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Winter is a great time to visit wine country — maybe even the best time — if it’s the wine that you’re interested in rather than wine-themed carnivals. 

The pumpkins have been picked, there’s a lot less traffic and tasting rooms are quieter and more civilized. And the year-round employees, the ones staffing the tasting rooms right now, have a true passion for wine, know a lot about it and want to share that with you.

This time of year, the people you’ll find in tasting rooms — on both sides of the bar — tend to be real “wine people,” people for whom wine isn’t merely a social lubricant and intoxicant. Now is the time you’ll meet winemakers and winery owners. And because the taster-to-pourer ratio is lower in the winter, you’ll get more personal attention.

But to get the most of out your tasting wine day, there are some guidelines you should adhere to. They’ll keep you safe and ensure a fun day.

Do a Little Advance Research

You don’t necessarily need to have your entire day mapped out. Sometimes spontaneity is the goal. But there are different types of wineries out here that offer varying experiences. If you’re looking for a quiet tasting room where the focus is entirely on the wine, there are establishments that offer that. Similarly, if you’re looking for a raucous crowd and tables where you can camp out for the day, that’s an option, too. A quick Google search and some research on social media can go a long way to ensure that you end up at the right wineries for your tastes.

Don’t Drive if You Plan to Drink

This should go without saying, but a reminder is never a bad thing. Each tasting pour is only an ounce or two, but they can add up over the course of a day. Either decide who is going to drive before you even get to the first winery or hire a limo or other service to chauffeur you around. Never assume that someone in your party will be “sober enough” to drive at the end of your day. Make sure that you eat something before you go, too. Nothing ruins a great day on the North Fork like getting arrested. Or hurting someone.

Don’t Wear Perfume or Cologne

Again, this might seem obvious, but it’s often forgotten. People want to be able to smell the merlot or sauvignon blanc in their glasses — not the cologne the guy next to them has drowned himself in. Be considerate.

It’s Okay to Spit and Dump

There aren’t many public places today where spitting is tolerated, let alone encouraged, but tasting rooms are one of them. Those black plastic or stainless steel buckets on the bar? Those are for spitting the wine out after you’ve tasted it. And if you don’t like one wine or another feel free to dump the rest out. Really. It’s OK. It’s not rude.

Don’t Treat a Tasting Room Like a Dive Bar

Some wineries have created a bar-like atmosphere, but they still aren’t bars. Don’t ask to be “filled up” and just be respectful of those around you and behind the tasting bar. If you’re drinking to get drunk, do it at your favorite local watering hole (with your designated driver in tow). Drunkenness and the associated behavior are never appropriate at a winery.

Take Your Time

There isn’t an award for appearing at the most wineries in one day. Rather than rushing through each stop, barely tasting anything at all, pick three or four wineries that you want to visit and take your time at each. Wine tasting is about more than just the wine. Enjoy your friends, the setting and the conversation. Rushing because you want to hit every winery in one day (which isn’t possible, by the way) takes away from the experience.

Buy Wine… If You Like Something

Opinions differ on this point, but you should only buy wine to take home if you like something. Sure, wineries want to sell as much wine as possible — they are businesses after all — but they don’t want you to feel uncomfortable or pressured to purchase. You should never buy wine you don’t like.