Why, when they visit vineyards, do people feel the need to get naked? What compels a perfectly civilized oenophile to steal the whole cheese board? Who thinks it’s a good idea to climb a statue after a couple of glasses of wine? These are the sorts of questions that are asked by our bewildered colleagues who work behind the bars of winery tasting rooms.
There was the customer who complained that a staff member was “pouring the Chardonnay from an extraordinary height!” There was the visitor who refused to taste Pinot Noir because the tasting notes mentioned blueberries (and she was allergic to blueberries). There was the guy who demanded a glass of Voyager—meaning, it soon became clear, Viognier.
SevenFifty Daily asked professionals who have survived stints in winery hospitality to share with us some of the most absurd and uncomfortable tasting room situations they experienced. Yes, there were a lot of stories about spit buckets. And so many more …
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“I was working in a tasting room when a very important wine writer came in. He had arrived early for his appointment with the owners and wandered down to the tasting room to kill some time. We had one very clumsy employee who, pouring wine for some customers, hit the spit bucket with his arm and knocked it over, spilling the entire bucket directly on the critic, who was clearly quite angry, and [who] never wrote up the winery.”
—Adam Lee, winemaker, Siduri Wines, Healdsburg, CA
“A young woman comes in and asks if her friend can use the bathroom. Her friend bolts through the door and throws up in the toilet several times while [the young woman] awkwardly tastes a few wines. There’s a long pause, and then the woman says, ‘She drank, like, an entire bottle of vodka by herself last night … so I guess I should buy a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc before we leave.’ Yes, it’s our cheapest bottle.”
—Kristy Charles, co-owner, Foursight Wines, Boonville, CA
“Back in 2002 or 2003, I had a group of four highfalutin’ ladies come into Creekside Cellars. They were bejeweled, perfumed, wearing enough makeup to shame a Kabuki performer, and carrying handbags big enough to smuggle children in. The leader of the pack was informing the others about all of the wines we made, quite wrongly. She explained that our Syrah tasted like white pepper because we put white pepper in it. When I gave her a gentle knowledge nudge to explain why that site expressed white pepper, she snapped at me, ‘Don’t tell me about wine. I know it all—my husband is a Sémillon!’ I responded, ‘Do you mean sommelier?’ To which she aggressively retorted, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about. I am from California!’ The coup de grâce came when she started showing her friends how to dunk our complimentary bread sticks—in the dump bowl. I pretended not to notice and let them go on for a while, as we were pretty darn busy. Eventually, I gave the team leader a look of horror as she dunked a stick and put it in her mouth. I said, ‘Ma’am, you do know that is the spit bucket, right?’ The look on her face was priceless.”
—Timothy Donahue, director of winemaking, College Cellars of Walla Walla, WA
“I was the winemaker at the time, but I also poured in the tasting room a couple of days a week in the summer. An older couple came into the tasting room. We chatted a little, and at some point in the conversation I told them I was the winemaker. They acted surprised. The guy told me they were going to leave because they ‘don’t like Mexican wine.’ I told them all the fruit we source is from the Willamette Valley, so the wines are not Mexican. The guy replied, ‘Well, you are Mexican and you made them, so we’re leaving.’ I said, ‘Wow, okay—have a great day!’”
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“Back in the day, when Walla Walla had at most a dozen bonded wineries, at Woodward Canyon, a young, very personable and attentive server poured us the new Chardonnay release. I turned to her and said, ‘I think this wine is corked.’ Without skipping a beat, she very earnestly said, ‘Yes! We put corks in our wine bottles.’”
—Gordon Rappole, key retail fine-wine and spirits specialist, Young’s Market Company, AZ
“A young lady once became so enamored with our Passiflora Pinot Noir that mere words did not suffice. She said, ‘You know how I feel about this Pinot?’ and proceeded to nestle a 750 ml bottle—quite forcibly, and with much tugging and tucking—in her ample cleavage. She proceeded to crank out what can only accurately be described as a hand job on the neck of the bottle. Meanwhile, she attempted to orally encourage the bottle to disgorge. Yeeeeeah…. she was cut off.”
—Stephen Hagen, winemaker and farmer, Antiquum Farm, Junction City, OR
“I served two couples in the Rex Hill tasting room. One [woman] turned to the group and said in French, ‘This wine is shit! We need to go to that other winery I told you about.’ I looked her in the eye and responded en français, ‘I’m sorry this wine isn’t to your liking. Please let me pour you the reserve wines.’ They stayed and bought a bottle.”
—Toni Ketrenos, Oregon State manager, The Winebow Group, OR
“I was working at Durant Vineyards when a group of girls spilled out of a limo, and let’s just say they were a little inebriated. There was a fence with a couple of horizontal wires surrounding the tasting room. I happened to look up just in time, when one of the girls, on realizing she’d left her purse behind, went sprinting toward the car and was straight-up clotheslined by the fence. Funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Needless to say, she was cut off.”
—Jessie Gordon, direct-to-consumer sales manager, Day Wines, Dundee, OR
Katherine Cole is the author of four books on wine, including Rosé All Day. She is also the executive producer and host of “The Four Top,” a James Beard Award–winning food-and-beverage podcast on NPR One.