Over the years, I have stepped foot in hundreds of wineries, tasting rooms, or co-ops in Washington State. Each time, the person working at the tasting room truly makes or breaks the experience and can even impact perceptions of the wines. Here are three people who have stood out for positively influencing my experiences over the years.
The first person I think of is Steve Wells of Gramercy Cellars. Appropriately titled “Director of Awesome” on the winery’s website, Steve is one of those people you are instantly drawn to. He was a sommelier in New York City before moving to Walla Walla to dive into the other end of the wine business. Steve is knowledgeable but is also down to earth and seems as comfortable sharing stories about family and friends as he is describing the leather, white pepper or citrus in the glass. His polished dome and bearded face remind me of a white Isaac Hayes – and he’s cool enough to probably pull off his own rendition of “Shaft”.
While some tasting rooms in Washington will have a dedicated tasting room manager like Steve, others will feature the winemaker as co-host like Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars. When I first visited the winery, I heard something in the background I’ve never heard in a tasting room before. When I asked what was on the turntable – yes you read that correct – and was informed, “It’s Scorpions Saturday!” I knew I was in the right place.
Busch allows people to thumb through crate after crate of vinyl and make playlist recommendations. I can’t remember what we chose I was so taken in. During the visit, we discussed Busch’s album collection nearly as much as the wines he was pouring. Of course, if you want to meet Busch, make sure to check Pearl Jam’s touring schedule before planning a trip to Sleight of Hand (he is possibly their biggest fan).
Another winemaker who frequently runs the tasting room and makes quite an impression is Ryan Crane of Kerloo Cellars. The first time I met Crane, my friends and I unintentionally walked in five minutes after closing to a full tasting room (we thought they closed an hour later). When we offered to return the following day, Crane balked and rather than hurrying us through the lineup, he even subsequently asked, “Would you like to try the first wine I made?” We were enchanted.
Of course, when visiting a winery, it’s very much about the wine, but it’s also about making the tasting experience memorable. Personally, at the best wineries, I don’t need a photo to remind me of the visit as the person at the tasting room leaves as much of a lasting impression as the wines.