From that last post - I'm struck by how much of his advice transfers over to visiting wineries. I imagine this applies everywhere, but of course I'm most familiar with Virginia:
- The crowded places with the rented van services bringing lots of laughing women around are always the worst.
- There are a few grapes that do better in Virginia: Viognier, Cab Franc. Because of this lots of places have a signature wine of that varietal. That's a stand-by when you're tasting in Virginia, but because of that it can be deceptive. Not all are good.
- Similarly, there's a big variety of Chardonnay's out there because it's familiar. There are many good Virginia Chardonnay's, but you have to actually look for them.
- If you can taste with an owner or winemaker instead of just someone at the bar your experience will be ten times better. If you make it clear that you know something about Virginia wine you'll get a lot better service and often they'll pull out a lot of extra wines they don't serve to other customers. If they start drinking with you, it's a very good sign. We've literally talked with a wine-maker for over an hour at a tasting. If they're out in the tasting room, it means there's not a lot of work to do at that time of the year and they love talking to people and tasting with people that love talking to them.
- Lots of people get excited when new wines are released. I don't. I've never understood this. Wines are never as good when they first get released. Don't run out when you get an email from them saying they just released something - just wait a while.
- Do go to brand new wineries. They can be very surprising. People are still enthusiastic about what they do and they've been experimenting for a few years with exactly what they want to put forward (unlike restaurants, winemakers are operating for a while before they open up to the public - often several years). It's surprising how good new wineries can be - and if they are good you want to patronize them to keep them in business.
- Unfinished tasting rooms (like barns or framed rooms without any drywall up yet) are always better. It means the owner has been focusing on the right thing: the wine. I can think of four or five unfinished tasting rooms that have all had high quality wine.
- If you like a winery, find out who they are friendly with. Virginia wineries (maybe other regions?) are incestuous. Winemakers often work at a couple places. People know each other socially. Friends who help out with a winery start their own. Grape growers who supply wineries for years decide to start making their own wine. Styles and methods flow through social networks. If you like winery X and you find out winery X has connections to winery Y and Z, go to winery Y and Z, and you're likely to get a new twist on something you already know you like.
- Finally - terroir really does matter. We stick around Loudon County a lot for proximity, but going into the piedmont type areas or into the mountains really gives you different wine, so make sure you go further afield when you can.