Boutique wineries open up hospitality that "Big Box" vineyards lack

You can get on board with large or small wineries that offer great wine experiences.

You can get on board with large or small wineries that offer great wine experiences.

By Dathan | December 20, 2016 

I recently asked myself which one of these do I prefer more – the massive winery where the parking lot looks like you’re at an amusement park? Where tour buses line the entrance and once inside it’s a mad house of people seeking a tour or lining up for that overpriced tasting. Or, do I prefer the boutique winery? But those come with surprises as well. Some of the wineries we've been to in the past look like something straight out of the movie "Deliverance."

I ask this question because earlier this year we did a day trip to hit up four wineries in an afternoon. Our first destination was one of the state’s largest wineries. Home to good wine. Wine that both of us like. But wine that you can buy at your local Total Wine. As soon as we opened the front door, we wanted to leave. The lobby was filled with people everywhere. The tasting/gift room was cluttered with people wandering in every direction. We walked over to the tasting bar to do a tasting, but were asked to go to the register first to purchase our tickets. Like I said … an amusement park.

The $15 price tag for a small pour of 8 wines at this large winery was rather steep in our opinion. And during the tasting, we felt rushed by the host who was just pouring wine after wine into our glass, not even giving us time to rightfully enjoy each pour. All so she can get in the group of four in after our tasting was over.

At some of the larger wineries in the state you might feel rushed, but the wine you taste can be worth it.

That’s where I have mixed feelings with these large, commercialized wineries. While they produce great products and typically the price is more affordable – I’m not a fan of this “big box” mentality. We were actually at a winery in Michigan a couple years ago, and you had to stand in a line, snaking around a red velvet rope, reminiscent of the old days of waiting in line at your local bank, just to work your way to the tasting bar. No thanks!

And while these wineries do well to hire locally to help man the stations, the employees don’t know much about the wine they pour other than what is on the tastings notes on the counter.

On the other hand, there are the boutique wineries. These are those smaller wineries with minimal staff on hand to answer any question you might have – and most of the time are the owners or winemakers themselves.

McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks out of Thurmond, N.C.  Inside some of the smaller wineries you can learn more about the wine you are tasting.

McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks out of Thurmond, N.C.

Inside some of the smaller wineries you can learn more about the wine you are tasting.

These small wineries offer a break from the large crowds as well as more obscure and unique wines. But, because they are smaller and produce at a smaller quantity, the price per bottle are considerably more expensive. That same wine that would run you $15 at a large winery, could set you back somewhere in the $28 range at a boutique winery.

So, you might pay a little extra out of your pocket but the experience can be well worth it. We’ve been given a private tour of a new winery. Been downstairs to try a wine 6-months before it has been bottled. Shared conversations with winemakers who took the time to sign a bottle we purchased. We have even been invited to stay at one of the local cabins on premises. You won’t get that kind of hospitality at a “big box” winery. You’ll be lucky to even catch a glimpse of the winemaker or owner!

But then again, you might drink your wine like Jack from the movie Sideways. You don't want to take the time to sip, swirl and savor. You don't want to know how long the grapes resided on the vine before they were harvested. You don't care about the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon used in that red blend. You just want to drink! Which is fine, too. And maybe you would enjoy the "big box" wineries better. Pour. Drink. Pour. Drink. Repeat 5 times. Move on to the next stop.

Earlier this year we joined some friends who are wine club members of another one of our state's largest wineries. Inside we snaked along some railing before opening to a giant room filled only with tasting bars. Line up, pick the wine you want to try. Try as many wines as you want to try. Move on, please. Then inside the store itself we sat down to do the reserve tasting (also free due to the club membership). There we picked out four reserve wines which came to our table. No description by the host of any of the wines other than the name of what we ordered.

To Jack ... this is your type of place. To me, even though there were some amazing wines sampled that day – this was not my type of winery.

My suggestion is if you are going to do several tastings in one day, line them up accordingly. You don't want to miss that "big box" winery because they do offer up some good wine at reasonable prices. But you also don't want to miss that little hole-in-the-wall winery as well. Even though the wine can be a hit or miss – you learn more about the viticultural world – and quite frankly, doesn't that make you a better wine drinker?