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Tasting Room Travails

I am often asked to refer readers to wineries to visit. Generally, the most rewarding experiences come from scheduled appointments with the owner and or winemaker. However, in some instances the consumer ends up in the tasting room expecting at least some modicum of friendliness and attention. One of my readers had a very unfortunate experience recently and I thought I should relate the story.

In a recent issue of the PinotFile I wrote an article about the Babcocks, their excellent wines, and their restaurant in Seal Beach called Walt’s Wharf. I have referred pinotphiles who are visiting Santa Rita Hills to Babcock Winery based on the high quality of the wines. Unfortunately, I am afraid that the movie Sideways has overwhelmed some Santa Barbara wineries like Babcock, brought them added success and notoriety, and the personal touch has been lost.

My friend wanted to visit over Thanksgiving weekend, but when he called several weeks ahead, he was discouraged from coming as “we are too busy with visitors then.” Despite this, he decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and drop in. They had none of their Pinot Noirs for tasting or for individual sale in their tasting room. I had told him to inquire about the 2004 Babcock Mt. Carmel Pinot Noir since I had drank it recently at Walt’s Wharf and found it to be quite good. He was told that “they don’t make it anymore because the grapes didn’t stand up their standard of excellence!” My friend felt “they were full of themselves.”

The good news is that the other wineries he visited were more than accommodating: Melville, Fiddlehead Cellars, and Ken Brown Wines. I liked Ken Brown’s comment when asked if his tasting room was considered the “ghetto,” Ken shares space with Ampelos Cellars in a Lompoc industrial park apart from the Lompoc “wine ghetto” on Industrial Way, and he said, “No, but it’s close to the prison. Some call us the Pinot Prison, but I prefer Pinot West!”

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