A Cautionary Tale

Through my winery excursions, I seek to explore the different ways in which positive winery experiences are evoked.  An extra pour, a particular engaging or knowledgeable person pouring, a free loaf of bread.  But I also have had, fortunately not too often, a negative winery experience, and I was really struck by the impact of that experience on the wine itself.  This is not really surprising since the context in which we sample wine does influence the wine’s taste.

My significant other and I were tasting in a wine area of New York when we came upon a winery at which the person pouring the wine appeared overwhelmed.  She remarked many times on how busy the tasting room was (although there were only about six people) and frequently lost track of what she was pouring for whom.  It was clear she wanted to do a good job but her struggle led to anxiety that was actually palpable to others.  We just wanted to finish our tasting and leave so she could have two less people to deal with.  

We later learned this was a winery well known for high quality wine. Interestingly, however, neither my significant other nor I could recall anything about the wine itself.  We remembered the experience (as strong emotions do often get recalled quite clearly) but I was struck by the fact that we couldn’t conjure up any thoughts we had when we tasted the wine. 

Just as a positive winery experience can enhance the customer’s likelihood to make a purchase and potentially enhance the taste of the wine itself, a negative winery experience can detract from the taste of even high quality wine.

Great Expectations

The expectations one has about a wine can affect the taste of the wine.  Experiments have documented that people given two tastes of the same wine but who are told one wine is more expensive than the other tend to rate the “more expensive” wine as better.  The idea is that we bring our expectations to all of our experiences, including wine tasting and therefore knowledge of price sets an expectation that affects our taste. 

This makes a lot of sense to me as a clinical psychologist.  It is not really the situation itself but our perception of the situation, with all of our thoughts, feelings, and expectations, that influences how we experience the situation.  I mostly practice from a cognitive-behavioral theory, which suggests that how we think about a situation affects how we feel and in turn how we behave.  So if we change our thoughts or our expectations, we can have a different reaction to a situation.

I live in New Jersey where the chambourcin grape is popular in winemaking.  I had never heard of this grape before so it really stood out to me the first time I tried it.  But I didn’t really enjoy it.  Each subsequent time I tried chambourcin, even at different wineries, I didn’t like it.  I thought I was keeping an open mind but it seems those expectations did in fact get in the way. 

I know this because I was unwittingly part of an “experiment.”  At one NJ winery, it somehow came up early in the tasting that I am not a fan of chambourcin.  Later in the tasting, the person pouring the wine snuck in a pour of something he didn’t identify at the time.  I enjoyed this wine and was surprised to learn after I drank it, that it was in fact chambourcin. 

Perhaps this particular winery just made great chambourcin?  Maybe, but that didn’t explain it all.  Ever since then I have not disliked chambourcin as much at any winery.  It is still not my favorite varietal but I don’t expect to dislike it anymore and now perhaps I evaluate it a little more fairly.  

Change your thoughts, change your reaction.