The word spitting brings to mind all kinds of negative connotations. But Lee Lutes will tell you that, when it comes to wine, spitting is not just OK — in many cases, it’s encouraged.
Expectorating during tastings is “part of the professional rapport,” says Lutes, winemaker at the Leelanau Peninsula-based Black Star Farms. “It’s a sign that you’ve arrived, that you’re in the know.”
Wine professionals — who may taste upwards of 100 wines in a day, especially during a festival or competition — are no strangers to the concept of spit buckets and the discreet expectoration that goes along with it.
But Lutes asserts that far too many novice wine drinkers — women, especially — attach a stigma to spitting and/or feel uncomfortable asking for a receptacle.
“Women should become comfortable with this if they’re going to consider themselves professionals in the wine business,” he says.
But expectoration isn’t just for wine pros: the average wine enthusiast can benefit from honing spitting skills, too. With the threat of intoxication removed, “you can taste more,” Lutes says.
By spitting, you just may escape a phenomenon that’s all too common after a long day of tasting: Discovering by the end that everything tastes the same — or like nothing at all.
If you’re visiting just a handful of wineries and you’re not the designated driver, it’s unlikely anyone’s counting on you to reach for the spit bucket. But if you’re staring down dozens of wines at, say, a festival or major event and you actually want to taste the wine without ending up sloppy drunk, it might be time to put that practiced expectoration into action.
Jenn Bourgeault, who works at Blustone Vineyards on the Leelanau Peninsula, says she sees more wine industry pros expectorating than the average consumer. Still, vessels are provided on the counter for the convenience of all guests and “we don’t take offense to the spitting,” she says.
Domaine Berrien Cellars co-owner Katie Maurer says her Berrien Springs-based winery typically provides the occasional requestor with red paper cups for their spitting convenience.
“I personally don’t have the willpower to spit, but I applaud people that do,” she says. “I think it is very responsible, especially when you are driving or visiting many wineries, and if you spit discreetly into a cup, I don’t see why people should be so grossed out about it.”
Amusing as it sounds, Lutes suggests practicing in the privacy of your own home. In the shower, in the bathtub, in the backyard — “anywhere you can expectorate freely,” he says.
The challenge is pursing your lips in a way that dispenses a steady, controlled, targeted stream of liquid, which is different for everyone, depending on the shape of the mouth, Lutes says.
“You’ve got to find the lip configuration that works for you,” he says. “You’ve got to be somewhat accurate in the way you spit it.”
When expectorating into a winery spit bucket, he advises aiming for the sidewall to eliminate the risk of getting a face full of someone else’s spat wine.
And if you’re too shy to request a spit bucket, Lutes recommends bringing your own discreet cup — preferably one that’s opaque, with a rim that curves slightly inward to prevent backsplash.
Years ago, Lutes was the one who first gave me — as a clueless, fledgling wine blogger — direction on how to direct a steady jet of wine into a floor drain in the winery at Black Star Farms. I initially balked and laughed, feeling awkward and sloppy. Spit in public? And spit out wine made by the man in front of me, no less?
But as I spent more time in the industry, I realized just how prevalent — and sometimes necessary — spitting can be.
Reactions among consumers are less black-and-white than Lutes.
“I spit often,” says Lake Orion resident Mike Certain. “When on the wine trails, we frequently visit five to six wineries a day. If I consumed all the wine, then I wouldn’t be able to drive.”
Bill MacDonald, an Ann Arbor resident who owns vineyards in northern Michigan, says he rarely spits unless he tastes more than 20-25 wines.
“I feel I need to ingest at least a portion of the wine to properly evaluate it,” he says. “However, I was once at a tasting of nearly 100 wines. Of course, in that situation, you have to spit.
“My taste buds kind of shut down after about 40 or 50.”
Mark Dennis of Hudsonville, cofounder and vineyard manager at Section 8 Vineyards, says some Michigan wineries have balked at his request for a spit bucket. He finds that discouraging.
“I spit often, especially if I’m the driver on a tasting outing,” he says. “I think it should be more commonplace.”
Walt Bischoff of Muskegon says he typically only spits when he can’t bear the taste of a wine. Otherwise, he uses alternate methods to limit his alcohol consumption, such as sampling only new wines during his winery visits, or sharing his samples with a companion.
Tim Lee of Monroe feels the same.
“You can be sure that the only time I spit,” Lee says, “is when the wine is so bad I just can’t get it down.”
Cortney Casey is a certified sommelier and co-founder of MichiganByTheBottle.com, a website and online community that promotes the Michigan wine industry She’s also co-owner of Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room, joint offsite tasting rooms in partnership with multiple Michigan wineries, located in Shelby Township and Royal Oak. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.