been to places we’ll never return for this reason.

    • Nancy says:

      Great comments, Chris. The access issue and reasonable walking distance are indeed important. You’re right, it does seem like some of these things thing shouldn’t have to be stated, but clearly they do!

  5. Very practical comments and I’m pleased to see we meet the bar by having most of these needs covered in our tasting room. Seating would be a nice plus that we’re planning to add this year. Amazingly there is very little mention of high end furniture, expensive artwork or many gift shop items. Creating your own unique tasting room space is part of the identity you want to create so people will remember the winery as much as the wines.

    • Nancy says:

      Thanks for joining in the conversation, Leslie! Yes, we really don’t require much. We just want a place to comfortably enjoy a tasting experience. With our basic needs met, we’re most likely to remember the wines and the people who made us feel at home.

  6. Sarah Timbrook-Nugent says:

    For me, staff who actually know wine tops all of these other issues. I can get past size, cleanliness, and the like, but I get very frustrated when wineries hire cheap labor that pours but does not have anything substantive to share about the wines.

  7. Nancy says:

    Thanks for contributing, Sarah. I agree that some places really short change themselves by not investing more into their staff who represent the winery – whether it means paying better or offering ongoing training, etc.

  8. Nancy – Good list of essentials. Nothing annoys me more than having a tiny tasting glass that does not allow me to swirl without making a mess.

    • Nancy says:

      You’re right, Shannon, small glasses are dissapointing and definitely take the experience down a notch. Restaurants should take note of this, too!

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