Hello Kindness, Are You There? Wine Tasting Gone Bad

Before this gets going, I really must inform you the two reasons I’m slightly on edge right now.  First of all, I am fresh off a seriously sour wine tasting trip and second; I have the ever-so-thrilling film Derailed playing in split screen on my computer throwing twists and turns at every corner so I apologize if my tone is a little harsh.  That being said, I’ve stated from day one that my reason for being so involved in the wine industry is to bridge the gap between the horrifying façade and its beautiful approachability to the younger generation.  Because this goal runs through my veins with every new wine experience, it’s a bittersweet symphonic moment when I find myself in situations that truly frustrate me, yet fortify my passion for changing the way people interact with each other both behind the bar and as a customer.  I welcomed this much-needed incident to finally give me an idea for a new blog.  Sorry Josh!

I can’t say I’ve done hundreds of wine tastings.  To be honest, its still part of a mere two-year old passion and my busy schedule hinders my ability to venture too far from home as often as I like.  So, when I got the chance to take a vacation with my fellow wine-appreciating girlfriend, hitting up their local tasting rooms certainly made our list of must do activities.  We designated an entire day, called, texted, tweeted and facebooked all my wine-friends for suggestions of the six stops we should select out of the over eighty options, and finally made our list.  (Out of respect and my own fear of hate mail, I will not mention any of the wineries or the wine region itself…so deal with it!  I am only trying to make a point).  We already knew that a third of the stops were going to be the big guns for that region just to say we went there.  We didn’t, however, want the best experience to be from them.  We were hoping to find the ma and pa operation of which no one’s heard only to fall in love and bring their name back home, but alas, our fears came true.  Being young wine drinkers in our early 20’s, I can see how its hard to believe I know two shits about wine, but for heavens sake don’t shut me out completely!  Like clockwork, we would walk in the tasting room, get looked at, then be treated like college kids trying to get a buzz.  “How long was this aged?”  “What are the percentages of varietals in this claret?”  “Can you tell me a little back-story of your winery or winemaker and how you got the name?”  Simple, engaging questions that I’d had loved to know, but since we weren’t the 50+ couple flaunting an American Express, getting treated like a member of wine society was far from a reality.  When I pay the small fee for a tasting, I don’t expect a drone to pour me wine.  I expect to be educated and informed while I drink.  “But Ben, they were probably too busy to talk to everyone.”  WRONG!!!  It was a slow weekday and it couldn’t have been easier.  To make it even more ironic, we walked out with more bottles than the older couples throughout the day.  In your face wineries!  Yes, I’ll still buy wine despite bad service.

I know I’m coming across pretentious and needy, but I just don’t get it.  I forget sometimes, from working behind the bar so much, how truly frustrating wine tastings can be as a newbee trying to find comfort.  My heart goes out to the young generation that gets treated so poorly and honestly doesn’t get shown the right hospitality.  Who the hell do some people think they are?!  Its simple, wine is supposed to be enjoyed no matter the age or suspected knowledge.  Not just enjoyed on the palate, but enjoyed as an experience whether it be during a soiree, a nice dinner, an evening alone with a good book, or during a wine tasting.  I’m telling this anecdote as a reminder of why we all fell in love with wine in the first place.  Most of you reading this will not own a tasting room, but for those who will, don’t ever judge a book by its cover.  And one day, when you’re the 50+ couple being treated like royalty next to some fresh meat, help them out and use you authority and love for wine to create a better experience for everyone.

About The Author

Ben Hilzinger is a wine slinger at Nectar Tasting Room and at the Arbor Crest Winery. During the day he masquerades as an aspiring drum teacher seeking to instill a sense of rhythm in wanna be rockers. In the evening Ben dons his rock star cape as a drummer for a local band and occasionally travels the world with Jonathan Jones. Ben hopes to share the love of wine with his generation and has aspirations to be a wine maker. Follow Ben on Twitter @benhilzinger

 

drinknectar

Owner of Nectar Tasting Room in Spokane, WA. (@nectarwine) Publisher of Spokane Wine Magazine (@spowinemag), author, speaker, consultant and internet marketer with Nectar Media (@nectarmedia)

40 comments on “Hello Kindness, Are You There? Wine Tasting Gone Bad

  1. Andy

    You’re right. You are needy ;-)

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      Andy,
      Haha! I appreciate the comment and I will certainly find it in my power to change for you. Does someone need a hug?

      Reply
  2. Jean Wilson

    What a great thought – those of us that are treated like we either know wine or have the means to buy wine, should definitely pull the younger generation into the tasting experience. All we would have to do is ask a couple of leading questions of them. Great post – sorry you had such a bad experience (especially at all of them!).

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      Jean,
      Actually, I must have worded vaguely, but two of the six were actually quite pleasant. Unfortunately, they were experienced at the two “big-guns” that had adequate resources and personnel. We were hoping that the smaller guys would have a better, more intimate approach to treating their patrons. Thanks for responding!

      Reply
  3. tim

    I would say that this phenomenon is not just limited to wine. You will find this kind of absurd attitude across all retail sales. I’ve found that it makes a big difference in how you project yourself in how you are treated. If you introduce yourself as being in the business, and you are putting together an article on local tasting rooms you should see a significant difference.
    But you shouldnt have to do that right? What if you are not a blogger, but just an average consumer? You can just walk out. Poor service, for me, means no purchase no matter how good the wine.

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      Tim,
      I completely agree that it bleeds into all service industries…damn! But you’re right, if I had introduced myself in a certain way things might have gone differently. Still though, if the wine is good, I can’t let my pride get in the way! Ha

      Reply
  4. William Maltese

    Ah, Ben, I’m afraid it’s really not the young vs. old “thing” that you think it is, because I’m a tad out of my twenties, and, as author of my WINE TASTER’S DIARY SERIES of books for mainstream Wildside/Borgo Press’s “The Traveling Gourmand” imprint, and as someone who usually visits wineries and tasting rooms, world-wide, anonymously, I’ve had more than my own share of tacky service (including in Washington State, including in Spokane; you having been a pleasant exception).

    I think it actually has more to do with the people hired for tasting rooms often not the professionals, as regards wine and wineries, that we like to assume they are. Those you negatively encountered probably just made themselves scarce, especially when you started asking intelligent questions, because they didn’t have a clue as to the answers. The people in the wineries who know about the wines are usually off making wine, delegating tasting-room duties to laymen (and women), merely hired in and off the streets (so much cheap labor to be had in the presently depressed economy).

    Also, it seems a lot of people in the service industry, in general, these days, and not just in the wine industry, just don’t have the social-skills to be customer-friendly (all sorts of reasons to blame; all another story).

    Wish you would have named names, but, on the other hand, I do understand that you living in the region, and working in the industry, it’s probably not a good idea for you to cut off your nose to spite your face by making enemies in your own career area. One of my advantages, in not really being specifically involved in promoting the Washington wine industry, per se, is that I can, and often do, name offenders. If these places providing such wretched and/or patronizing service aren’t specifically pointed out, they’re not apt to rectify anything. Not that they’re likely to do it, anyway, especially in the case of “hobby” wineries (so many of them in Washington) which produce such limited releases, each year, that they sell out without having to care about customers or whether or not their tasting-room staffs are competent for the jobs assigned them.

    I can only tell you that there are insightful wineries and wine makers “out there”, both here and abroad (more so in the latter where there’s a long history of younger people drinking) who really DO know that the future of their business depends upon the younger generations, and who don’t patronize customers just because of age. I can only wish you good luck in finding them…suggesting that you, someday do manage, to make it to Europe where wineries, possibly from just longer experience, have a far better perception of how to treat wine drinkers, no matter what the age.

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      William,
      Wow! Thank you so much for the in-depth response. It makes me extremely happy to know I was added to your good experiences tasting in Washington. You have no idea how much I want to get back over to Europe with wine as my primary purpose. I hope you keep giving me feedback because I tend to whine a lot in my blogs)

      Reply
    2. Tracey Hawkins

      Hi Ben,
      I have to agree that it isnt all about age. I actually do own a winery and tasting room – and am certainly beyond my twenties. Just a couple of years ago I walked into at tasting room expecting to be greeted by the staff – there were three people behind the counter and just a few folks sipping wine. I waited…finally one of the staff said: “Its $5 to taste…” then proceeded to polish glasses behind the bar! I was fully prepared to pay for my sample along with any wines I might purchase but somehow I was judged. I walked out bewildered.

      The one thing that does surprise me is that you seem to be saying that your bad experiences were at the small ma & pa wineries. When people come to our winery we genuinely enjoy meeting everyone.- and we do meet most people in person. I may have to card you based on your photo, but once I knew you are of age you would have been treated like anyone else – with joy in your visit and a willingness to share our passion about our wines and our ranch. Please pay us a visit next time you are in Northern California and allow us to make up for your experience!

      Reply
      1. Benny Hilzinger

        Tracey,
        I will certainly come visit you!

        Reply
  5. Garry Matlow

    It’s sad that there are tasting room pourers out there who are dismissive of younger wine lovers. After all, not judging a wine by the label on the bottle is key to the tasting experience!

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      Gary,
      As always, you rock! Agreed!

      Reply
  6. Debbie Gioquindo

    It’s unfortunate, but I don’t think it’s 100% age based. I am somewhere in between and felt it was like pulling teeth to get any information about the wine while in the tasting room. I might as well just brought up the website and hoped it was up to date and did the tasting with my smartphone. There are a few points here.

    1. Small wineries with older owners who don’t see out of the box think that the younger generation is looking for a quick buzz and good time. They don’t realize they want to be educated. They look at the younger generation as their children and lets face it, having worked for my father, I can tell you throughout my employment he looked at me like I was still 12 years old.

    2. The people in the tasting room have to be sales people. It is their job to sell you on the wine and that means educate you too. If you aren’t receiving that, they aren’t doing their job. I went into a local tasting room recently and it was like pulling teeth to get any info from the college age person pouring my wine. I walked out with nothing, and he insisted I take a wine bag. The ones that hold 6 bottles. I told him he should keep it and give it to the person who purchases wine.

    3. You shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. No matter what age you are. You just never know who the person is you are pouring for.

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      Debbie,
      You make great points! Speaking of being treated like a child, it happens when I’m behind the bar too……”um, little boy…are you sure you’re old enough to pour that for me?” yay

      Reply
  7. Christine Havens

    Dear Ben,

    I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had a bad experience. Yikes! When we first opened our tasting room on the Pullman-Moscow Highway, I confess, I was hesitant, thinking that college age students would come and merely take advantage of our then, and always free tasting.

    I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised—young consumers are far more sophisticated than those of my day, when wine coolers were king and there were only a few poppy-sweet flavors to down with singular purpose. The 20-somethings I see, by far, are genuine in their curiosity about wine, and I find that if I make an effort to engage their questions with seriousness, most of them, more often than older consumers, depart with wine. It has been an experience that has been incredibly rewarding.

    I will also say that…the challenge of perception goes both ways. As a female winemaker in my 30′s and, as a small business owner, I am most often behind the bar. And, on many occasions, I have met with wine customers that have treated me with utter disdain. Not realizing that I am the winemaker, they feel free to talk to me as though I were a lowly cashier. On one memorable tasting, an older woman snapped her fingers and me and referred to me as “you girl” when I failed to fill her glass quickly enough between customers. So, the problem of being young can certainly affect everyone in an industry that is rife with pretension.

    I encourage you to keep trying. As previous posters have mentioned, there are certainly engaging wineries out there!

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      Christine!
      I am so happy you responded! Your story is the perfect example what I hope to happen to the perception of the younger generation. You have not only fortified my point, but given me a little more hope that things will change in America. I need to come taste your wine soon!

      Reply
  8. Douglas Danielak

    Ben,

    Happy to read your blog. If you want to learn about wine I am happy to trade for drum lessons. You show me how to drum like Antonio Sanchez and I will be happy to share whatever you want to learn about wine. Thanks.

    Douglas Danielak
    Consulting Winemaker
    Napa Valley, Ca
    (707) 812-9463
    juicyrebound1@gmail.com

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      Douglas,
      Don’t temp me! I want to become a winemaker and am slowly weighing out all the options on how to reach that goal. I may have to come down and have a little chit chat…

      Reply
  9. Isabel

    I work for a winery and have done hundreds of tastings. I love it when someone (usually younger) tells me that they are new to wine and want to know more about my wines. I am thrilled to talk to them because I want their experience to be positive. I do this even after having stood there for say, four hours, pouring wine for all sorts of people including some who think we are not professionals but just there to be their drunkfest bartenders.

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      Isabel,
      Thank you for responding! It’s people like you that keep my coming back to certain wineries! I pull 12 hr days pouring wine on occasion and I can understand how difficult it can be to engage every customer perfectly, but its worth every second seeing them walk out with a smile knowing they’ll be back. Am I right? I know what you mean being looked at as a drunkfest bartender too….haha

      Reply
  10. Don Phelps

    Ben – Nice observations – wine, even serious wine, is for enjoying – it is made from grapes grown in the ground and not some mystical beverage concocted by the gods so folks can pay homage to it. If you like it drink it – otherwise dump it ! And if the grapes ever get ripe come on over and you will get a crash course in wine production :)

    Don

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      Don,
      I’d love to take you up on that offer! I’m actually working crush right now for Arbor Crest winery and they’re being kind enough to sorta take me under their wings for the time being. When I come over, though, I’m making you keep your promise!….even if its after crush :)

      Reply
  11. Tina Caputo

    I had similar experiences when I was in my 20s — too bad it’s still going on! I actually WAS broke in those days, so I wasn’t able to buy cases of wine on tasting excursions, but I always came home with a bottle or two. Our magazine’s marketing columnist, Elizabeth Slater, is always telling wineries not to judge anyone’s willingness or ability to buy wine based on their age or looks. Even if a visitor doesn’t buy today, he or she may very well return with cash in hand if they have a good experience. But they sure as hell won’t return, or ever buy your wine elsewhere, if they have a bad one!

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      Tina,
      Exactly! You make a great point that it’s not always about making the customers buy wine right there and then. Never stop looking forward. Word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools and I love hearing people say they came in because “a friend said she had a great time and told me I HAD to come try it out”.

      Reply
  12. Joshua S Sweeney

    I have not had this experience, though perhaps this is because of the region in which I’ve traveled. Most of the wineries in Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Iowa were more than happy to accommodate my friends and me, and they were usually agreeable enough to bring the owner or winemaker in for a chat if they weren’t already hanging around the bar. They were patient with visitors who didn’t know much as well.

    I also attended the Pinehurst Food & Wine Festival a month ago, and, though I was by far the youngest attendee, the purveyors were mostly glad to indulge in conversation with me, whether about the fermentation, growing, and harvesting process of their wines or the history of their winery. One Champagne importer even introduced me to his wife after the show! Of course, this might have been more attributed to an Old-World mentality where youths are much more experienced in wine rather than being satisfied to indulge in artifically-carbonated, mass-produced lager and Two-Buck Chuck.

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      Joshua,
      I’m happy to hear that my experience doesn’t happen all the time. I am visiting New England in the end of November so I will try and hit up a few places while I’m out there.

      Reply
  13. Erica

    I work in a tasting room in the Anderson Valley (CA) and love it when 20 somethings come into the tasting room. I find that most twenty year olds these days know waaay more about wine then their 50 something counterparts and also have a more adventurous palate. I’m in my early 40′s and find the wine snob thing totally boring and unnecessary.

    I also hate it when I hear about bad service. If you don’t understand true hospitality get out of the hospitality business. This means being kind and generous to all of come into your tasting room.

    I think your generation will change the wine world for the better- you’ve been exposed to more diverse world of food- wine usually follows that.

    Erica

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      Erica,
      I will have to agree with you. From behind the bar, I find a lot more and more younger people coming through that are extremely educated and wine savvy. Lets change the world!

      Reply
      1. Erica

        I was recently at a wine bar called “Heart” in the Mission District. It’s a little over the top youth hipster aesthetic but has a great, irreverent but informative menu. Check it out- it’s quite funny:

        http://www.heartsf.com/menu/

        Erica

        Reply
  14. Lou

    Ben,

    I know how you feel. Snobbery goes a long way to keep wine inaccessible. Funny, given that this business is in such dire need of consumers right now.

    But there is another important side to the coin to remember. I have done literally hundreds of wine tastings to consumers in this business, and I assure you that the large majority of consumers (young and old, Amex or student loans alike) do not ask the intelligent questions you were asking at the wineries. Rather, consumers often treat wine tasting like an open bar, and the level of hand-gesturing (apparently to cue another pour), the entitled pontificating at free tastings, the lack of pleases and thank-yous, and the drunken junk show are all part and parcel of your pourer’s experience. Granted, as a salesperson, it would only be stupid to let a big fish off the line, but it does seem that you were mistreated and overlooked, and that’s the real bummer.

    Best of luck and keep the faith. There are many salespeople and tasting room assistants out there who love to grandstand (I can relate) and answer intelligent questions. Keep asking them.

    Cheers,
    L.

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      Lou,
      Hahaha…I love to show off my wine knowledge and dorky anecdotes about the wine I pour. This might have been a bad day for those wineries, though, so I will certainly return and give them a second try. Again, they all had great wine.

      Reply
  15. Marty Moseley

    Ben -
    Dude, we’ve never met, but you hit the nail on the HEAD! I’m older, but got severely jaded by the attitudes at tasting rooms in the more well-known wine destinations. I hated feeling like the winery was doing me a favor to serve me their wine, and I hated feeling like I wasn’t valued because I wasn’t spending wild amounts of money on their wines. It’s like “customer profiling” and it felt bad.
    So we established a winery and tasting room where our mantra is “Come as guests, leave as family…” and we mean it! We love people, and love meeting them and telling them our story, and inviting them into our story.
    Sorry, not intended as a plug for us as much as a heart-felt “amen” and “thank you” for your blog.
    Cheers! and if you’re ever in northern California (Redding), PLEASE stop by – we’d love to invite you into our journey and learn from you!!!

    Reply
    1. Benny Hilzinger

      Marty,
      I will definitely stop by! When I establish my own winery, your mantra is the kind of vibe I want to portray. The silly thing is that its not that hard! Wouldn’t you agree? I understand tasting rooms might simply be a part time job for some people, but just enjoy yourself and it shows in your attitude. Even if you have to pretend at first, go ahead! if you fake being happy and nice long enough you’ll realize you actually become that person. I look forward to meeting you!

      Reply
  16. Andrea Bradford

    I feel like I should apologize on behalf of our entire industry. I just don’t get the attitude I sometimes see directed at younger wine tasters. When a younger wine taster comes in to the tasting room and tells me they were ignored or treated poorly elsewhere, I just cringe. I am in awe of the 21-25 year old tasters I see in my tasting room. They are so much more sophisticated than I was at that age.

    Frankly, when I’m in the tasting room, you kind of can’t shut me up about wine. I don’t care if you are young, old, blue, green or purple – I’m gonna do my best to inform and yes, I dare say it, entertain. Thanks for putting this out there – and don’t give up on the “ma” and “pa” wineries. Some of us pride ourselves on the experience we provide ALL our tasters.

    Reply
  17. Elizabeth

    I just “retired” from working in tasting rooms in the Napa Valley. I have worked in the big places and the small places. I was hired for a very small mom&pop with great care. I had to answer questions about the valley, varietals, where they are grown, how they are blended, etc. Then I had to lead a tasting for the marketing guy and the boss. It was a great job. I made good money selling to every age group. I found I sold more wine clubs to younger people (I am in my 50s) and more wine to older people, but I spent time selling to everyone. I also wanted them to have a good time and to come back…..while these jobs do not pay well, I do believe that selling requires knowledgable, affable people to do it for you. Wineries should choose their tasting room employees carefully. I was also on the other side looking for a job. I was turned down many times because I was “too old.” You know it when you see it. Keep on tasting, it will improve your hospitality skills as well.

    Reply
  18. James Marshall Berry

    Sorry to hear that story. I pour on occasion in one of the ‘big guys’ here in Sonoma Valley (it’s not my ‘real’ job) and I’m there for one reason, I love the wine and want to teach others about the wines of our region. I have way more issues with the wine club types that come in and just want to get tanked than anyone in their 20s. I love telling new wine drinkers about wine, especially how they make blush/rose wines, that seems to be a well kept secret as everyone is amazed when I bring it up on the tour or in tasting. We make big red wines. When the baby boomers from the mid-west come in and want ‘sweet wine’ or when they ask for Zin and you pour it and they say.. “NO.. I wanted Zinfandel” not realizing that Zinfandel isn’t actually pink, thats when I cringe, but still try to give them a good experience. If you’re ever on ‘the island,’ as we call it, hit me up. We’ll taste and have some fun. Oh.. and my site is being rebuilt.. have so much content and so little time.. :-)

    Reply
  19. susan southard

    This saddens me that you are treated this way. I am a member of Tasters Guild Maryland and we are trying to gain more “younger” members just like you. Often times the younger people feel intimidated and won’t come out.

    Of course someone of your age can taste wine and enjoy it, the wineries should welcome you!

    Check out Tasters Guild International web site (we are a chapter) http://www.tastersguild.com. Look for a chapter in your area, hey, maybe even start a chapter. *smile*

    Tell them Sue sent you!

    Go and look….trust me, they will love to have you!

    cheers!

    Reply
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  21. George Wroblewski

    Shame that you were treated that way. We try to do better here in Manchester, England.

    Reply
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