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Wednesday, 25 September 2013 09:13

We’ve all said it. “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”

And headed into the last quarter, the 2013 Best-of-Class trophy for Doofus Winery Policy goes out to Joe Herman at Karma Vista.

Last Sunday, four of us pulled off I-94 at the City of Coloma (Population: 1483) in the Lake Michigan Shore AVA. We turned right at McDonalds, drove a bit, and piled into the tasting room at Karma Vista Winery. I was looking forward to tasting their Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah, uncommon grapes in Michigan that Herman grows as well as anyone in the state.

Joe, a bullet-headed sixtyish gent of military bearing, stood behind the counter, along with two women serving the few other tasters. We asked for glasses and began to peruse the wine list. I asked Joe if he could slide a dump bucket onto the counter, from where it sat by the sink.”

“We’ll empty your glasses for you,” he replied.

“Oh, it’s not for dumping. We want to be able to spit while we’re tasting.”

“Sorry, we don’t allow people to spit here.”

I couldn’t be sure I’d heard that correctly. Or, more likely, he was having us on with some deadpan humor.

“You don’t allow customers to spit when they taste?”

“Our house. Our rules,” Joe Herman replied. The phrase slid out glibly, as if well-rehearsed and frequently used.

I had to ask. “Mind telling me why?”

“It’s off-putting to other customers,” Joe replied. “They don’t want to watch you spit.”

“And I don’t want to have to clean up your spit,” chimed up one of the women behind the counter, who’d been listening in.

Left: Spittoon. Right: Spittoon-denier.
Left: Spittoon. Right: Spittoon-denier.

Now that was offensive. My friends and I take pride in discreet spitting behavior.

That would mean daintily lifting the receptacle to the mouth (or, when appropriate, lowering the mouth to the receptacle) and quietly discharging our sputum. Certainly not taking aim and projectile-spitting from across the tasting room.

For the record, I normally spit everything at tasting rooms. Especially when I’m visiting multiple wineries or driving, both of which applied on Sunday.

I’ve been allowed – and frequently encouraged – to spit at wineries on six continents. From Chateau Margaux all the way to some joint in the backwoods of Costa Rica where the wine was so spoiled that you didn’t spit by choice; you spat because you were terrified that one swallow might kill you.

I’ve discharged into elegant floor-standing brass spittoons, decorative ceramic carafes, and paper Dixie cups. I’ve spit while seated next to Master Sommeliers (who, by the way, nearly always elect to spit); and standing alongside guys “doing” a wine trail who look and act like they should have started spitting several hours earlier.

But until Sunday, I never ran across a winemaker of such surpassing narcissism that he forbade visitors to spit his wine.

And then along came Joe. His House. His Rules.

It’s possible that Joe Herman – a sixth-generation southwest Michigan farmer – is so busy as grower and winemaker that he doesn’t get to spend much time in the tasting room. Maybe he’s never encountered such newfangled ideas as designated drivers or TIPS certification.

So take it from me, Joe, if you haven’t run across folks on their eighth winery stop of the day, or those swells in a hired limo who never even consider whether to spit or swallow. By mid-afternoon on the wine trail, the guys who eagerly slurp everything you’re willing to pour are more obnoxious to other visitors than those of us who taste and spit.

And I doubt that your fellow winery owners – or the MLCC – want you to make a designated driver choose between swallowing or not tasting at all.

But Joe is right about one thing. He owns the winery, so it’s His House. His Rules.

Which sounds a lot like Forrest Gump. As in, "Stupid is as stupid does."

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