There are few things more wonderful than exploring our magical wine regions and popping into a cellar door or five to try their vinous offerings.
But what are the do’s and don’ts of the cellar door visit? Are you expected to try every wine on the list? Is it rude to say you hate Chardonnay? And how do you hold your handbag, a small child’s hand and a glass without knocking the spittoon all over the floor?
We had a long chat to Judy Kelly, owner and cellar door operator of ArtWine Estate in the Adelaide Hills, who had more than a few things to say on the topic!
Here are the 7 golden rules of cellar door etiquette.
1. Have your purse at the ready
This won’t be welcome news to everyone, but cellar doors are open so that you can buy wine. Therefore, buying wine is kind of what you should do.
Here’s the thing: A cellar door is not a public service your taxes have paid for. Neither is it a free-for-all buffet of sample cups. Of the 2,500 wineries in Australia, around 80% of those are small businesses and they’re doing their best to make a living.
“Wineries have made a significant investment in both time and money to offer a Cellar Door experience,” says Judy. “While you are certainly not obligated to buy wine, it is considered to be polite and a nice way of saying thank you for your time. And of course it’s a great way to stock your own cellar or use as gifts for friends.”
Building, operating, stocking (and restocking) and staffing a cellar door is a huge expense. So it makes sense that you should leave with a little something in exchange for your experience.
“If you genuinely enjoyed a wine then buy some,” says Judy. “Wineries often have cellar door specials. Buying wine from the producer and joining their wine club is a great way of supporting small boutique operators and allows you to experience wines not readily available.”
2. Drink at the fountain of knowledge
Cellar door staff (usually) have an in-depth knowledge of the wines and the winery so during your visit take the opportunity to engage with them and educate your palate. They are not your party mates or your slaves, so please don’t treat them as such.
Most cellar door staff love to share their knowledge so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make the most of the opportunity to learn about both the wines and the people who produce them.
3. Be daring
Choose the varietals you enjoy and be adventurous. This is your chance to try some of the new-emerging varieties. So go ahead and point at it if you don’t know how to pronounce it! When else will you get an opportunity to take a sip and decide for yourself?
The other thing many people don’t feel confident about is saying ‘no’ to what’s on offer. You do not have to try everything on the list. You are always welcome to pick and choose exactly what you’d like to try.
However, if your wine tastes are very limited and for example you only drink Shiraz and are not prepared to taste anything else, then cellar door visits are probably not the right recreational activity for you.
4. Remember your June Dally Watkins
No need for knee length skirts and gloves, darlings, but whatever you turn up wearing just don’t forget your best manners.
Be polite and courteous at all times. Often, particularly at the small and boutique wineries, you are tasting with and talking directly with the owners. This is their livelihood and also their passion, please respect this.
5. Leave with wine – nothing else
Never take anything from the property e.g. glassware, cute bottle stoppers and anything else you see lying around. It may sound shocking, but Judy says it happens constantly – especially with large groups.
Of course, we’re sure none of YOU would do anything so heartless. But just in case you see your friend tuck that beautiful, etched glass in her handbag as you go to leave you now have permission to bop her one and put it back. K?
6. Kids, yes. Pooches, no.
I have three kids and I regularly bring them to cellar doors with me. But when you’re relaxed and a bit happy after enjoying a day of vinous tourism, and they’re starting to get bored, it’s important to ensure that they’re not spoiling anyone else’s day.
Judy Kelly is adamant. “If you take small children, they’re very welcome, but you do need to be mindful about ensuring they’re not a nuisance to other customers.”
Some cellar doors are certainly much more family friendly than others, and it’s worth checking this out in advance and planning your day accordingly. Some have large open spaces kids can freely play in, even playground equipment and sand pits are regular features these days, as are sprawling gardens they can explore.
While kids are welcome most places, you should always call ahead and ask before you take your dog. Cellar doors often have their own cellar door dog and to take your valued pet may not be appropriate, you are on their property where their dog is king!
7. It really, truly is okay to spit. So maybe do that at least sometimes.
Chances are, when you’re wine touring, you’re going to be visiting three or four cellar doors in one day. And you’ll probably be trying at least 4 – 8 wines at each one. It doesn’t take long for everything to start to become a rather blurry experience.
People working in the wine industry spend half their life spitting out wine. They won’t blink an eye if you do it.
Spittoons are always available. In fact, they’re required by law in most states. And they are there to be used. Even if you do it every second time, you’ll have a lot more stamina, be able to properly taste the wines all day and be welcome everywhere you go.
So next time you’re entering a cellar door, remember to abide by these guidelines and you’ll always be considered a FABULOUS customer!