It’s an incredible time to be a writer. Anytime I write anything about anything, there will always be direct feedback. Some of it is positive. Some of it is inevitably negative. But I find all of it valuable. OK, maybe I find most of it valuable. Trolls are never worth anyone’s time.
In my last column, I made the case — I hope — that at least some food should be available in winery tasting rooms because consumption of alcohol, while optional, is the reality. I heard from nearly every corner of the local wine and food industries. Chefs, restaurant owners, winemakers, tasting room managers and beyond. Local residents offered their opinions as well.
I don’t have enough space here to share it all piece by piece, but what I think it all really boils down to is this single question: What should a winery tasting room be?
Obviously, it should be a place where people can taste wine. That’s why it’s called a tasting room. But beyond that, opinions vary. And, just as obviously, wineries need to be able to sell their wine. Those are the givens.
From there it gets much more murky. Should people also be able to drink wine there? If so, are we talking by the glass or full bottles? What about other alcohol, like beer and/or spirits or cocktails? It’s happening at some local tasting rooms today, but some would — I think correctly — suggest that at that point, you’re operating a bar, not a winery tasting room.
You can ask the same types of questions about live music, cover charges, food, buses, family-friendliness; the list goes on and on.
I have my own vision for what a tasting room should look like, but before I share it, please remember that it’s conceptualized without any regard for the financial sustainability of the winery, and thus is just my own idealized vision.
I don’t own a winery, but if I did I wouldn’t allow buses or limos. I probably wouldn’t want bachelorette parties. I’d have highly trained staff pouring the wines in a setting that encourages conversation and education. I’d like it if my winemaker were around regularly, but I also understand the realities of that job. Yes, I’d have food, but nothing one might consider a meal. Live music would be reserved for occasional special events. Maybe. I’m actually not sure I’d have live music at all.
I’d want to have a somewhat separate space where people could enjoy wines by the glass or bottle. Hopefully that space would be outside (covered for bad weather) with vineyard views.
But at the end of the day the focus would be on the wines that my vineyard manager, winemaker and their teams have worked so hard to make. Every decision I’d make for this hypothetical tasting room would be made with one goal in mind: attracting the right kind of customers for my business.
Again, it’s easy for me to have this vision. I don’t have to pay employees or taxes or the mortgage on a large vineyard and tasting room property. But at the same time, if more wineries shared this vision, I think the industry would be better off. Wine has to be the focus.
Lenn Thompson, a Pittsburgh, Pa., native, moved to Long Island more than a decade ago and quickly fell in love with the region’s dynamic wine community. The founder and publisher of NewYorkCorkReport.com, he lives in Miller Place with his wife and two children.