Or…. I want to go see for myself.
When planning a wine trip, no matter what area of the state, the country, or the world you plan to visit – I highly recommend doing your research first. There are wineries in every state, including our fair state of Ohio. What I’ll share is my experiences going to small production wineries on the east coast. Wineries in California can be a different animal, due to the popularity of CA wine country. Regardless, do your research, make sure you know what you are going to visit. It will save heartburn, an offended palate and sympathy buys.
One of the things that you will come across in wineries from the “Other 46” is wine made from grapes that are not grown anywhere near your winery. Wineries have a few choices when they start making wines. They can grow their grapes, buy their grapes from local vineyards or buy grapes or juice from anywhere in the world. It really depends on the philosophy of the winemaker or owner.
I’m not at all saying wines made from juice from Australia but crafted at a winery in Ohio are bad wines, but I prefer to taste local wines because they are grown and made in the area I’m visiting. The philosophy of “drinking local” is rooted in the concept of “terroir” (terr-wor), loosely translated as “a sense of place”. A wine made from non-local juice might give a taster a sense of the winemaker’s skill, but many winemakers will tell you that wine is made in the vineyard; that it has much to do with what happens to the vines; and on a secondary level with what the winemaker does as he is crafting it.
When you are looking at wineries, pay attention to the types of wine you like to drink. If you are up for an adventure, you will find fruit wines, sweet wines, vitas labrusca, and vitis vinifera in any combination. If you have a particular palate, you will want to choose wineries that make the styles of wines you like. But I’ll tell you, I have been pleasantly surprised by wines I didn’t think I’d like simply because I go into a winery willing to try whatever wines they offer. Its worth it to try at least one or two unfamiliar styles, particularly in Ohio, where tasting wines can be a very inexpensive proposition.
On the costs of wine tastings. Ohio does something that many other states don’t do. They charge for each individual taste, and do so at about the rate of $.25 or $.50 per taste. Some wineries do a full tasting or featured tasting charge for anywhere from $4 to $12 for the tasting.Most other states I have visited do their tasting as a set number of pours for a set price. A reasonable amount is about $6 for 6-10 wines. If a winery in this region is charging more than this amount, for my money, they had better have incredible, well known, award winning wines.
Now you’re in….
Once you are there, its a matter of tasting the wines. As an experienced taster, or a taster who wants to know more about wine, I encourage you to ask questions. Winery owners and winemakers, like anyone else, love to talk about themselves and their wines. Here is a short list of questions I always ask at wineries, or to the winemaker, if he or she is available.
When was the winery started?
A very young winery most likely won’t be making wines from their own grapes. It takes 3 years for vines to produce viable grapes for harvest, so they could be buying grapes, juice, or even wine! It has become a more consistent practice, however, to wait to open tasting rooms until planted vines are producing – again, a little research should tell you if this is an experienced winery and winemaker – or one just starting out.
What is the case production for the winery?
I ask this to get a sense of the volume of wine they produce. Smaller boutique wineries can have a different feel, or philosophy, from larger wineries.
Which of your wines do you consider your “pride and joy”?
Every winemaker has at least one that he or she has puts their heart and soul into.
What wine do you drink if you aren’t drinking your own wine?
I am always looking for new good wines to try – who better to ask than a winemaker?
What new releases are coming?
A sense of the future of the winery! Always fun.
Ok, its in my glass, now what?
Well trained tasting room staff will give you information about each wine you taste, telling you what varietals are in it, the vintage, if it was aged in oak or in stainless steel. If the tasting room associate doesn’t provide the information, feel free to ask! Not every winery I encounter is great about customer service, but when they are, WOW… you may walk away with much more information than you ever thought you’d want.
When tasting a number of wines, always drink whites before reds, dry before sweet, and old before young. This system allows your palate to adjust according to the qualities of each wine.
These are the basic questions to ask:
What is the varietal?
What is the vintage?
Is this estate wine?
What oak do you use for aging this wine? (if appropriate)
If you are driving and want to stay sober, but still taste wine, consider spitting. While you may feel weird about it at first,this is an accepted practice among tasters. I carry a opaque travel cup in my car for this purpose, but many wineries will provide dump buckets – they are perfectly fine for spitting. Also, do not feel obligated to finish a large tasting pour. Dump the wine if you do not like it or do not want to finish it. This is also an accepted practice.
And then we have the purchase. You will be charged for tasting in most locations, so please purchase a bottle only if you’d really like to take one home, but ignore that nagging feeling if there’s nothing that you really like. Many who travel the wine trails have purchased the sympathy bottle, and then struggled to remember why. Its okay to offer a polite thank you and go on your way.
However, if the wine is really good, and the ambiance is to your taste, enjoy your visit by extending it a bit. Take in the scenery. Choose a glass or a bottle of wine from the selections provided. Grab a cheese plate, or bring your own picnic if the wineries allow it. Many wineries also provide music on the weekends to make your visit a truly memorable occasion.
What questions do you ask when you visit wineries?
Do you have any other tips I should add to the list?
Please leave them in the comments!