(This column originally appeared in the 4/15/05 issue of Dan’s Papers)

Spring is here and now that we’ve all at least started
our spring yard work, it’s time to put aside our chores and relieve
some of that cabin fever we’ve all been feeling. I’m sure it will come
as no surprise that I think there’s no better way to enjoy a spring
afternoon than a trip to the wineries.

Whether you’re new to visiting winery tasting rooms or a seasoned vet,
here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your trip.

Choose a Designated Driver.
Sure, the samples you’ll be drinking are
small, usually an ounce or so, but they do add up. Decide who’s going
to drive before you head to the first winery. Don’t assume that
“someone will be sober enough to drive” at the end of the day. Nothing
ruins a great day at the wineries like a DWI arrest, or worse.

If you
don’t want to designate a driver, hire one of the limo or bus companies
to drive you around.

Don’t Try
to Visit Every Winery.
Again, those little wine pours add up. Choose
three or four wineries that you’d like to try and take your time
at each one. Wine tasting is about more than just the wine. Rushing
because you want to visit every winery on the North Fork in one day
takes away from the experience. Don’t do it.

Bring a Picnic Lunch.
One of the things I enjoy most about a winery
afternoon is having a picnic lunch among the vines. Many wineries have
beautiful patios or decks where you can spread out and have a great
lunch. But, if you’re going to drink wine with lunch, make sure it’s
from the winery where you’re eating. In most cases, they’ll even lend
you glasses. It’s rude to drink wine from another winery on someone
else’s property.

Don’t Wear
Perfume or Cologne.
This might just be a pet peeve of mine, but if I’m
tasting a winery’s newly released Merlot, I want to be able to smell
the berry aromas with subtle hints of cocoa…not the cologne the guy
next to me has drowned himself in. You’ve met that guy. I know you
have. Be considerate.

Speak Up
and Ask Questions.
Once you’re bellied up to the wine bar, don’t just
quietly drink what they pour for you. The people pouring the wines are
passionate about them and have a lot to offer. Again, a winery visit is
about the full experience, not just the wines. And, if you get lucky,
they may just pour you something special that isn’t on the usual
tasting menu. Get to know these people, they’ll remember you the next
time you visit.

Don’t Drink
Wines You Don’t Like.
If you take that first sip of a reserve
Chardonnay and it’s just too oaky and buttery for your taste, don’t
finish it. Every tasting bar has a dump bucket for just this reason.
It’s okay to skip any of the wines on the tasting list too. If you want
to just taste a particular varietal or just reds or whites, you can do

Bring Friends and Have
I always say that wine is something best enjoyed with friends. Get
a group together and have a great time (with a designated driver, of
course.) But remember that you aren’t the only people out there. Try
not to be too loud or annoying. It ruins the atmosphere for everyone

Buy a Bottle to Take
Home…If There’s One You Like.
Some people say you absolutely need to
buy at least one bottle of wine at each winery. That’s ridiculous.
Never feel pressured to do so. Of course, if there’s a wine you really
love, why wouldn’t you want to take some home?

Remember, wineries want you to have a great time so that you’ll come back again and again, not feel guilty and never return.