This Is Calistoga

Know before you go: Etiquette while visiting wineries

“We are here to have fun. Come on in for a good time – no questions asked. We comp tastings at the purchase of a bottle.” – Nate Graham, Tasting Room Associate at Romeo Vineyards

“SPIT OUT YOUR GUM! Avoid wearing strong smelling perfume, and know that wine tasting is subjective; there is no right or wrong answer. The best wine is the wine you like.” – Damian Lagle, Tasting Room Associate at Huge Bear Wines

“Call ahead before going to any tasting. Never feel disrespectful for spitting or dumping the wine. It is very common. Let the tasting room associate know what kind of wine you enjoy, so they don’t pour something you hate.” – Shelby Croft, Tasting Room Associate, Merryvale Vineyards 

If wine-tasting in Napa Valley’s Calistoga is on your bucket list, you’ll want to read on before planning your visit. First things first, how do you choose from 50-plus wineries? Maybe you’re a history buff and want to visit the famous Chateau Montelena, the winery that bested French chardonnay during the ‘76 Judgment of Paris. Or maybe you’re interested in overlooking miles of vineyards while riding an aerial tram to the top of Sterling Vineyards. Want to see a 13th-century torture chamber? Castello di Amorosa has one. Perhaps you prefer boutique wineries with indigenous varietals such as charbono. If this is the case, you’ll want to be sure to schedule visits to tasting rooms/wineries such as Summers Estate, August Briggs, T-Vine Winery, Tofanelli Wines and Vermeil.

Whichever winery or tasting room you plan to visit in Calistoga, regardless of your tasting preference, there is one factor to keep in mind that may not be front of mind:

“What is the appropriate etiquette for winetasting?”

Below are answers to questions all Napa Valley visitors may want to consider.

Tipping: Are you required to tip the tasting room associate?

The answer may surprise you. Let’s say you enjoyed the tasting experience enough to purchase a few bottles, or better yet you joined the wine club. In either case, you are not required to tip because the tasting room associate will receive a commission. However, if you visit a winery and do not buy wine – whether or not you pay a tasting fee – you are expected and encouraged to tip the tasting room associate.

Behavior: The Three R’s

How to behave boils down to the basics: beware of your surroundings and remember you’re here to relax, have fun and taste Calistoga wines. Mission accomplished — as long as you follow the three “R’s”: Be Respectful, Responsible, and Reasonable.

Being RESPONSIBLE is of the utmost importance as it relates to driving — or not driving. Being mindful that even though you are consuming small pours, these tastes add up to a lot of alcohol consumption. The Calistoga Shuttle is an asset to visitors who need transportation. The shuttle runs from Tubbs Lane all the way down to Castello di Amorosa from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Why risk it all when you can call!

If you or your tasting partner begins to slur, or perhaps you’re confident you’ve suddenly become the best air guitarist in the world, it’s probably time to call the Calistoga Shuttle for a ride back to your Calistoga lodging property. If you are not staying in Calistoga (and why wouldn’t you stay in one of Calistoga’s many hot springs resorts or amazing inns?) stop taking selfies and arrange transportation.

Calistoga casual is the dress code while tasting, but doing so in a RESPECTFUL manner. Men are encouraged to wear shorts with a collared shirt. But, if the weather (or you) are too cool for shorts, a nice pair of jeans and a sweater will do. Ladies, put away those stilettos, and men, don’t bother packing a tie. No need to dress to impress – just relax, you’re in Calistoga!

Also, it is highly encouraged to skip the scents when dressing for a day of tasting. Wearing perfume or cologne can disturb the tasting experience for yourself and any guests in your presence. The fragrance can complicate and disrupt the taste and smell of the wine tasting. It’s a better plan to prepare to bask in the aromas presented to you in the form of wine.

Be REASONABLE when planning a tasting with a group. It is highly encouraged that any groups of 5 or more make a reservation to visit a tasting room/winery. Some wineries require a reservation regardless of the number of tasters in the party. It’s best to check the website of a winery/tasting room before you visit.

Spitting & Dumping are Welcomed!

If you’re unsure whether it’s rude to spit wine you don’t want to consume for any number of reasons, such as wanting to pace yourself in tasting many varietals, or simply because you don’t particularly care for the taste, know this: It is highly encouraged to spit or pour out your remaining wine in the spit bucket, especially if you’ve scheduled to visits to multiple wineries. Remember, pace yourself!

— Blog post written by James White, Calistoga Welcome Center Ambassador