Small Winery Tastings in France: Scheduling and Visting Etiquette?

Looking for advice in advance of a trip this summer and especially for non-Burgundy advice (of which there is a great deal on this board already!). I know for most well-known producers without a dedicated tasting room that it’s usually necessary to reserve any kind of visit well in advance via email. But what about smaller producers?

For instance, looking along the Vallee de la Marne and in the small villages outside Reims and Epernay there seem to be dozens of small Champagne producers who list open hours on their websites and social media. Does that mean that one can generally just walk in and ask for a dégustation during those times? Would it be better to call in advance if possible or is it fine to just knock? I recall contacting a few smaller family wineries in Alsace a few years ago and they basically said “no need for an appointment, come during any opening hours.” So I take it for those the best practice is just to show up during their listed hours, but it seems to vary a decent bit by region and producer.

Also curious about the current expectations and etiquette for such visit such as how much one is expected to buy (I would assume at least one or two bottles a person) and how long such visits might take (if it’s rude if, for instance, you can only spend 45 minutes at a place due to being subject to train/bus schedules). And although I rarely see these listed outside of very famous places and it doesn’t appear to be common, I’m curious if it would be good to inquire if there’s a tasting fee upfront. The language aspect is not at all a dealbreaker (I’ve been able to make it through a few all-in-French tastings before with my B1-level French and have been working to improve it in advance of this visit), but I am curious if it comes off as presumptuous to inquire politely if English is possible for the others in my party as well.

Right now I am particularly interested in small places in Vouvray, the Middle Loire more broadly, and Champagne, but this topic might be of broader interest. Any other scheduling or etiquette tips more than welcome.

I’ve scheduled visits for an upcoming trip (to Champagne, Burgundy, and N. Rhone). I reached out by email in French (I used Google translate) to be courteous. I started reaching out about 3 months in advance because some are slow to respond (some will respond the next business day). A few (e.g., Chartogne-Talliet, Roger Coulon, and Selosse [who I think only does tastings for guests of his hotel]) asked if I could check back in about a month before my visit. No one was upset that I reached out early.

I tried to avoid calling since I can’t speak French and due to the large time difference, but I gathered the courage to do so in an attempt to schedule some tastings only a couple of weeks in advance. I asked, in French, if they spoke English and they were always able to find someone who did and they either told me about their availability over the phone or gave me a good email address to contact.

While a small amount of producers didn’t answer my emails (and one didn’t answer my calls), most responded and all who did (even they very prestigious domaines where I knew I had almost no shot) were polite, professional, and/or friendly.

I’d be very surprised if someone charged me for a tasting without letting me know what it would cost when booking the visit. Most estates in Champagne I contacted have what I consider a reasonable tasting fee. Some didn’t tell me there was a fee, so I’m guessing it’s free but I should (and hope to) buy some bottles.

Some will just tell you how long the visit will last, but others won’t tell you unless you ask. Georges Vernay let me know the visit will only last about 30 minutes (I’m not sure if this is standard or if that’s all the time they have that morning), but others told me to expect anywhere from 1 to 2 hours.

Hope you have a great trip!