‘Inside the Tasting Room’ with Betsy Waugh of Jason’s Vineyards

Betsy Waugh of Jason's Vineyard. (Credit: David Benthal)

Betsy Waugh of Jason’s Vineyard. (Credit: David Benthal)

Betsy Waugh isn’t your average wine pourer.

Sure, the Northville resident regularly oversees tastings at Jason’s Vineyard in Jamesport, where she’s worked for the past two years.

But there’s one job responsibility in particular that separates Waugh, 55, from the rest of the North Fork’s vineyard employees: She cares the Main Road winery’s three alpaca and 11 sheep.

“We pourers are really, really tight with them,” she said of the animals, which include a baby alpaca named Buttercup. “When there’s a blizzard in the middle of winter, I have to shovel my way in to get to the hay.”

A native of West Hartford, Conn., Waugh knows a thing or two about tending to the needs of others. The certified nurse assistant, who has two grown sons, also works part-time caring for dementia patients.

Waugh applied for a job at Jason’s Vineyard, she said, because she wanted to fill her days “with something social.”

She certainly succeeded: Waugh now has so many on-the-job “war stories” that she’d like to organize a convention for wine pourers across the region to share a laugh.

“If we could all get together and crack up, I’d love to do that,” she said.

A Family of alpacas at Jason's Vineyard in Jamesport. (Credit: David Benthal)

A Family of alpacas at Jason’s Vineyard in Jamesport. (Credit: David Benthal)

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: Finding commonalities with my customers. Sometimes you’ll see a license plate and say, ‘Oh, you’re from Connecticut! I’m from Connecticut.’ Or you’ll get to talking about music. Because I’m 55, I know the demographic and we’ll hear a song and go, ‘Oh! I remember that.’

Q: On the flip side, what do you find most challenging about it?

A: The times when the buses and limos on Saturdays come in all at the same time and you don’t have time to talk to anybody or tell them about the wine. You just grab a bottle and pour.

Q: What is your favorite wine from Jason’s Vineyard?

A: The 2010 Riesling. It’s sweet but not too sweet.

Q: Do you have a least favorite varietal?

A: I don’t like merlots or cabs. My chemistry, at 55, goes to the sweet. Interestingly, as women, we know our chemistry changes over time. So my chemistry right now is sweet.

Q: What wine do customers seem to like best?

A: The Golden Fleece [a blend of Cayuga, seyval and gewürztraminer.] It’s our best seller. It’s not too sweet, not too dry — it’s evenly balanced.

Q: What advice would you give prospective wine tasters?

A: Don’t have any expectations. I think that people who have been to Napa or the Finger Lakes have a different experience. Two weeks ago, one lady was unbelievably angry because we didn’t give her an ice bucket. We don’t have ice buckets!

Q: What is something you wish customers didn’t do?

A: Go into the sheep pen! Then I have to go in there and chase them out. Also, if you don’t care for a wine, don’t disparage it out loud, as in, ‘That’s disgusting.’ Just say, ‘I don’t care for it.’

Q: What is the most memorable thing that’s happened while you were on the job?

A: There was a 21-year-old birthday girl in bare feet who jumped over the sheep pen fence, chased the sheep and got knocked down in a white dress.

Betsy Waugh pours a glass of wine at Jason's Vineyard in Jamesport. (Credit: David Benthal)

Betsy Waugh pours a glass of wine at Jason’s Vineyard in Jamesport. (Credit: David Benthal)

Q: What do you have in common with the rest of the vineyards on the North Fork?

A: On the weekends we deal with people who are unfamiliar with the territory. And we’re just normal folks.

Q: What makes Jason’s Vineyard stand apart?

A: I’d like to say we’re casual and personable. We have a great crew. When you come in, we’d like you to feel at home.

This story originally appeared in the fall 2015 edition of the Long Island Wine Press.