Winemaking. Life. The Dirt. Alison Crowe is a Winemaker Based in Napa.

Don’t See Stars (the wrong way): 5 Tips for Wine Tasting at the 2013 Napa Valley Film Festival


Big LogoCamera….and ACTION!  This weekend Garnet Vineyards (moi, Winemaker Alison Crowe and Assistant Winemaker Barbara Ignatowski) will be pouring our new 2012 releases at the 2013 Napa Valley Film Festival at the Sunday Wine Pavillion in downtown Napa and we hope to see many of you there.  As Barb and I load up the Garnetmobile with our tasty treats and pack up our “wine tasting event” kit (napkins, pourers, literature, etc.), I wanted to pass on a little wine-tasting wisdom I’ve gleaned from doing public pouring events over the years.  I think we all know the basics- use the dump bucket, drink water, etc., but here are a few more ways to make sure you get the most out of your walk-around wine tasting event.  Hope to see you at the Napa Valley Film Festival this weekend!

Dress for comfort.

I know, I know.  It’s tempting to bust out the Jimmy Choos and Louboutins for potentially star-studded events like the Napa Valley Film Festival, but honey, we’re not in Hollywood anymore.  Trust me, wine country casual really does mean something (read Mr. Wark’s instructive last paragraph here) and since we tend to have grass, damp caves and even (gasp!) gravel as flooring surfaces, best prepare for a little “rough shoot,” as it were.

Vintage Italian heels?  Hmmm, maybe they should stay at home for a walk-around wine tasting.

Vintage Italian heels? Hmmm, maybe they should stay at home for a walk-around wine tasting.

It’s a lesson I’m trying to remember as I pack for an upcoming trip to Provence.  Spike heels: no (bye bye to my vintage Italian pumps…).  Wedge heels: yes.  Boots: heck yes.  It’s November in Napa, so bring a wrap for daytime and a coat and possibly scarf for nighttime and you’ll be much happier.  You’ll be doing a lot of walking around and standing at the outdoor Wine Pavilion where I’ll be pouring Sunday 2:30-5:00 PM near Copia and Oxbow Market in downtown Napa.  Think less Cannes, more caveaux.

Boots are always at home in Napa wineries, and Napa wine tastings!

Boots are always at home in Napa wineries, and Napa wine tastings!


Practice good tasting bar etiquette

The below applies pretty much anytime you’re tasting wine, whether it be at a “big tent” event like the Napa Valley Film Festival or at a winery’s tasting room on Highway 29.  As vintners, we love to share our wine with the public but there are so many things I see over and over again that I wish I didn’t.  Here are some quickie do’s and don’ts that will help you help us help you:

-If you just want an extra-teeny pour, tell me so, or just say, “That’s fine” or “Thank you” and I’ll stop pouring. Don’t lift your glass up abruptly to tell me I’ve poured you enough. I’m not sure where this tic started, but I see it over and over again with inexperienced tasters, who probably saw someone else do it and thought it was the “done” thing.   Thrusting one’s glass up to “clink” with the bottle is abrupt and rude….believe it or not I’ve also seen a broken glass or two result from such behavior.

-Do be kind to your fellow tasters.  I know it may look like a rugby scrum, but please try to form a line as much as you can, and wait patiently.  It is acceptable to bring two glasses to “get one for a friend” while your friend is out getting food for you (even though you might risk looking like a double fisted drinker) but asking for refill after refill is not the way to ingratiate yourself to a winery or to your wine tasting compatriots.

-Oh yes, and about that line.  It’s good form to taste through the offerings but to do so with a mind to the people behind you.  Please don’t stand there talking to the cute salesboy (or girl) for ever once it’s your turn up at the front.   If a winery is pouring more than three wines and there’s a big line, it’s considered polite to choose your favorite two or three to try, rather than go methodically through the whole lineup.  The person behind you will undoubtedly nominate you for “best supporting actor” if you step aside to enjoy your last pour away from the tasting bar so others can take your place.

-Keep the perfume in check. Some of you know that my secret hobby is collecting perfume.  In fact, on my upcoming trip to Provence, one of the highlights will be a perfume factory tour and personalized perfume blending session in Grasse.  Whenever I’m at work, however, it’s sans perfume for this winemaker.  And it should be for you too.  Don’t worry about the scent of your shampoo or soap, but please don’t pile on the after-shave or the eau de parfum.  Your fellow tasters will thank you.

-Practice safe travelling.  You all know about designating a driver, taking a cab or making sure your hotel has a shuttle.  There are a lot of options in the Valley, so take advantage of them.

Use an app like Delectable to help you take tasting notes

Use an app like Delectable to help you take tasting notes

Come Prepared

To get the most out of a multi-winery tasting event, it pays to come armed with info.  Check out the event website (for the NVFF, see page 117 of the official Napa Valley Film Fest program for a guide to the event’s multi-city Wine Pavilions).  Get the lay of the land, research who will be there and which are the top wineries you’re hoping to taste.  By marking your own personal highlights, you’ll be sure to budget your time and taste buds wisely.  Try to taste from small producers, lesser-known wineries or brands that might actually have the Winemaker or owner pouring.  You’ll learn so much more and get a real feel for the winery that way, instead just walking away with an ounce of something you can buy at every chain restaurant in Ohio.  It also pays to arrive at the start of the event to walk once through the venue, scope it out, and then hit your top wineries before things get crazy.  Bring something to take notes with, be it an app like Delectable or old fashioned pen and paper.  I just know from my own experience, even after having tasted moderately, it’s tough to remember all your favorites after a whirlwind evening of tasting, nibbling, and “hello dahling!” cheek-kissing.

Spit (at least most of the time)

There’s a reason we place dump buckets at every table and tasting station.  No one ever expects anyone at a wine tasting to swallow.  Don’t worry, the winemaker won’t be offended.  I promise.  Also, drink water, be sure to nibble around if nibblies are offered (they should be at events worth their salt) and all else fails, channel Peter Mayle a la “A Year in Provence” and take a teaspoon of   olive oil, neat, to “coat the stomach” before lots of imbibing.  But it’s okay to swallow a sip or three of your favorites.  Just to experience the length of the finish.  Or at least that’s what you will tell your friends.

Wilfreds Ali Pen ShotTalk to me- and share!

This is not the best time or place to get into a debate about the merits of clone 667 vs. 777 for Pinot Noir, but I do want to know a bit about you.  Are you from out of town?  A film buff?  Was there something you enjoyed at the show last night?  I love to learn about people who love wine.  If you came to this tasting, or to taste Garnet wines for a specific purpose, say you’re industry or trade, or have just gotten into Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs, let me know.  That way I’ll make sure the few minutes we have together, before your friend gets back with that amuse bouche and tells you about the Colin Farrell sighting she just had, are well-spent.  Share your experience with others.  The #NVFF crowd is having fun on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Foodspotting….so many places to share your experiences.  Event hashtag #NVFF13 will help you stay connected, as will @GarnetVineyards and @NapaFilmFest.

Garnet Vineyards is proudly hosting a table at More Magazine and Women of the Vine’s  New Power Lunch , a “Celebration of Women Making a Difference” on Saturday at the Film Festival.  Get Tix Here!


Enjoy the 2013 Napa Valley Film Festival!  Passes still available for a fabulous weekend!


Here’s the 411:


Napa Valley Film Fest Website:

Event Hashtag: #NVFF13

Event Twitter Handle:  @NapaFilmFest

Garnet’s Website:

Garnet’s Twitter Handle:  @GarnetVineyards


Women of the Vine:



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