With their picturesque grounds and national proliferation — according to some estimates, there are more than 10,000 wineries in the United States, up 50 percent from 2009 — wineries have become popular venues for weddings, birthdays, reunions, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and other celebrations. The phenomenon has become so enormous that wine regions like Napa are cracking down on and even prohibiting large group events.
So let’s say you find a tasting room that does accept groups or host parties. How do you know what to do and avoid at your event?
Here, tasting room directors and other wine professionals share nine tips for partying (respectfully) in the tasting room.
The Dos of Celebrating at a Winery
Talk to the Winery Ahead of Time
It may sound like common sense, but even if your party is small, don’t show up unannounced when celebrating an event. After all, no one likes to be blindsided.
“For any type of event, we recommend confirming all of the details well in advance,” Jennifer Hulan, owner of Water’s Edge Winery & Bistro – Denver, says. “Determining the proper headcount is [hugely important.] The goal is to create a nice experience and having all of the information is an easy way to host a successful event.”
A winery can better prepare and create a custom experience for your celebration if they know you’re coming ahead of time. And some wineries even require a reservation — no matter the size of your group.
Let Them Know if You’re Running Behind Schedule
Tell the winery if you’re going to be late, especially if you’re planning on making multiple stops in one day.
“It’s not unusual that guests will run into an issue now and then that puts them behind schedule,” says David Griffiths, Cakebread Cellars consumer hospitality director. “In instances where you’re running a little behind, one of the best things you can do is to call the wineries you’ll be visiting to make them aware that you’re running late. Many small group experiences — like the ones we do here at Cakebread Cellars — operate on a pretty punctual timeline, and it can be hard to get a late arrival caught up with the rest of the group. If we know you’re running late, it gives us the opportunity to look at options so we can find the best solution.”
Know Your Limits
Winery staffers cannot emphasize this one enough. Yes, there’s alcohol everywhere, but the objective is not to get drunk. Drink plenty of water while tasting and remember that spitting and dumping are highly encouraged.
“If you’re unsure whether it’s rude to spit wine you don’t want to consume for any number of reasons, such as wanting to pace yourself in tasting many varietals, or simply because you don’t particularly care for the taste, know this — it is highly encouraged to spit or pour out your remaining wine in the spit bucket, especially if you’ve scheduled visits to multiple wineries,” Kristina King, Kenefick Ranch’s office manager, says. “Remember, pace yourself!”
Research Transportation Options in Advance
When you call the wineries you’re visiting ahead of time, be sure to ask about parking and transportation. Some estates don’t allow party buses on the premises, and others might be located in an area where cell phone server and/or ride shares are pretty much non-existent.
“If you’re in Napa during the harvest — the peak season for tourism — you should be aware that it may be harder to find an Uber or Lyft in the area,” warns Griffiths. “It’s much slower in the winter and early spring, so it may be easier to get a ride. Limos are more expensive, but you’ve got a driver at your beck and call to assist you during your visit, make recommendations, and ensure that other wineries or restaurants know where you are.
“If you elect to drive a car, please consider how much you taste … remember, your safety and that of others is priority No. 1,” he adds. “Finally, for anyone planning to rent bikes, particularly in the Napa area, please remember that, depending on your route, you may find yourself riding on a highway with speed limits of 50-plus miles per hour.” If the sound of that makes you nervous, plan alternate transportation in advance. No one wants to be stranded with a rental bicycle on the side of the road.
The Don’ts of Celebrating at a Winery
Don’t Take Over the Space
Sharing is caring. While you want your celebration to feel special, remember that you’re probably sharing a tasting room with other visitors, and they want to enjoy their experience, too.
Try not to “force other guests to the sidelines,” Kris Miller, tasting room manager, Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens, says. “Remember your perfect day out will most likely be shared in space with other guests and other versions of their perfect day. Leave room for others to have fun.”
Usually wineries have figured out the best place in their facilities for large groups — a.k.a, where you’ll be able to have fun without other visitors asking you to be quiet every five minutes. “[When you call], we have reserved a space for you that will give you the space and environment to have fun, be loud, and enjoy the company of your friends and family without disrupting any other reservations we may have scheduled,” Chelsea Sprague, tasting room manager at Booker Vineyards, explains.
Don’t Wait to Negotiate
Some visitors expect a tasting fee to be waived if they purchase a bottle, but that’s not how all wineries function. (As Booker Vineyard’s Sprague puts it: You don’t expect the appetizer price to vanish just because you ordered an entrée at a restaurant. “We’re providing a service and hope to give you an amazing experience,” she says.)
If you’d like to try to negotiate, call in advance to ask about pricing. Some wineries will work with you to make sure you have the best experience — and that may include a discount for, say, forgoing a traditional tasting in favor of sampling some full bottles or other helpful configurations for staff.
“Understand that groups require additional staff and therefore additional fees. [For ease], negotiate fee hurdles in advance and give one credit card,” Malani Anderson, tasting room manager at Turley Wine Cellars, says.
Don’t Forget to Ask About Attire
Most wineries don’t have particular dress codes, but their grounds might be cooler or hotter than the nearby towns. If so you’ll want to bring layers. And if you’re touring the vineyard you’ll want to wear closed-toe shoes.
“Farming and winemaking activities may be happening during your visit,” says Susan Sueiro, president of Artesa Estate Vineyards and Winery. “This is often fascinating to guests, but it can also make for dusty, noisy, or chilly environments! So do be prepared by dressing in layers and wearing comfortable shoes.”
Don’t Forget About Food
Linda Chauncey, director of wine education at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, and Vanesa Blasdel, guest services manager, Columbia Crest Winery, both emphasize the importance of tasting on a full stomach. Not every winery has a kitchen or allows outside food, so pack snacks and plan accordingly. Call the venue ahead of time to reserve a table if it has an on-site restaurant, or ask for recommendations for nearby places to eat or buy provisions. Build those mealtimes into your schedule. You’ll thank yourself later.