I hate slamming wineries on the Internet. I really do. But our first tasting in Livermore was, without a doubt, the worst wine tasting experience we’ve had in the entirety of the Appellation Trail project.
Every time we go out tasting, Mike and I wonder whether the tasting room experience affects our palates. Our experience at this Livermore winery suggests it does, and it certainly affects our likelihood to buy. While I won’t name the winery in question, I think it’s worthwhile to detail the factors that made this our ultimate terrible tasting experience.
Anatomy Of a Terrible Tasting Experience
From the outset, it seemed like the tasting room associate who served us (let’s call him Grump) really wished we were somewhere else. Grump seemed to wish he was somewhere else, too, rather than pouring wine. Grump treated the few other customers in the tasting room with equal dislike, so at least we know it wasn’t just us. The other tasting room staffers we saw seemed to share the same malaise, save for one associate who was working a bachelorette party on the patio.
I understand when a staffer is curt because they are slammed, but when we started tasting there were four tasting associates and only two couples in the large tasting room, which is a one-to-one ratio of staff and clients. The staff, however, more often than not had their backs turned or adopted a 20-yard stare and wouldn’t make eye contact with customers. When a third couple came in another staffer reluctantly poured for them; the other two staffers continued to ignore the customers.
Early on in our tasting Grump poured Mike’s wine and took the bottle away before Mike had the chance to take notes. We politely said, “Excuse me, sir.” He looked at us but when we began to ask if we could see the bottle he simply turned and walked away, ignoring us. We said “Excuse me,” again, trying to get Grump’s attention.
It is unlikely that the issue was that we were too quiet. Anyone who knows me can tell you: I’m not quiet. I have one of those voices that is politely described as “carrying.” I grew up in a loud family and one of my biggest problems in life is bringing my volume of speech down to normal human levels. Mike spent years in theater and knows how to make his unamplified voice heard over large distances.
Other staffers also clearly heard us – they looked up and made eye contact, then shrugged and looked away. When the couple tasting next to us prompted Grump, pointing out that we had a question (probably because they were tired of our ever-louder “Excuse me!”s) Grump looked over and gave us an annoyed “wait a minute” gesture with an attitude that clearly conveyed the extra message “You are not a prority.” When he brought the bottle back for us to look at, he treated it as if it was a burden and he was doing us a special favor.
Grump did converse with the couple tasting next to us, but what started as his diatribe about how people don’t know how to swirl wine properly became, out of the blue and apropos of nothing, a monolog forcefully expressing his political views. It was clear from their evident discomfort and lack of eye contact that the couple either didn’t agree with Grump’s politics, or perhaps they just didn’t enjoy being bombarded with politics when they were out trying to relax and enjoy themselves. Though we could read their body language loud and clear, Grump didn’t seem to notice, and it looked to me like he lost a sale out of it.
I took many notes on the wines I tasted, but I feel that any write-up I would do of the wines would not be giving them a fair shake. I felt so unwelcome that I think it literally left a bad taste in my mouth; all of the wines tasted flavorless and bland to me. Mike felt the wines were agreeable but not memorable, but his most emphatic tasting note is “DID NOT FEEL WELCOME.” Given the attitude in the tasting room he says it’s unlikely he will be giving them another try. We both agree that our experience was overshadowed by the generally unfriendly air of the tasting room. It felt very much like an impersonal corporate entity providing poor customer service because the employees have no stake in the company mission, and the executives and managers have failed to set appropriate expectations for the staff.
Tasting Rooms, Beware
If someone has a negative experience like we did, they might post it on Yelp – or they might just tell all their friends coming to your area to stay away. I plan to send an email to the winery in question because I think it’s only fair, but I don’t foresee myself going back and I have no desire to ever buy their wine.
If you can’t afford to hire a secret shopper, find a friend or relative that’s not known to your tasting room staff and send them in to do a covert wine tasting operation. You might be surprised, and not in a good way, by what you find.