One of the big pleasures of booze tourism is to be found in the tasting room. A recent article by Lettie Teague of The Wall Street Journal, one of many wine columns we read and enjoy regularly, reminds us of some of the behind-the-scenes activity that goes into making a winery’s tasting room a successful and enjoyable experience. Obviously, good wine is a solid start — though even only merely pleasant wine may be uplifted into a fun and enjoyable experience if everything else is done right.
Teague described her experiences learning the inner workings of the tasting room at Chateau Ste. Michelle, the oldest winery in Washington state, which receives more than a quarter million visitors each year. She points out that via its guided tours and tastings, the winery creates a memorable experience and future “ambassadors for the brand,” which will eventually translate into sales. The takeaway here is, of course, that spending time and resources to make the overall winery visit experience a wholly positive one is a generally very good thing. This is true of distilleries and breweries too. Most, though not all, booze producers have embraced this.
On top of the educational aspect of such tours, the chance to drink their product in situ with knowledgeable, enthusiastic and helpful staff is always a fun and worthwhile use of our time. At a great many wineries one gets the opportunity to sip and swirl the wines with the winemaker directly, or at least with members of the production crew, rather than simply trained hospitality staff (though if trained well enough, this is no waste of time). Indeed, this is why there is not a wine critic around who would not, and does not, highly recommend visiting winery tasting rooms. Just be sure, obviously, to designate a driver or arrange transportation.
The kosher wine world is no different, though there are far fewer visitor experiences to be had.
In Israel, for example, of the roughly 300 to 350 wineries operating today (the number seems to change every six months or so as folks close or open shop), only about 90 are kosher certified, out of which around 60 or so actually export their wines; not all of these even have tasting rooms yet, but many do, and some of these are really great experiences. There are a few more kosher tasting opportunities in Europe, one in South Africa, one in Australia, and, well, you get the picture. Many of the kosher wines being produced around the globe are produced as a limited run at an otherwise nonkosher winery, or are produced using rented facilities, so there isn’t really any proper winery location to visit and taste the wines. Domestically, the number of kosher wineries and tasting room experiences can be counted on one hand, but each has its own reputed charms. (Neither of us has yet had the opportunity to visit the Covenant Winery in its new urban winery setting in Berkeley, Calif.)
One domestic kosher winery visit and tasting room experience that we very heartily recommend is Hagafen Cellars in the Napa Valley.
While there try the Hagafen Estate Syrah 2012 ($32), which expresses both dark fruit and earthy aromas that lead on the palate to flavors of dark cherry, strawberry, mocha and spice with hints of pepper and cedar. A terrific cooler weather wine. L’Chaim!