Free Spirit Wines – Willamette Valley Wine Education —

Top 10 Tasting Room Tips

Cheers to you

The busy winery tasting room visiting season in the Willamette Valley is upon us! Whether you are a tasting room visitor from the neighborhood or from across the country, here are my Top 10 tips for your visit.

#1. Be sure to eat a good meal before venturing out, as it really helps to have something in your stomach before you start tasting. Bring snacks to munch on in your car, or bring a picnic to enjoy at one of our many beautiful winery locations. Confirm in advance that the winery allows picnics.

#2. Bring a reusable bottle for water with you and refill at each winery stop. Dehydration is the #1 cause of headaches!

#3. Refrain from wearing heavy fragrances. Our sense of taste is really 90% smell (try holding your nose while you taste). Strong perfumes interfere with not only your own tasting experience but also that of those around you. And ladies, you will make best friends with tasting room managers all over the Valley by not wearing heavy lipstick during your tour…it’s really hard to wash off the glassware!

#4. If you are traveling with a larger group (six or more people), I strongly recommend you call your winery stops in advance to let them know when you are coming. In the case of very large groups (eight or more), advance appointments are always required.

#5. Bring a pen (or an iPad!) and take notes on the wines you taste. The notes don’t have to be fancy. Use your own “scoring” system of check marks, smiley faces, stars…whatever makes sense to you!

#6. Engage the tasting room staff or winemaker in conversation. Ask questions. Remember that you are not “supposed” to know anything in particular about wine. Truly, there are no stupid questions!

#7. If you don’t have a designated driver, do keep in mind that all those small tastes add up fast! Pace yourself, limit the number of wineries you visit in one day to no more than four, share tastings between two people, use the dump buckets provided (no, it’s not wasting wine!), and drink lots of water.

#8. You are not expected to love every wine you taste. We all have different palates and preferences. No need to yell, “Ew!” But do take note of what it is that you don’t like about the wine, to help hone and learn your palate. It is just as important to learn what we don’t like as it is to know what we do like.

#9. If you had a great experience in a tasting room, share the love with your friends, and on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Many Willamette Valley wineries are small, family-run operations without big marketing budgets. Word-of-mouth is an important part of their outreach.

#10. Finally, don’t be intimidated by appointment-only wineries. Appointments are not meant to discourage visitors! Oregon has many small producers who do not employ full-time staff, so they need to know when you are coming. Many will only schedule one tasting group at a time, to ensure they provide you with their focused attention and personal service. So do not be put off by appointment requests, just please make sure you call ahead. You will probably end up meeting the winemaker themselves!

  • Joe Becerra

    You might want to see my movie on travel tips for the Napa Valley. There are loads of good tips that supplement your post. The URL:

  • Robert Wood

    I would change the wording in #3 to “Refrain from wearing ANY fragrances.”

    • Mich Nelson

      Excellent point, Robert. It is indeed best to refrain from *all* fragrances when tasting wine…but it is most important (in the visitor/tourist context) to avoid very strong fragrances that could potentially disrupt all those around you, as well as yourself. Folks on vacation or on a casual tasting room visit do not necessarily need to stop wearing deodorant or hair products…but I would like to encourage visitors to put down the spray bottle of cologne or the especially fragrant hand cream! Cheers!