Event,Rare Rant,Wine,Wine Etiquette

Charm School Dropouts at Wine Tastings

This is a rerun, people, because it’s still so relevant. I know that not everyone in the business had read this – in fact, probably most people haven’t.  But, everyone I know who pours wine can relate, once they’ve read the following story.

I love W. Blake Gray, of the Gray Market Report. When he read this story, he commented, “Hilarious, Jo. I don’t know how many if any of these things I’ve been guilty of, but I know in the future I’ll be wary of causing Pourus Interruptus.”

I’ve had time to think about this one… Pourus Interruptus would be another name for either Pusher Uppers or Puller Outters, described in great detail below.. (Too funny.)

If you also see yourself, enjoy what you’re seeing, too.

This was first published in Wine Business Monthly. Under the name of Road Warrior Survival Guide. It’s one of my rare rants, and was born from being on the road a bit too much (I think) at the time. While my schedule has slowed down, the following behaviors haven’t, and I see still see them at wine tastings… Enjoy!

We all know that it’s not polite to stereotype; but my lord; some people make it so darn easy. They’re there, at every wine festival, you can count on them. They look different than the last festival; they may part their hair on the left instead of the right, they may be bald instead of having a full head of hair. But, they return completely metamorphosed – doing exactly what they did in the last town. And, we all know them.

Pusher-uppers & puller-outers – These are my two personal favorites. Both of them make the decision that you’ve poured enough wine, but instead of telling you in words, they tell you in actions. The pusher uppers are those people who, once they’ve made their split-second decision, will forcefully push up on their glasses, causing you to jump out of your skin. No matter how many times I’ve experienced them, I’m never ready for the pusher-uppers. I pushed back once, just to see the expression on her face… it was classic. She looked confused. “Welcome to my world,” I mused.

Another time, when I had just experienced a pusher-upper, I turned to a colleague who was pouring with me. We had a minute of down time. I said, “You know, I can’t stand pusher-uppers.” He looked at me quizzically… I said, “You know, those people who decide that you’ve poured enough wine for them and they just push their glass up at you.” He said, “Well, I think that it’s kinda nice. They’ve decided that they’ve had enough.” I returned, “Phil, why can’t they just say, ‘thank you.'” Phil thought for a second and said, “You know, you’re right. What would it take to be a little polite?” I said, “My point exactly.”

Then Phil said to me, “You know, I can’t stand the ones who pull their glass away while you’re still pouring!” I said, “Oh, you mean the Puller-Outers.” He said, “Yeah, what are they thinking? You’re pouring, and the next thing you know, they start to take their glass away while you’re still pouring wine. It makes me follow their hand so I don’t spill all over the place.”

I said, “You know, the next time I have a pusher-upper, I going to push right back. I’ve had it.” Just at that moment, my friend R.B. arrived. I was so excited.

She offered her beach home to me as overnight accommodations, and I just couldn’t wait to hug her, so I said to Phil, “I’ll be right back. I have to go to say ‘Hi’ to R.B.” I left the table and looked over my shoulder just in time to see red wine splashed all over the white tablecloth. I looked at Phil, and he gave me this mischievous wink. Later he told me that the very next guy turned out to be a puller-outer. At first Phil started to follow him with the bottle. Then he thought, “What the heck…” and let ‘er rip. Horrified, the husband exclaimed, “That’s the second time that’s happened to me tonight!” His wife retorted, “Get a clue!”

Takes It All Too Seriously ~ There is one man I’ll never forget… he made my day when he called me “Young Lady.” It’s been so long since I’ve been called “Young Lady;” usually it’s “Ma’am.” I had just poured a Chardonnay that he asked for, and I went into the adjectives; you know, apple, citrus, butter. He stopped me dead in my tracks, “Young lady,” (I was thinking, “How sweet!”), and he then continued, “Do not presume to tell me what I’m going to find on my palate.” Yawn!

Yin-Yang  ~ “I’ll Have Something Red” has a twin… “I’ll Have Something White.” Have you ever been tempted to just pick up two bottles (say a Cabernet and a Merlot) and simultaneously pour each in his/her glass? It could be followed with, “There you go, my own concoction. I’m thinking of going into wine making. Whaddaya think?”

Cleanliness is NOT next to Godliness ~ These folks have to rinse after each and every pour of wine. Okay, I’d much rather dilute my wine with wine. After three hours of tasting, do these guys really believe that they’re tasting anything purely anymore?

Blotters ~ Who told them that they could rinse out their glasses and turn them upside down on my tablecloth? Oh, those dirty rings!

Bell Ringers ~ These guys must love to ring the bell for the Salvation Army at Christmas, because they spend the rest of the year rinsing their glasses in preparation; then, shaking them all over the event like they’re ringing the bell for the poor kids who might not have a Christmas without their monumental efforts. My friend Dan likes to call them Flicker Dorks, but Bell Ringers works, too.

The Whole World’s a Phone Booth ~ They think they’re alone. The tent has 1,000 people in it, but they’re so lonely that they have to call friends to tell them how much they’re missed; meanwhile, they’re missing the tasting. And, with the constant drone of the murmuring crowd, how much can anyone really hear… and who cares!

Dish Washers ~ Where do these guys get off thinking that my ice tub is their kitchen sink? Each and every person adds more spit than the last. And when you tell them that they’re about the tenth person to wash their glass, they just shrug.

Garbage People ~ Where do these guys get off thinking that my spit bucket is their trash can? I pity the guys whose job it is to empty the spit wine into a sink. Before they do, they have to remove toothpicks, napkins, paper plates, left over food, etc.

Cornie (aka Chuckle with the Chain) ~ (note the yellow circle, denoting the hanging glass) Not enough hands or just too clutsy? I can’t decide, but it’s always a giggle to see how some people compulsively put their glass into a glass holder that’s worn like a necklace, and has the potential – with one simple bump – to segue into the next phase… wine-on-shirt badge. (This one proves that we’re all really funny, honestly.) And, I have to thank Chanda Eddens for the name “Cornie.” It’s much better then my “Chuckle with the Chain.”

Don’t Over Do It! ~ My return for this jibe is, “You either!” The same guy who can’t get enough wine from a pour invariably spills red wine all over his shirt before the event ends. (Dribble, dribble little louse, I saw you dribble on your new silk blouse!)

Ms. Perfume ~ Please, please, please don’t bathe in it… It’s so hard to taste anything right, when any perfume at all at a wine tasting is so wrong. And, we all know it, dearie….

You Can Do Better Than That ~ Usually evokes, “Oh, I didn’t realize that we’ve slipped from the tasting portion to the drinking portion of the program!”

Ya Look Like The Concierge ~ “Do you know where XYZ Winery is?” I usually say, “Yeah, in the Sierra Foothills.”

Parker (inspired by a conversation with Jose and Amy Biege) ~ These are people who come to a table to get their taste of wine, put their food plate down on your pristine table cloth (that you’ve brought back from Italy), and proceed to have a conversation with their friends. There should be a rule, “Get your wine, get your information, then step away from the table,” to let others – who’ve also paid to attend the event – get to the wine and the people pouring. People who are pouring wine are there to promote their products. When you monopolize their tables, they get pretty antsy, even though they’re smiling at you.

Traders/Traitors (inspired by Robert Larsen of Rodney Strong, which I too, know all too well) ~ These guys have figured out how to play the game… They’re people who go to a table with an glass empty, and ask, “Can you just fill it up. I just love your wine. It’s the best one here.” Moments later, you see them at a table across the way, getting a full pour, again. Hum… How did they manage that one over there, too?

Tipsie ~ These guys can’t hold their glasses upright, handing you a glass that’s tipped in your direction. They’ve obviously never poured wine for others, because with a glass so tipped, it’s next to impossible to know how to pour it carefully. Have you ever tried that one? You’re not any cooler, because you tip your glass… And… you’re going to get less from someone pouring, because we don’t want it on the table.

Wine Swill ~ “No, don’t look in the dump bucket!” about the last hour of any event. You’ll see all those floating tooth picks that are headed down the drain, somewhere. (Inspired by Randy Arnold of Barefoot Cellars.)

Magician’s Apprentice ~ “So, what do you have under the table?”  If I wanted you to know, I would have already pulled it out. Smile… (Eric S. Crane helped with this one.)

Cristin offered this one, the last time that I published this story. You forgot the “’POP’ drinkers.” The one’s who only want the late harvest/ice wine. They wince and they whine at everything under seven percent RS. – Someone must have dragged them to the tasting, in my humble opinion.

Mrs. I Think I Know So Much, but I’m Proving I Know So little ~ This overdressed woman stepped up to the bar, once upon a time, and looking at me by dropping her head so she could see over her glasses, said to me, “I’ll have your Cab Sauv.” Oooo, so sophisticated, and me just a barmaid.”

Mr. God-helps-those-who-help-themselves ~ Who died and made you bartender? Would you go into a bar, pick up a bottle of anything and just pour for yourselves? If you answered, “Yes” you’ve got more cojones than a four-cojonesed tom cat. A wine tasting is a bar situation; even though it doesn’t feel like it, because of its casual nature. Get your best charm school manners on, buddy.

I have to confess, I have never seen a woman do this. It’s always been men, and it’s always been men in the wine business. Because they pour wine all day for their clients(s), they’ve adopted a sense of entitlement. Well, think again, buddy, you’re not working for me, and I wouldn’t just pour your wine without asking at any events.

The Last Half Hour All Hell Breaks Lose,
And it Had Better Be Tied Down or You Can Kiss it Goodbye…

It’s-almost-the-end-of-the-event, “Here – let me drop off my garbage on your linen.” Well, I would, but I really need to keep a tidy presence right up to the end.


  • You’ve turned your back,”Here – let me pour for myself.” Well, I would, except this isn’t my living room, and you’re not my new best friend.
  • You’ve turned your back, “Here – let me steal your table decorations.” Well, I would, except I’ll just have to buy them again for the next event, and my boss won’t understand my constant spending on plastic grapes.
  • You’ve got a big bottle on your table, “Here – let me walk out with it.” Well, I would but I promised it to a restaurateur who’s sold a lot of my wine and earned it.

It all gets packed up, what’s left of it, for the next city, and then it all starts again. Thank God the nice folks are handily sprinkled in-between the stereotypes.

And honestly, this just really proves how funny we all are, once it’s all said and done.

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11 Responses to “Charm School Dropouts at Wine Tastings”

  1. Peter Minde says:

    I spent 25+ years in the business. The only one of these I did not encounter is the POP drinkers. Great essay. Thanks for writing it.

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks for enjoying it, Peter.

  3. EVO says:

    Well done Jo. Pretty much nailed all the irksome behaviors I’ve experienced, except the “baggers”.
    Seen more at “Trade-Show” events, they could care less who/what you do, “just give me something free from your table to put in my bag even if I don’t have a clue how a wine plate clip works”.

    All the best.


  4. Joel says:

    Thanks for reposting this Jo. It’s jut makes me laugh. After spending most of Saturday pouring at the Paso wine fest, it brought a smile to my face. My biggest pet-peeve in the pusher-upper. It makes me want to push down and break their glass. And I love the cornie’s – I can’t keep a straight face for the my-wine-glass-is-now-a-necklace folks. It’s hilarious. So many classic tasters described here… good thing we love this industry…

  5. Randy Caparoso says:

    Having to jostle with these charm school dropouts, Jo, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Which is why I appreciate wine festivals that are thoughtful enough to have press rooms — where I only have to contend with hot air, not ill behavior (although I have to say, we should give consumers more leeway because many of them aren’t aware of festival etiquette, but everyone still needs their love and dollars.

    While we’re at it, though, we should talk a little bit about the lack of charm often found on the other side of the table. The biggest problem is usually twofold: lack of information, or too much information. I have to agree with the gentleman who asked you not to tell him what he should be tasting. I, as well as many colleagues, find it extremely annoying when pourers rattle off sensory descriptors while you are trying to taste for yourself. TMI. Then there are the pourers who silently pour and volunteer absolutely zero, nada in the way of info — stuff that you do want to know, like what cuvee or vineyard designation is on the bottle, where the vineyard is located, etc. You should read the consumer and at least say something — otherwise, you’re just being rude, and what’s the point of your being there if you’re too lazy to engage?

    Then there is the continuous issue of corked wines. First of all, pourers need to smell and taste every cork finished bottle they open. I’m amazed that people don’t do that, knowing the odds of corked wines. Second, I’ve lost count long ago of the many times I’ve found corked wines and politely asked pourer to sample me on different bottle, only to have the person blithely say, “there’s nothing wrong with that bottle.” Just last week I even saw a winemaker reject a highly experienced sommeliers’ request, when there were three of us at the table who all concluded (independently!) that there was a TCA issue. We finally got the winemaker to reluctantly open a new bottle, and sure enough, the second one was much cleaner and fresher — yet the winemaker still persisted in telling us we were wrong about the first bottle. Who’s wrong and who’s right is not the issue here: what’s wrong is doing anything that makes your customer feel uncomfortable, and we were very uncomfortable because the winemaker was being such a stubborn d-word about it all, which we all commented on later.

    Anyhow, moving on…

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    Joel, happy you’ve enjoyed this one in the past and still… I, too, find the pusher-uppers the most annoying. I’m a big proponent of “don’t get mad, get even,” and to that end, I DO push back. Yup… why not? I also carefully watch the face of the one who pushed first… Shock, it’s just classic!

  7. Tim Freehan says:

    Great Posting.

    I am an 18 year vet of the industry and you managed to introduce me to a few new ones. Thanks.

    My favorite is the “a little bit of knowledge” type:

    “I am looking for a full bodied dry sweet red like a Pinot Noir or a Malbec.”

    Um. Yes, this happend.

    My reply: “So you want a mean, family friendly lap-dog like a St. Bernard?”

    She walked away.

  8. Jo Diaz says:

    Classic, Tim! #SassilyGreat

  9. Jo,

    Great piece. I don’t know how many times I inadvertently poured on the rim, stem, and base of those puller-outers. I also agree with Randy when it comes to corked or tainted (there is more than TCA) bottles served to customers. I had this happen to me at a small liquor store tasting in Denver, where I brought up the fact to the distributor rep. Thinking I was a neophyte, he argued the point, until the guy pouring next to him confirmed it. I always state that it better those in the industry call the ‘corker’ than those who are casual drinkers, as we are more tolerant of the indiscretion, knowing the sheer number of wines that are affected.

    Cheers to you, as you have now established yourself as the ‘Miss Manners’ of wine festivals everywhere!


  10. Jo Diaz says:

    OMG, William, that’s sooo funny… Miss Manner, indeed… I’ll wear that title as a very humble person (even though this sassy story doesn’t suggest I would).

    Meanwhile, my mother isn’t turning in her grave, and now knows that charm school for me was worth her investment.

  11. Charm School Dropouts at Wine Tastings – a great article that everyone will eventually realize the facts about it. If this event turns bad, this maybe because of the people who are not following the instructions. But, all in all. I think it was a success. Even with all those mistakes. 🙂

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