For wine geeks, the changing colours of fall don’t just mean pumpkin pie, pretty foliage and Halloween. Autumn signals grape harvest, which makes it a great time to get out and visit wineries. There are several Canadian provinces with strong wine regions, particularly British Columbia and Ontario.
As a former wine business reporter in Niagara’s wine region, I picked up a lot of winery touring do’s and don’ts along the way.
1. There are no stupid questions. Your first winery visit can be a bit intimidating with all the swirling glasses and technical talk of vintages, barrel aging and wine tasting notes. (I’m still skeptical of people that pick up notes of pencil shavings in their glass. Really?!) Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to ask any question that comes to mind. The majority of tasting bar staff at any winery are glad to answer anything.
2. Hydrate. A lot of winery touring newbs forget to drink water during their visits. Try to balance out every sip of wine with a sip of water. Your body will thank you later.
3. Don’t be afraid to spit. Those little silver buckets – or spittoons – on the bar aren’t there to enhance the decor. Most wine professionals spit during a prolonged tasting to avoid getting drunk and to keep their palate pristine. Just try to be delicate when dribbling in the bucket. Keep the spray to yourself.
4. Try a wine you don’t normally drink. So you think you hate Chardonnay? It’s likely you just haven’t had the right one. Un-oaked, lightly oaked, a winemaker’s skill, the vintage (whether it was a good growing year for that particular grape variety) all come into play when producing a bottle of wine. It’s always good to give that wine you thought you hated another try.
5. Have a designated driver. Unless you spit the whole way along, you’re going to be drinking a fair amount. Those tiny samples add up. Be safe and have a DD or arrange a ride.
6. Bring snacks. Some wineries offer food but many don’t. It’s always a good idea to have a little food with you to stave off hunger and help absorb the alcohol.
7. Buy a bottle, save the tasting fee. Most wineries will charge you to sample wine. However, if you buy a bottle, they usually waive the fee. If they don’t offer this information, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
8. Ask about free or low cost tours. Tours are a great way of getting an introduction to the grape growing and wine making process, plus it normally comes with a few samples, which are often from more premium end and may not be available on the regular tasting menu.
9. Shipping. Generally, wineries ship products within a province. The rules are bit murkier when shipping between Canadian provinces, however. The federal government changed the rules recently to allow wine to be sent between provinces for personal use, however some have not embraced the rules. Best to ask.
10. Compare vintages. Drink a 2006 Merlot and a 2012 version one after the next. You’ll be amazed at the differences. Drinking the same type of wine from different vintages or producers is a great way of bolstering your wine knowledge.
Monique Beech is Sun Media’ digital content director. She spent four years covering Ontario’s wine industry for the St. Catharines Standard.