I’m proud to say I attended my first rock concert at the tender age of
My parents – die-hard Rolling Stones fans – figured the aging British rockers
would turn out sufficiently pre-teen-appropriate material for my sister
and me to tag along. What they didn’t count on, however, were the raunchy
antics of opening act Guns & Roses, whose just-short-of-baring-it-all
front man Axl Rose ensured I had the true “hard core” first rock concert
experience of my parents’ worst nightmares.
In short, it was everything I’d hoped it would be.
The only thing that would’ve made the outing still more perfect would’ve
been the opportunity to steal behind the scenes and meet the shock-rockers
Now that I’m a little older, I can see that backstage at a Guns & Roses
concert probably wouldn’t have been an ideal environment for a 12-year-old.
My tastes have also evolved, so to speak, such that stealing “backstage”
at a really top winery holds a lot more appeal for me than does going behind
the scenes at any rock concert. Maybe I’m nuts, but to me, the winemakers
right here in our own backyard are at least as talented and, in most cases,
much less volatile than your average rocker.
So, how do you score a backstage pass at a really fabulous winery?
Read on for a few helpful tips that should have you behind the scenes
in wine country in no time.
The majority of winery visits are made on weekends, when most winemakers
are enjoying some much-deserved down time from the weekly work grind.
This is why your likelihood of scoring some face time with these folks
is significantly better if you can swing a visit on a weekday. Specifically,
late mornings and midday during weekdays are your best bets for finding
Just about all wineries employ a marketing and/or PR person to
handle special requests pertaining to visitors. If you can get one of
these people on the phone your chances of actually meeting a winemaker
and touring the facility improve exponentially. Remember: as hospitality
businesses, wineries recognize it’s good business to try accommodate special
requests whenever possible!
Besides visiting on a weekday, try to head to wine country during
the off-peak times of the wine producing year – namely, NOT during harvest.
Harvest takes place roughly between late summer and early fall, and during
these months winemakers are working around the clock and their hard-at-work
facilities are rarely available for touring. Translation: your chances
of going behind the scenes during harvest are next to nil. Try instead
for mid-winter or spring, before the summer crowds hit the area in full
Sure, we’d all like to rub shoulders with winemakers at the really
big-name producers in wine country. But, I’ve found that producers at
smaller, boutique-style wineries tend to spend more time with guests and
share more information about their operations than do their better-known
peers. Plus, it helps that the smaller guys and gals are looking to build
their brands and grow their sales; for this reason, every visitor is a
valuable marketing contact for them! If these folks DO spend time with
you, share the news about their wines with your friends in return.
This may go without saying, but part of the reason wineries are
accommodating to guests is that many of them make a significant amount
of their income from direct sales to customers who come to visit. If staff
members have gone out of their way to accommodate you, it’s polite to
purchase some of their wine before leaving. And quantity is not the point
here – it’s the gesture that matters.
Sending a thank you note does more than just convey your appreciation
for special treatment: it helps establish an on-going relationship with
the winery that paves the way for future visits. Because the only thing
better than a really great visit with a winemaker, after all, is a subsequent
visit on which he or she remembers your name.
It’s on these occasions when you’ll start to feel like a part of the fabric
of wine country – not just a “visitor,” but a “regular.” Which is way more
fulfilling, in my opinion, than hobnobbing with a raunchy rocker any day.