Just like you, my husband and I love to visit wineries. Every trip we take, business or pleasure, renders at least a couple stops to taste local wines, even if the region doesn’t produce anything strong. We are interested not only in wine, but in winemakers – what they think about, how they got started, how the run their business.
We need these unromantic, pragmatic reminders that winemaking is a business. An art, a science, a passion, a tradition…but a business. An estate must sell wine to thrive. Granted, in our American road-trip winery visits, we’ve stopped at a few places that make me doubt any money ever changes hands where their bottles are concerned. The lady in the Blue Ridge Mountains who came out of a shed with a pitchfork and a worn-out straw hat covering her eyes? She’d never think to charge for her fruit wines which had been previously opened and reclosed with a device of her own invention. Or the grandmother in Iowa who called her dining room a tasting room and sent us home with a half a case of complimentary fizzy pink demi-bottles of wine that had “gone wrong but might still be fun”…she gave us that stuff for free.
Those places just needed one shot; we’ll never have the chance to go back so who cares if the wine was yucky or the service was bad. Fine.
But there are places to which we return, year and after year after year. Places we’ve blessed with a Second Chance. These are places we can’t resist. We were there the year they released their first reserve Cabernet, or the first rosé season after they built their new patio. Wineries we’ve seen through windowpanes of November rain and UV-safe sunglasses in July heat. Wineries where they know my husband adores Pinot and thinks leopard-print skirts would make a nice uniform. Joints where we call the dogs by name. Yes sir, these places have worn out a spot on our calendar and we don’t want that to change.
And, sigh, there are places that earned a Second Chance but not a third. That once-cute place now employing tee-shirted staff that knows how to serve a soda but nothing about wine (truly frustrating). Or the establishment that installed new bathrooms way too close to the tasting room (get a load of the nose on that one). Or the place that’s never open (the website says until 6:00, it’s 5:15!). Don’t forget the oh-we-are-out-of-that, and that, and that estate (well, what DO you have?)
Sure, there are big houses that can’t keep out the customers with a pack of Dobermans (mostly in high-profile regions, and I’ve got the ankle scars to prove it) but most winemakers truly want to connect with those of us that drink their wine. An efficient, stylish, knowledgeable tasting environment goes the distance when it comes to what we are willing to purchase. Notice most of those places we’ve cut from the list? Did I mention their wine? Nope. It’s not that simple.
This isn’t a cautionary tale, but an observation. I’d like to think that unwelcoming practices emerge bit by bit. Some erosion in staff here, some construction delays there. Failings that can be fixed over time, no overhaul needed, are expected. Wineries deal not only in customers, but in nature and time. You can’t rush this stuff.
I’m the type of person that sees the story in every vine, the who’s-who of the barstool. Everything matters to me. There are others that base their Second Chance on price (free tastings, with glass!) or location (it’s near Disney, babe!). But I’m not like that, my husband isn’t either. Year after year, season after season we date these estates. We talk ahead of time (If the manager’s there, I’m asking for a tour. If the restaurant is closed let’s do a picnic on their patio). What happens when we get there means something to us. Yes, we’ll buy. We always do. Yes, we’ll take notes, we always do. Yes, I’ll probably write about, I always do… but none of this can happen if it’s not worth taking a Second Chance.
This piece was inspired by The Drunken Cyclist’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. A challenge I WON last month and therefor earned the position of theme-chooser, settling on the theme of Second Chance.
Pictured below are Second-Chancers all — each is located in the Monticello Wine Region of the great state of Virginia. It’s one of my favorite places to drink wine stateside. Contact information and details available here: Monticello Wine Trail.