A Proper Sense of Proportion

I had the strangest feeling of unreality yesterday during a visit to a local winery and it wasn’t because of ingesting any interesting substances. (I switched to non-alcoholic wines and beers 27 years ago.)

We were visiting this showplace tasting room/restaurant/expresso bar/gift shop where every service was exquisitely performed by attentive and personable staff members in a spotless architectural wonder constructed of the most expensive natural materials available. I almost forgot to mention that this elegant structure was topped by a solid copper roof with copper gutters and downspouts.

Everywhere you looked, there was incredible attention to detail. The fittings and furnishings were right out of Architectural digest. The presentation of the food on the limited, but exotic, menu was reminiscent of a posh urban restaurant. Staff members were well spoken and immaculately groomed in their subtly understated uniforms. The food, the expresso, and the specialty condiments were absolutely top quality. Upon talking to the staff member in charge, I learned that the staff included several chefs imported from top New York restaurants. This was even more puzzling, because the place could not serve more than fifteen people at once.

Every aspect of this showplace was top drawer and the wines might have been excellent, but our party didn’t get around to tasting any because the place did not have the ambience or promise of a proper tasting room. The octagonal stone wine tasting counter could serve only eight people at once and was tucked away in a little side chamber with beautifully panelled walls and no readily visible wine displays.

We have visited winery tasting rooms all over California and some of Virginia and have seen showcase tasting rooms of every description. Some have been expensively furnished with antiques, even massive gold nuggets displayed in a vault, but they all seemed to be in business to sell wine.

This place while beautifully appointed, did not convey that message. Every other tasting room we have ever seen has wine in racks, in boxes, on shelves, on every conceivable surface and they take every opportunity to pour some for you and discuss their vintages. I saw no bottles standing ready for tasting and only a few bottles of wine on display in the main restaurant/gift shop area.

We admired the appointments, drank our lattes and left, feeling that we had somehow missed the point of going there. It had been an interesting experience, to say the least, but not very satisfying, like going to the Museum of Fine Art for lunch.

We recovered from our puzzlement by stopping in at the Jefferson winery on our way home. The wine drinkers in our party sampled everything in sight and we ambled out of there with arms full of wine bottles and other purchases.

The first place looked and felt like a plaything created by someone with abundant money and time, excellent taste, but no focus. There was not enough space to serve enough food or sell enough wine to keep the doors open. It reminded me, in a strange way, of a set for a television program. It was all show and no way to deliver a product. When the owner gets bored with funding this enterprise, it will disappear overnight.

The last tasting room we visited was like all of the successful ones we have seen, adequately decorated, reasonably staffed, and organized to do business with the resources at hand. It is doing more business every time we visit.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere….

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