Working in the tasting room is not for the faint-hearted
I’m up in the wilds of the western Sonoma mountains. I’ve been running around Dry Creek Valley all day for a story in Wine Enthusiast. It’s late and I’m tired and need sleep but wanted to get in a word on tasting rooms. I’m speaking tomorrow morning in Santa Rosa at a panel on tasting rooms that will be attended by winery owners, so during my travels to wineries today I spent time scoping out the tasting rooms, watching closely these ecosystems that really have their own patterns of culture. And I realized that I could never, ever work in a tasting room, because it takes a very special talent and spectrum of personal qualities that I simply don’t possess.
You have to answer the same questions, day in and day out. You have to make it sound like it’s for the first time, every time, and do it with a smile. Some of the questions are really lame. The showoffs — those big shots who want to impress their wives or friends with how much they know — ask really idiotic questions, and you have to try to be respectful to them without letting them know you think they’re blowhards. You have to deal with drunks. Probably the easiest people are the ones who ask direct, simple questions, like “Where are the grapes from?” You’re on your feet all day. People get impatient if you don’t pay them attention right away. You’re juggling a million things at once, but you can never let the customers see you sweat. You have to be perfect. You’re a performer, but you have to come across as natural and unrehearsed and likeable. And just when one party is leaving, another one shows up. You may not even have time to go to the bathroom!
I wonder if all tasting rooms are the same, job-wise. Is working in a MacMansion winery with a gazillion dollar tasting room easier or harder than working in a little wooded shack with plywood walls? If I had to work in a tasting room, I’d prefer a simple, rustic place with no pretensions. But as I said, I could never work in a tasting room. Don’t have the right personality.
Tasting room personnel are the winery’s front line troops. They’re its public face, its image, for better or worse. Watching the hard-working people today as I did, I came away with a new-found appreciation for how hard the work is, and how well most of them do it. Congratulations to all the tasting room staff of California, of the world. You have a hard job, you’re under-appreciated, and you deserve some kudos.