If you have visited more than a dozen or so tasting rooms, you’ve no doubt had at least one underwhelming experience. While I’ve personally visited well over 150 tasting rooms, thankfully only a handful left me underwhelmed or even downright angry. I’ll relate some bad experiences, without names of course, and then some follow-up where things turned out to be a much better experience.
Let me first get this clear. The BEST thing you can do when you have a bad wine tasting room experience is to contact the management or winery owners. You don’t need to go to social media trashing a winery without first giving them the opportunity to make it right. Most owners will be happy to hear your issues and if warranted, give you a refund or even an elevated experience on the house. If you just didn’t like the wine, well that’s just personal preference and shouldn’t be aired out in public.
The first underwhelming experience for us at a tasting room was due to the product they were serving. You’ve probably had this experience. The wine was just not that good. Or they were all done in a style that you don’t care for. Maybe their best wines were sold out. It could be that your tastes and the winemaker’s tastes just didn’t mesh up. Finally, you could have just been having an off day tasting. Whatever the issue, the experience just didn’t measure up. That was the issue for us at this particular winery.
About 18 months ago, I needed to kill some time so I went back by the tasting room that didn’t seem to have good wine on my first visit. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the wine! The whites were crisp and balanced, and the reds had good structure and complexity. I really enjoyed the experience. We’ve since been back a couple of times. This was not the only winery where we had that experience. In fact, that’s happened to us at least three times and we are wine club members at one of the wineries that underwhelmed us on our first visit.
Another tasting room experience that is common is “bad” service. There could be several things that cause you to think the service falls short. For us, that experience started with standing around for five minutes or more without as much as a glance from the tasting room employees. When we finally did get served, the experience was hampered by a constant push to “join the wine club” and the service of wine we couldn’t buy unless we were members. Sadly, the wine we liked best was exclusive to wine club members. We left with a low opinion of the winery. While we have not revisited this winery we plan on it soon.
At another tasting room, the wine was good and there was not a lot of pressure to join the wine club, but the server was not very engaging. He seemed too laid back and all his attempts at humor fell flat. I honestly felt he should probably not be the face of the business. We hurried through our tasting and left without purchasing any wine to take with us. In this case we did go back! We also got some “inside” advice as to who to ask for when we arrived. This time the experience was fantastic and we ended up joining the wine club.
The last situation to talk about is when the tasting or experience are below expectations simply because you’re just “off” that day. Maybe you didn’t sleep well, got into an argument with your tasting companion, or simply ate something that messed up your taste buds. The last happened to me and it was with one of my favorite wineries. I could not understand why the wine was so “sub-par” on this visit. They were introducing new vintages and I went away thinking it must just be an off year. However, a couple months later I was there again for a club pickup event and every wine that I thought was not good previously tasted great this time. The only thing I could figure was that I must have had a bad combination of toothpaste and coffee the first time!
Take away one thing from this post. If you have underwhelming experiences at wineries, give it some time and go back! Certainly, if the service was bad, contact the owner and let them fix it before complaining on social media. If the wine was bad, go back after a vintage or two of new wine; you might be surprised. One thing that seems typical is once a winery starts making good wine, they usually continue.
One final thing to note, if you go to one of the “big” wineries along 290 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg on a weekend without an appointment, know up front that you’ll probably be underwhelmed. Do yourself a favor. Get an appointment, go during the week, or better yet visit one of the smaller, off the beaten path wineries. You just might get the “royal” treatment.