For those that know my summer schedule, I can usually be found at Farmers Markets on Saturday mornings. Other than a great motivation to get up and load a vehicle at 5 or 6 in the morning, it is an opportunity to interact with customers and get their opinions, and sometimes funny faces, as they try our wines. My experience is that they are more than willing to share their thoughts as they try four different wines for a dollar. And I do say they are more likely to say something here than in a restaurant where there is a certain behavior and persona is required, not to mention not wanting to start a debate with a sommelier.
I feel like I am the bartender at Cheers. People stand in front of me at the makeshift bar, listen to my description of each wine and where I think it is best served and give it a sip. We are more generous than many other wineries.....we offer nearly an ounce of a wine so it isn't just a lip wetter. Customers can taste the wine a couple of times, or let their partner try some too. We don't get bent out of shape by this sharing......for god's sake it is just a dollar. It is Saturday too. Time to chill out and relax.
The majority of our customers I would define as casual wine drinkers. They have a good idea what to reach for when they want a bottle of wine. Some favor whites, others reds, and some only want to drink sweets. Of course there are those that will drink anything, and are proud to tell you that if it has alcohol in it they'll pound it down. We rarely get the person who says that they know what they like after they taste it....it may be how we are trying to direct their decision when choosing 4 out of the 8 wines we offer.
On rare occasion we get the guy (it is usually a guy) who promotes himself as sort of an expert. And we get those that say they have been brought up on Napa wines so that is the high standard they have, or so they say. I find a question or two sent their way that helps define their wine knowledge gets them off this high horse they are riding.
But then this past Saturday I had this lady approach our table for a tasting. She seemed a little reserved, not the normal outgoing personality of those wanting to taste wines at 9 in the morning. She indicated she wanted to try all of our reds, and so I began with our Cabernet Franc. This is when the curtain came down and her friend said she was a wine judge and "knew her stuff". I think what that announcement did was at least allow her to make some succinct comments with some resemblance of authority.
I do not pretend to know everything about wine. I am not even the winemaker, so the particulars of wine making, including yeast selection, acid and sugar balancing, etc. are only something I am faintly aware of. I think she knew this based on my presentation, and was able to provide some input without the need to peg me down a notch. She was confident in her observations, provided just enough detail so I wouldn't be overwhelmed, and all this without coming across like a pompous ass. I was impressed.....and I am hard to impress.
The last wine she tried was our Bacon's Castle Win. It is a red blend using the Norton grape mixed with two of our Bordeaux grapes. If you know the Norton grape, it has a very distinctive flavor.....gamey and musky are the words I use to describe it. The wine judge then introduced me to the term "Brett". It is short for brettanomyces, a yeast some people call a spoilage yeast because it tends to add off flavors in to the wine. But she proceeded to say that in small doses it can actually contribute to the flavor of the wine and be a positive thing. These lower concentrations may give the wine spicy or leather notes....something I had recognized but never knew how they came about. These yeasts are very hard to control, since they can be found on the grapes, in the winery, or in the fermenting vessels, and regardless of how well you clean, clean, clean one may never be able to eradicate them.
All very interesting. Something I learned from a customer who was willing to share and teach. I hope some day she'll come back. She judges up in the Finger Lakes region.