I've been trying to recall the first time I had to make an appointment for a wine tasting. I'm not sure what it was. I do remember the first time we made a same day appointment. We were in Anderson Valley in one tasting room looking for recommendations. The tasting room attendant recomended an appointment only winery (long since gone) and even called over to make an appointment for us for the afternoon. The wines were fabulous and I never would have called on my own. It was shocking to me how "not a big deal" making an appointment was there. It was simply a matter of convenience for the winery owner, not just a snobbish ruse.
It was then that I realized that in the modern world of wine tasting rooms, I was usually better off making an appointment. For one, I'd probably get a more knowledgeable staff person, if not the owner or winemaker. We'd be able to take our time tasting the wines and not feel rushed to make room a the bar. Best of all, such tastings usually included food, at least small bites to taste the wine better.
Now I usually make appointments at tasting rooms, even if just to call and find out the best time to visit. Certainly, there have been a few not-so-great tastings this way, where I felt captive to a boring tour and a snobbier than usual sales pitch. But generally, when we make appointments, we know we're likely to have a good experience.
Our tasting room has stayed open mostly by appointment. Not because we're trying to be snobbish, but because it's about managing our time. That means you usually get one of the family pouring wines. It's usually me, but we're pretty flexible. Bonus: it allows me to have a life outside of the winery with my family, whether that's the occasional vacation or just going to soccer games on Saturdays.
Remember: next time a winery says "tasting by appointment," don't let that stop you from having a good time there. It'll probably be worth the call.
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