In the beginning there was wine tasting. I imagine vineyards slid open barn doors and invited people into rustic spaces with big vats holding grapes that were crushed with bare feet to give vintners the grape juice they would ferment to create wine.
That scene, entirely from my imagination, might be true, but if it is, it was well before my time. In fact, Greg tells of wine tasting in California in the 1980s that included names like Trefethen and Cakebread, where the visits were much like those we experienced a few years back in Virginia.
With hundreds of wineries dotting the Commonwealth, we spent weekends exploring Virginia wines for a couple of summers. We’d pull out the map, choose a couple that were relatively close together and “belly up to the bar.” With the Virginia Wine Pass, some tastings were free, some cost as much as $25 a person.
We joined friends for tastings. We traveled with a group a couple of times. We paired our tastings with picnic lunches or bites from the winery menu. It was fun and casual … and PRE-COVID.
Then the worldwide pandemic brought wine tasting to a screeching halt. Wineries were forced to close their tasting rooms. We stuck with our tried and true wines because we couldn’t travel to vineyards to try out new blends and vintages.
Last July, we learned wineries were once again offering tastings! We made the then-required reservations (booked well in advance), packed the car and headed to Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and Paso Robles, California to test out west coast wines.
We returned to Trefethen where Greg was awed by the changes. The once small tasting room was now a gorgeous finished facility built strictly for the crowds looking to taste the wines. It was the same at many places. The problem was crowds were strictly prohibited. So our tasting was private and personalized. It was amazing … but amazing also included a higher price tag. We were thrilled with the experience. I hope as things “return to normal” the wineries continue to offer these more personal tastings!
That was then. Recently we were invited to a wine tasting weekend. We get our foreign wines through a wine importer. Vinera Wine Society not only imports small batch wines from around the world, but offers tours. The tours were cancelled and Vinera (then Schossadler) became one of the first to offer online tastings.
The weekend kicked off with dinner at one of the consultant’s homes on Friday. A small, intimate affair, it included a mere eight guests plus our two hosts. The wines were paired with astounding courses crafted in Agi’s kitchen. We all ate, sipped and chatted until we were old friends.
Saturday we met others at the wine warehouse where beautifully decorated tables constructed out of pallets and mats offered more wines to try and more new friends to meet. Wines and ports were on display. Wine club memberships were available for those not already receiving the benefits. We met the owner, other consultants, and like-minded wine drinkers who’d come to celebrate the return of group (albeit small) tastings. A short break in the afternoon allowed us time to grab a quick nap before an oceanside dinner with more wine to taste.
Wineries are reopening for tastings. Restrictions are in place to limit groups. But there’s a reason to raise a glass and toast the return of connecting with friends over a glass of red or white. It’s not as spontaneous as it used to be since reservations are still suggested (if not required), but it’s still a reason to smile. As spring turns to summer, we are once again pulling out our map and looking for local wines to try.
There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Enjoy a little wine along the way.
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PS – Always make sure you have a designated driver who is not drinking or stay near the winery and take a cab or uber.