Cellar Door Etiquette

I was recently asked to contribute to the latest edition of the beautifully relaunched Hunter Valley magazine on cellar door etiquette.  As the current holder of the Cellar Door of the Year title, Tulloch seemed like a natural choice for comment, we hope we do a great job, but good manners from both staff and visitors alike makes all the difference.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand when people visit our cellar door they are usually away for a holiday and want to have fun, not be bored to tears while some one talks at them about pH, TA and all sorts of other really dry wine jargon.  And, just because you can taste wine for free doesn’t mean you shouldn’t value the experience or the person conducting the tastings time or expertise.  Often Cellar Door can get a bit manic on weekends and when really ‘happy’ people are getting even happier tempers can fray and manners can be forgotten, so here’s my tips for ensuring you and everyone else sharing the cellar door experience get the most out of it.


Tasting wine at a cellar door can be a daunting task if you’ve never done it before. We asked Christina Tulloch from Tulloch Wines for some insider tips to wine-tasting.  How important are the Five S’s of wine-tasting – Seeing, Swirling, Sniffing, Sipping and Savouring?

“The five S’s are important for  appreciating the individual characters of different wine styles.  However, the most important aspect of wine is personal taste and being open to new experiences.  A good cellar door experience is about a complete experience, the elusive X factor or ambience that naturally reflects what you are tasting in the glass.  It should be fun, interesting, engaging and experiential.  The person who is doing your tasting should be able to gauge what kind of an experience you are after and deliver on that.  The hospitality aspect of a good cellar door experience can’t be underestimated and always plays a part in your overall enjoyment of any wine.  Good service, good fun, ambience etc. forms part of the whole experience.”


What’s the difference between the usual cellar door experience and a tutored tasting?

“A usual cellar door tasting lets the customer decide what they taste and in what order, hopefully with some guidance from the staff member conducting the tasting.  A tutored tasting is presented in a more structured way, where the order of the wines is presented according to an established format, eg. by vintage, by varietal, by style etc. so that the taster can get a feel for a particular sensory quality, varietal characteristic or vintage variation.”


Wine aficionados use words like tannic and flabby to describe some wines, what’s the most outlandish descriptor you’ve heard to describe a wine?

“I once attended a wine course where we were looking at wine faults, particularly brettanomyces and the presenter descried the smell like the amputation ward of a hospital… can’t say I’ve spent much time in an amputation ward, nor that many others have, so how this was meant to be a helpful descriptor was a bit beyond me.”


And your top 5 words to describe Hunter Valley wine?

“Elegant, Diverse, Authentic, Progressive and Delicious”



(Not all of these are mine, but the points in italics are and they are my pet peeves about cellar door!  The others aren’t hard and fast rules but are mostly common sense.)

  1. Don’t taste on an empty stomach but avoid spicy food as it will affect your palate, and therefore the taste of the wine. Always try the wines before you start tasting any other food products available for tasting at cellar doors.
  2. Do book ahead if you have a group of 10 or more so the winery can accommodate you, particularly in school holidays and peak season.
  3. Don’t wear fragrance or aftershave as these unwanted aromatics can overwhelm the subtle aromas in wine.
  4. Do pace yourself and plan to visit three or four wineries only in one day.
  5. Don’t smoke in or near the cellar door as this can affect the smell and taste of wine – and interfere with other people’s tasting experience.
  6. Do ask for a spittoon and spit out wine discreetly into it – don’t throw it into the prize-winning flower garden!
  7. Don’t serve yourself – cellar doors/wineries are not bars, we are licensed venues that must adhere to strict licensing conditions.
  8. Do drink plenty of water to stave off dehydration.
  9. Don’t taste excessively and drive. Always have a designated driver or book an organised tour.
  10. Do take home a souvenir. Most cellar doors conduct tastings for free and it’s considered to be polite to buy at least one bottle before you leave… unless you really didn’t like the wine.
  11. Don’t try and taste everything at every cellar door, the staff are there to help you find the right wine for you, don’t walk in and say “let’s start at the top and work our way through.”
  12. Don’t offer a sip or taste to anyone under-age, even your own children, as it can offend when we say you are not allowed.
  13. Don’t be scared to ask for help, just because you can’t pronounce the name of a wine doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask to try it.  Ask for recommendations based on what you know you like or have tried previously.


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