Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The sign says, "We're Open!"

Living in northern California has many advantages. For the wino, there are a plethora of wineries within 50 miles of most cities. Wineries large and small appear in rural areas off the beaten path, small farming communities, strip malls, abandoned factories and recently, closed military installations. With a tank full of gas, snacks and bottled water (Always carry bottled water, drink while tasting, pee often, lest ye become smashed!) and a good game plan of wineries to visit, a day of wine tasting can be a memorable experience, unless...

The Road Dawg and I set out for what we hoped would be a day of productive research. (code word for imbibe) As usual, we loaded up "Pearl," the trusty SUV, packed our equipment (cameras, bottled water, chocolate and stuff), and headed to the nearest gas station to top off the tank. Once Pearl was full, we entered the freeway, excited to explore a new facility that was highly recommended.

 As we drove, we chatted happily about the recent holiday and what we looked forward to in the new year. Forty miles later, we decided to stop for a bite to eat. The location we were going to visit had no nearby food offerings. While savoring "Wet Fries," yes, they are french fries smothered in brown gravy, and the best steak and eggs for $5.99, we checked our information to make sure the wineries on the agenda for the day would be open. All websites indicated that they were. The winery that we wanted to visit the most clearly indicated that they would definitely be open Tuesday, the day we visited. This was good enough for us. We finished our meals, and proceeded onward for a day of research and relaxation.

Driving the remaining 20 miles to our destination, we exited from the freeway and were immediately confronted with signs pointing in every direction indicating that wineries were open for business. There were signs chained to poles, impaled in the ground, and free standing sandwich boards, all eagerly beckoning us to follow them to the next winery. This was going to be a FUN we thought.

The first sign lead us to a warehouse that had no entry door. We thought this odd as there were several doors with three inch coatings of paint and a granite like sealer to keep anything from coming in. (so military) Maybe this was a hint that visitors were not welcome. Even more confusing, emblazoned on the exterior wall of the building in five foot letters were the words, "The Winery." A few racks of "retired" barrels were cradled in the parking lot, but there was nothing more than an "open" sign, a sealed door and a few other lost souls wandering around trying to figure out if this was a winery or not. Ce'st la vie...on to the next winery, so we thought.

It is only fair to say that we were disappointed, but not discouraged. As we followed the signs to the next winery, we could not help but notice the lack of traffic and the lack of life. This little bastion of a former military post was nearly deserted. Row after row of boarded up buildings, painted in the the warm, inviting military shades of pale yellow and battleship gray lined the perimeter of the post. Weeds grew tall and majestic between the cracks in the asphalt; remnants of weather beaten anchors and flagpoles dotted the landscape, and the ever present signs indicating that every winery eagerly awaited our arrival stood out among the decay. Surely the next winery would welcome us as if we were the only people on Earth. (Re-read paragraph, we were that day)

Cautiously, we approached what used to be the "Brig," or prison if you must, and were again met by a huge lock on a chain linked fence.(Ironically, the lock was military!) Peering through the fence in what may have been the "yard," an area where prisoners roamed freely while shackled to one another, there were several stainless steel fermenting tanks, a few pumps and more barrels. Seeing fermenters was a good sign. At a cost of nearly $50,000 a piece, someone had to be making wine here, or, they were at least revealing that they could. The barrels looked fairly new, and the pumps appeared to be functional. However, once again, there was no entry door. Just a sign indicating that wine tasting was free, and that they were OPEN! They were not.

I was furious! We had traveled more than 70 miles, had attempted to visit a no entry door, old barrels rotting in the parking lot facility, had followed the bread crumbs of four different signs promising opened wineries,  and still had not tasted a drop of wine! To be met by another non-existent door facility was too much. Someone was going to hear about this. I wanted to kick the sign, but refrained. Instead, I called the phone number on the website which was next to a message that read, "We will be open Tuesday, 12-5pm," in bold type. Really?

The phone rang four or five times. On the last ring, an obviously annoyed individual answered, "Ahhh-hell----o!"
Not a,  "Hello, this is (fill in the blank, I've left enough clues) Winery, or thank you for calling (fill in the blank) Winery. Just a gravely, "how dare you call me at noon on a Tuesday," voice answering as if he had better things to do. He did.

Remaining calm and hopeful that I had possibly dialed a wrong number, I asked if  anyone was in the facility, and if so, where was the entry? What was said to me next was unbelievable. Here goes.

Gravely annoyed person:
 Uhhh, no, I'm not there today. You should have called my cell phone. Yeah, always call my cell.

 Your cell phone? I called the number on the website.

Gravely annoyed person:
Uhh, yeah, that's my cell number. Yeah, Uhhh, we are normally open 12-5 Wednesday through Monday.

But your website says you are open every day, and it says specifically that you are open today!

Gravely annoyed person:
Well, what are you going to do. I mean, I got a call to help a friend...he's an old guy, and he needed my help with his winery. I couldn't leave him alone, so I went to help him...ya know?

Silence; disbelief!

Gravely annoyed person:
Say, where'd you drive from?


Gravely annoyed person:
Oh, wow! That's a long drive! Oh well, what are you gonna do. like I said, something came up. You're more than welcome to come back tomorrow or this weekend. I should be there...


To say that we are glutton's for punishment is an understatement. Like drunks in need of a fix...or in this case, a shot of bourbon would have sufficed, we desperately followed the next sign to yet another closed winery. This time, we found a door...albeit a door with a padlock on the outside, no window, and a  pending permit to sell alcohol in the future posted next to the, you guessed it, OPEN sign.

There had to be a lesson in what we experienced that day. The Road Dawg concluded that maybe we should plan our strategy a bit calling cell phone numbers of winery owners before we visit.(I understand, my cell is my business number as well.) Because we have visited more than 120+ wineries in the past year and never experiencing anything like this, EVER, we decided to find humor in this adventure. (Just Kidding)

Road Dawg is still working in the wine industry, and she writes a column for a well known online publication. After mulling over the experience, we decided to write about this to hopefully educate others to do their homework before setting out to visit wineries...especially if the wineries are new. Mistakes happen, and not everyone is experienced in customer service or people skills. We also would like others in the wine industry or any customer related field to pay attention to the details in what you present to the public. The simple act of posting accurate information can be the difference between a happy customer who brags about how well they were treated at (insert name) winery, or two aspiring, thirsty journalist who know how to peel flesh with words writing about their experience on a public blog. Just sayin'.

 Was the day a total loss? Not exactly. We experienced more of the same on the other side of the bridge. I guess this was not our day to go wine tasting. Ce'st la vie...