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Juicy Tale,Wine,Wine Business,Wine Country,Wine Education,Wine Etiquette,Winery

“No Limos” ~ A Sign of the Times in Wine Country

If you’ve rented a limo for a day of tasting with your friends, you might be surprised to see a sign at some wineries that reads, “No Limos.”

Why?

It’s pretty simple. There are a few people who hire a limo for the day, so that they don’t have to be responsible… I mean responsible for everything, from tasting responsibly, to being polite to whomever is pouring and trying to educate the guests about the wine, to making a purchase at the end of the process, to having guests who bring beer and mixed drinks into a tasting room while only a few in the group are still actually wine tasting. This latter example happens more toward the end of the day, once everyone’s ramped up their behavior.

This is how people in limos have developed a bad reputation… So bad, in fact, that there are wineries that now have had signs made to tell a driver that those who might be the problem types, “Don’t even think of stopping here.”

What happens – some of the time, not all of the time – is that a limo has been hired by a group of friends for the day for a Saturday booze-fest. In their world, they’ve spent their money, and the rest is for the taking. There’s usually a bottle of bubbly in the car, so before they even hit a winery, they’ve had their first glass of wine. At each winery, they’ll pick up another glass of wine (four or five tastes can become a glass). This stereotypical group, by-the-way, doesn’t usually buy more than one bottle of wine – if the winery’s lucky. The winery, however, just poured for 10 people + four glasses per person = perhaps 40 glasses of wine. There are five six-ounce glasses in a bottle, so the wine company just poured about six bottles of wine for this group, if the pourer was generous… And, they return the favor by buying one bottle. (Doesn’t even pay for the labor of the person pouring.)

That said, most people pouring also know not to be generous with a group like this, because it’s not responsible hospitality. There always seems to be one person very drunk in a group like this, and it’s always at the end of the day that this happens.

I had one party that came into the winery with hard liquor and beer when they entered the tasting room. This group was 10 people behaving really badly, mostly drunk, and wanting one more round (end of the day). One guy kept sneaking back to the front to get another taste (belt), while each person was getting his and her pour. After about two wines – for the few who were sober – this guy had just be shut off…. But, he didn’t get it.

This scenario doesn’t make for a great “tasting” room experience, most especially when the person most inebriated gets really vociferous, while there are plenty of other people just out to enjoy a wine tasting experience. This limo group always seems to just take over the room, so others simply leave. The winery loses a lot when this limo of badly behaving people arrives, and so the signs have gone up here and there.

There are limousine and wine tour companies, however, that pride themselves on delivering a group of people genuinely interested in learning about wine, and totally open to being educated. These companies take great care to deliver quality people, and won’t tolerate people behaving badly in their vehicles. We work with Pure Luxury Limousine Company and Platypus Tours, for example, so I personally know how hard they work and their personal integrity. There are others, too, but I don’t have personally history to be recommending them.  I tend to write from a personal, knowledge base.

With Pure Lux and Platypus Tours, both of these companies have working relationships with wineries. All details and times have been worked out before the guests arrive. Just as a large group throws off a restaurant, the same happens in tasting rooms. The professional tour companies make reservations for you ahead of time, so the tasting room staff knows there will be a VIP or a large party. In all likelihood, the winery sets up an area where the large group won’t interfere with individual couples or small parties, out for a day of wine tasting/education. They may even work with a company that has such a sign “No Limos,” but that doesn’t prevent the professional companies from being allowed on the property.

So… If you’re coming to wine country and you’re thinking about having a limo for the day – and they’re an absolutely wonderful way to tour wine country – just be advised of those who have come before you and set the stage for misunderstanding that you, unlike these others, are always on your best behavior. Most of us are so over the days of debauchery, but there will always be those who have just stepped upon the stage. They’re the ones that have made those signs necessary, along the way.

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14 Responses to ““No Limos” ~ A Sign of the Times in Wine Country”

  1. Arthur says:

    It’s about time.

    (Woo-hoo!)

  2. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the article! We don’t get as many limos here in Hood River, OR wine country, but we do understand the big group with hired driver scenario. We don’t like to do it and do not have to do it often, but we will escort out those certain individuals in the group who, as you put it, keeps “sneaking back to the front to get another taste.” That’s just not what the tasting experience is about. It should be fun, peaceful, and enjoyable for EVERYONE in the room. That one drunk can really interfere with the experience of everyone else in the room.

    So thanks for your input!

  3. jb says:

    “The winery, however, just poured for 10 people + four glasses per person = perhaps 40 glasses of wine. There are five six-ounce glasses in a bottle, so the wine company just poured about six bottles of wine for this group, if the pourer was generous… And, they return the favor by buying one bottle. (Doesn’t even pay for the labor of the person pouring.)”

    I don’t disagree with your point but- as I’m sure you’re aware- your assumptions and math are correct.

    Let’s try this:

    10 people
    5 wines (average winery)
    1 ounce pours (average industry pour)

    equals 50 ounces, or 2 bottles. Given industry markups, a single bottle purchased will just about cover the cost of the wine poured. The marginal cost of the server’s time is, basically, negligible- sure, they could be helping others, but plenty of non-limo people don’t buy wine either, so there is no guarantee that the server’s time is better spent elsewhere.

    Just want to be fair…

  4. Jo says:

    Hi, JB,

    Yes, my math is off, I know… And that’s honestly because in tasting rooms where I’ve worked (Belvedere, Mondavi, KJ), my one ounce pours were always two to three ounce pours… One ounce is so tiny that you’d have to have a pretty good sized nose to get a decent nose, so I was generous.

    I don’t know anyone that does just the one ounce pours, either… What we think of as one ounce, is really a lot more… and that was my bad.
    In an ideal world, we like to think “one ounce.” In the real world, we’re much more generous, unless someone’s maxed out.

    I appreciate the catch, because from now on I’ll live in the real world with that one. 😉

    Thanks for reading! — jo

  5. Jo says:

    Sara and Arthur… Thanks for both of your comments. I appreciate the feedback. Sometimes I feel like I write in a vacuum, and it’s great to have someone moved to share his/her own thoughts, too. — jo

  6. Randy says:

    Great article. However there are a few questions that have permeated up through my morning conscious. What can we do about this? How can we reach the “kids” (because let’s face it, they’re the main perps here) before they buy the plastic bottled vodka (I’ve seen it) and stash it in their limo. It’s the online bloggers who need to reach out to online venues where the kids can be found.

    In my neck of the woods, “Barrel Tasting Weekend” here in the Russian River is by far the most offensive weekend for wineries. 10’s of thousands of people with only the thought of winery destruction- I mean wine consumption- on the mind.

    So we all know it’s a problem, but what can we do about it other than charging a steep fee for tasting, which we all really don’t want to do.

  7. Jo says:

    One Ounce Pour…

    My one real memory with a one ounce pour is when a guy – who was drunk – put his glass out for me to pour. I wasn’t brave enough (my bad) to say, “I’m sorry, Sir, you’re pretty obnoxious and obviously drunk, so I’m not going to pour at all.” I was honestly afraid that he’d get really abusive; so I took a safe, but dangerous, road pouring only one ounce.

    He looked at the glass and asked, “Is that the best you can do?”

    I responded, and this time I was a lot more brave, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize we’ve gone from wine tasting to wine drinking.” and smiled.

    He dropped it…

  8. Janeen says:

    I realize this doesn’t work in all situations, but when possible, one way to slow larger groups down and discourage drunken behavior, it to make the tasting part of a longer tour. The first wine might be tasted when visiting the vineyard, the second when visiting the crushpad and the third in the barrel room. The guests hear the story of the winery as well as do a tasting, make it a more memorable event for those who are truly interested. Those visitors who come only to drink and party, will probably not stick around to take an hour long tour, while those who stay, are probably the type of visitors you would want to visit in the first place. I have visited several wineries who do the tasting/tours format, and I always bring my out of town visitors there first as my guests always seem to enjoy the experience more than just stopping by a tasting room to taste.

  9. Jo says:

    Janeen,

    Excellent point. When I worked at Mondavi, we were supposed to be conducting an hour tour, but it always was at least an hour and a half. The last half hour was the tasting, the rest was wine education. Anyone intent on getting smashed for the day certainly didn’t take the tour. I never saw anyone at Mondavi drunk.

    Another point with this, too, is that wineries who charge a bit for their tastings are not as typical as the ones worst hit.

    That aside, many, many people (including me) hire a limo for the day so that the day is a dream though wine country. Pure Luxury Limo has provided many days for my out of town guests, Jose, and me.

    We try to be really courteous, because we know the down side of it all. The reason I wrote this particular blog is because we had a recent tour with Pure Luxury driving us to our destinations, and I saw that sign, as we pulled up in the limo. Fortunately for us, I’m in the business and had an appointment… I was still struck by the sign, at this really amazing winery, one that I would never have thought that the “no limos” sign would be seen.

    So… back to pay-to-play… There is a fee at this winery, but they’ve obviously had issues in the past, so no more limos at that one.

  10. Heather says:

    You would think that it is young kids that are the problem but it isn’t. I find that baby boomers and groups of women are the main offenders. (I am a woman)
    Yesterday a woman from our local Chamber of commerce took a tasting bottle off the bar and helped herself. She of course arrived in a limo.

  11. Jo says:

    Heather,

    You’re so right… Imagine a Bachelorette party, and you and I both know that this is a tasting gone wrong.

    I’ve had plenty of men grab bottles off the counter, too, and pour their own wine. Let’s institute a new saying, Instead of, “You broke it, you bought it,” let’s run with, “You poured it, you bought it.”

    Who do they think they are? Our new best friends? This isn’t a party, and they “weren’t invited,” anyway – if there was one.

    It’s a commercial enterprise.

    PERSPECTIVE: I think we should also have them self serve at restaurants. Let’s send them to the kitchen to get their own food. It’s just as ridiculous. Too bad manners disappear, when certain enjoy wine… too much.

  12. Gary says:

    Very interesting comments Jo. I would guess that you have never had your local law enforcement folks, in concert with California’s ABC people do a “decoy” sting in your winery. Likewise, I would doubt you have ever taken ABC’s L.E.A.D. training (it’s free, contact your local ABC office, and takes about four hours).

    There are some very interesting regulations, including the amount of the pour, serving persons that appear to be impaired, and your and winery’s liability in serving and selling wine, and many other things that you might want to know. If ABC finds you are pouring much over an ounce you can get cited without a wine by the glass license. A taste is 1 ounce. Also, if a customer or visitor with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher becomes involved in an incident or accident the last person or establishment can be held liable–check out the recent settlement that Paradise Ridge Winery is on the hook for (3 million) and yes it involved serving a minor but the key was he got drunk at the winery.

    In Santa Barbara County our association (of wineries) has contacted and met with most of the Limo Service Companies and tactfully let them know that most wineries in the County expect an appointment (made by the limo company), a policy of no alcohol consumption in the limo, showing up at least an hour before the winery closes, and no people under the influence coming into the winery. Otherwise, they are usually refused admittance or service. This program, for the most part, has been working quite well with much fewer drunks.

  13. Jo says:

    Gary, I’ve worked in tasting rooms, but not for the past seven years.

    Yes, there are law enforcement people who will come in and train tasting room people, and it – for the most part – will work under normal circumstances. It does not work, however, during big winery-2-winery festivals (as we recently learned this past spring in Sonoma County), because the unruly behavior of a few threw all good intentions out the window.

    You raise many excellent points, and may the tasting room managers everywhere please pay attention.

    The Paradise Ridge example is very sad… The kid lied (“my wallet’s in the car”), and the tasting room person make the mistake of believing him. That makes the tasting room person and the winery liable for someone who asked for what he got… It’s all very sad for everyone involved.

    Some of our limo companies pay very close attention in my neck of the woods… Others don’t, and that was the limo group that got me to thinking and writing this blog entry.

    My past experiences when I worked in a tasting room are what drove me nuts about the party group mentality looking for free booze. Wine’s not booze, wine tasting’s just that… a one ounce pour.

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