For most Americans, visiting a winery is about doing a formal winery tour, looking at barrels and being photographed with them, taking whiffs of different scents that are associated with wine grapes and other flavors that you get when tasting wine. You go for tastings or a full fledged wine tour. They tend to feel a bit formal. You might feel like you will be judged for liking or not liking a particular wine. You will inevitably have to pay for that tasting (and in Napa or Willamette Valley, you will certainly have to pay at least $20-30 for a very simple tasting with average to mediocre-sized pours). It is not value for money that you are getting. You’re doing what the average person would consider something that higher-brow people do… because wine is a luxury for the well-to-do, right, unless you are buying 3-buck-chuck from Trader Joe’s? One of my cousins even said I was “acting like a white person” by drinking wine and visiting wineries; so nice of him.
In Australia, wine is just kind of part of the culture. The Europeans brought their vines (from South Africa) and settled in South Australia, and the rest is pretty much history. Most wineries here do not charge for tastings, and when they do, they will waive the fee or apply the fee to a bottle purchase. The pours are generous, and the feeling is not even remotely pretentious. It is casual and fun. Even the rule of thumb Americans typically are told, that you can generally trust that the cuter or funnier the wine label, the worse the quality of the wine will be — this does not exist here. A few of the best wineries have whimsical names and even funnier wine names (e.g. “Floozy” or “Mongrel”).
We spent the day visiting wineries in the Maclaren Vale region, just 40 minutes outside of Adelaide. The most interesting cellar door (as they are called here) that we visited today was the D’Arenberg Cellar Door, also known as “the cube” in Maclaren Vale because if you had to look at it from the outside, it does not appear like any winery you’d ever see in the U.S.; it’s a very modern building shaped like a blue, white, and black-patterned cube. And the inside of it is like a museum, full of interactive exhibits, scent-testers, and even a bathroom that begs to be photographed, with “human mouths” as urinals and flora covering the walls from floor to ceiling.
Wine drinking shouldn’t be perceived as pretentious or so serious; it should be fun and playful the way it is here.