POSTED ON April 7, 2011 | IN Tasting Rooms, Wine Education | BY joe

It’s that time of year again. Bud Break is all around and the vines are beginning a new growing year in the wine country. That dreary, cold, and rainy period is over and tourists can now flock to the tasting rooms again. Wineries are ready to receive and pamper all tourists.

This is the when the wineries make big bucks selling their wines to tourists eager to bring home the bounty of the Napa Valley. Be a wise consumer when you visit the tasting room; you certainly don’t want “buyer’s remorse” when you return home with a trunk full of wine purchased on impulse. Here are some consumer tips for your tasting room excursions.

First of all, a well-planned itinerary will get you to the wineries you are most interested in visiting. Use our Trip Planner to select wineries according to your interests and preferences. Or visit the Napa Valley Vintners website; they also have a tool for sorting out wineries using several criteria.

Make sure your palate is in top condition to judge the wines you will be tasting. Perfumes and cologne will surely confuse your sensory judgment.

Pace yourself with your wine consumption. Drinking too much wine will bring on “palate fatigue” and also dull the senses. Try using a spit cup. The art of spitting wine is done by all the serious wine connoisseurs when they evaluate wine. Here is how.

Be there to learn and judge the wine as objectively as possible. What makes this winery’s wine better than others? Ask the server questions like how long the wine was aged, what type barrels, etc. Where did the grapes come from? The tasting room staff should be eager and willing to answer all your questions.

Tasting fees are skyrocketing and where the norm was once $10, now we see more than one option for tasting wines with fees averaging $15 and many much, much higher. Napa Valley Vintners tries to keep current the tasting room fees for each winery in its association. There is also a list of wineries, only 13, that apply the tasting room fee to a purchase of wine. This sounds like a no-brainer, a win-win for all, but the wineries just don’t get it. They want you to buy their wine, try it at home and order more online. Why not give some incentives to buy and try their wine by waiving the tasting fee? It should be the law!

Watch for the wine club sale pitch. “It’s free to join” is the first thing you will hear. Of course it is free! The other pitch, “Join today, and we will give you the club discount on the wines you buy today and even waive your tasting fee.” Now most wineries give a soft pitch to join the wine club, but many wineries give their staff a commission if they get someone to join their wine club, so some staff can be a little too pushy. Just sit back and relax before you join a wine club. Here is a whole Web page on the pros and cons of joining a winery’s wine club.

Stock up on coupons by visiting the various tourist centers. There is one in Yountville and Calistoga with lots of tasting coupons. I have not been to the new Napa Welcome Center in town but you might try that as well. It is at 600 Main Street on the Riverfront in Napa.

Enjoy your trip to the wine country in April, and when you return tell us about your experience, both the good and the bad.

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