Winery Log, Spring 2018: Wine Tasting with the Herd

How do you meet new people? The answer probably depends on what kind of people you are looking to meet.

Let’s assume you are looking to make new friends socially, and not related to work. A big party sounds like fun to some people. Meet many new people at once, with many possibilities to hit it off with someone new. This is the essence of wine tasting with the Herd.

Somewhere between speed dating and the ultimate hors d’oeuvre sampler platter, a common entertainment method of Herd wine tasting is the “start from the top” wine sampling. For those looking to party, or unable to make a timely choice off a menu, it is a leave no stone unturned, bottoms-up flashing glass quest to try half a dozen, or a dozen, or maybe even two dozen wines, all in fast succession. Burp. Excuse me.

Rinsing between samples is simultaneously both forbidden and required, to further dilute the barbaric nature of the imbibement.

Herd tastings are the big party of wine; you get introduced to many different wines at once, it can be a lot of laughs, and it almost never, ever, takes place alone. Herd tasting is a decidedly group effort.

A herd group comes into the tasting room. Maybe they are a pair of elephants, or a herd of gazelles, or a family of meerkats, or a flock of penguins. All shapes and sizes, Herds are a group that tends to bring the party rolling in with them, and the dominant members of the herd tend to rule the roost in an effort to provide the entertainment wisdom. It takes a knowledgeable barista to not get overwhelmed, trampled and drowned out.

In group Herd tastings an artificial tradition has grown over whites – reds – sweets, with sweets dropped off the menu entirely if it’s a snobby winery. They only do “serious” wines. Seriously? 30% of the market and 100% of history revolve around sweet wine drinkers, and the one group most likely to impulse buy in a rapid-fire tasting environment are sweet lovers. Why put a dry-humored bouncer at the door to make so many people feel unwanted? Wineries that try to break with the traditional arrangement face confused tasters used to white-red-sweet from all the other wineries around them. Wineries that try to limit the available choices to a reasonable few, or charge per tasting, get a nasty rep quick. Such is life on the Serengeti.

While a new wine drinker in a Herd tasting may find a style of wine they did not know about, they may just as easily be overwhelmed and forget most of what they discover in the race to the finish. The most unfortunate example of a Herd wine tasting is the group just out to get drunk. Like a big party, they cut it loose and let it fly. The problem is, the wine was never intended to be a fast-food drive-in-window item any more than Thanksgiving dinner. The winemaker’s hard-made product is slammed down and spat out of bitter faces complaining at how awful it is, only to eagerly extend the glass for the next alcoholic lash of the whip.

Most folks enjoy parties, many winemakers included. Just stay sober and respectful in wineries. I will tell you as a wine crafter that after hundreds of thousands of poured wine tastings, none of us have ever enjoyed being the bartending butt of a drunk herd’s wine tasting joke. Years ago wineries didn’t charge for a wine tasting. They were complimentary, both ways. Like a restaurant, clients usually bought an obligatory bottle as a gratitude tip at the end, if nothing else. Like an angry Mexican chef, over time too many cheap people came in for the free chips & salsa and stiffed us with nothing, and like a trashing house party, drunk herds are why most wineries now have a tasting fee. Nothing moves the party elsewhere faster than having to pay for the cleanup afterward.


How can you avoid the Herd mentality? A few tips.

Slow down! This is the first and best advice to ENJOY a sampling of several wines. There is no reason reasonable wine tasters looking to learn more have to race thru them all like an adrenaline parachute jump.

Eat food! Treat a winery like a restaurant, NOT a bar. Eat before going, or bring (or buy, if they offer) food at the winery. The wine will actually taste better, and you’ll make smarter purchasing decisions. Are you going to drink the wine without any food when you get it home?

Break the tasting up!  Try only the whites first, then buy one glass (or enough) to share them with the rest of the herd and everyone talk about the wine, life and the winery. Take your partial glasses to a table or outside if necessary, and when everyone in the herd is ready, go back for the reds and do the same thing again. Then the sweets. Make an enjoyable experience out of your winery visit.

Be picky! If you are going to more than one winery, consider just trying Chards, or Cabs, or 20XX. Everyone in the herd doesn’t have to have the same wine sample, they can each focus on something different they like. You can still compare notes, and you may get more out of both the tasting and the rest of the herd.

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