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Rare Rant,Wine,Winery

Why People (Should) Go to a Winery Tasting Room

[Above Image: Left to right: winemaker Rui Veladas of Carmim Winery and winemaker Jose Fonseca of Enoforum Wines, in Carmim's tasting room.]

Tasting rooms are a retail outlet in which you may enjoy and learn about wine, and then make a purchase to support the proprietor’s efforts at showing you his, her, their best, if you liked the wine. It’s cleverly disguised sales, ladies and gentlemen, under the guise of hospitality.

Because I’ve had so much experience working for wine companies in their retail outlets, I’ve been able to observe a lot of behavior. I’ve worked at Belvedere, Mondavi, and K-J, and my husband has worked at Pezzi King, Imagery, and Gary Farrell. Combined, we’ve shared a lot of stories and experiences; and, there are patterns that emerge.

Most of the people who visit wineries are really wonderful people. They come from near and far, and are genuinely interested in learning about wine. And, they purchase some wine to enjoy during their trip, or to take home with them and enjoy at a later date. (There are great containers today that allow people to put a bottle or two into a piece of luggage without a possible broken bottle.)

There’s another group who come to wine country, who are opportunists, not the least bit interested in learning about wine or wanting to purchase anything. It’s the weekend, “Let’s go to wine country to get slammed” crowd.

  • OF AGE: It’s a college weekend escapade, for those who are of age. I’ve seen this one many times, and they don’t come to buy wine. They just became of age, and they’re out to have a limited funds weekend that includes alcohol.
  • THE HOST: Jose used to have one patron who would bring his own cheese each week, a guest or two, get their tastes of wine, and just hang out on the deck all afternoon like it was his living room and he was entertaining… with free wine.
  • THE DATE: I had one guy who came in every Sunday for months, and each time it was with another scantily clad female. He’d taste through each wine, then simply say “thanks,” and leave… week after week, after week. I finally let the cat out of the bag by asking him if he was ever going to buy wine for one of his girl friends. He didn’t return, and we gained bar space for people who were seriously interested in learning about wine, versus the cheap date.

Those who come for free wine are a real minority, understand, but it’s worth exposing them. It’s not like tasting room attendants don’t think, “Oh, god… here they come again.”

By shedding light on this:

  • It might deter a few offenders, if they know that their game plan is well understood on the other side of the counter.
  • It might also encourage winery owners to start charging a minimum fee that could be applied to a purchase. It will slow this down substantially.

Wineries are a  retail outlet… Period. Unlike other retail situations, they let you sample their fare… for at least a half hour. That’s equivalent to a glass of wine. (Imagine sampling in a bakery for a half hour?)

People in tasting rooms are there to inform, educate, and present the wines of their proprietors. To simply go to wine country for a free day of drinking is actually ripping off the wine companies.

Some people have a favorite wine critic, who gives them guidance about what they might like in a wine. Since wine can be such an expensive part of a meal, it’s a great idea to ask others for help in making that decision.

Some are lucky enough to have the time and resources to come to wine country to taste for themselves. By so doing, they’re now making some of their own decisions about what tastes great on their own palates. And, they generally make a purchase, if the wine strikes their fancy.

To simply see the tasting rooms as a place for free wine is actually ripping off the owners, if you’ve never thought of it that way. This may seem like strong language… it’s not. It’s just stating the facts as they exist.

Tasting rooms are a  retail outlet in which you may enjoy and learn about wine, and then make a purchase to support the proprietor’s efforts at showing you his, her, their best, if you liked the wine. It’s cleverly disguised sales, ladies and gentlemen, under the guise of hospitality.

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7 Responses to “Why People (Should) Go to a Winery Tasting Room”

  1. Chris says:

    Nice post, Jo.

    As a tasting room newbie turned veteran, I really hope I’ve never fallen into your categories and appreciate what it must look like from the other side of the counter.

    You mentioned the fee. I like free tastings (who doesn’t) but I’ve increasingly been more in favor of the fee. One, for the reasons you highlight, it helps keep some of the party crowd out of the room. The other main benefit I see as a taster is that it allows a more graceful exit if I don’t want to buy a bottle. I can pay for my taste samples, $5 or $15, and feel like I’ve not ripped off the place.

    The other thing I’ve seen some places do, which I like, is to offer “by the glass” price for their wines. If someone really does want to just picnic or hang out every weekend, you can move them from tasting samples to by the glass pours where they must pay, pretty readily I’d think.

  2. Jo says:

    Chris,

    All good points. The by-the-glass option is a new law that’s recently gone into effect, and I’m glad that it did. It’s stop the people who say (and yes, it’s been said to me more than once), “You can do better than that, can’t you?” I once responded, “Listen…” cupping my ear. “Did you hear it yet?”

    “Hear what?” he replied.

    “The bell.”

    “The bell?” he asked.

    “Yeah, the bell… You know, the one they ring when we go from the tasting portion to the drinking portion of the ‘TASTING’”

    Done with a smile, it became a joke and disarmed a belligerent person, who had actually already had too much… which was why he had lost his “polite.”

    We all have loved “free.” As you’ve said, “Who doesn’t.” It was the “free,” combined with taking advantage, that originally made wineries decide that a nominal fee would slow things out-of-control down a bit. It’s worked. I also like that you get to keep a logo glass, as some places. All of it makes for a better tasting experience for people like you how love to go to tasting rooms to learn and enjoy what the winery has to offer.

  3. Steve Paulo says:

    Are there any Napa or Sonoma wineries left who don’t charge at least $5 for a tasting flight? I can’t remember the last time I was in either area and got a tasting gratis. In Washington I still saw that a year or so ago.

  4. Jo says:

    I know that Foppiano doesn’t.

    I’m betting that there are a few off the beaten path.

    It will eventually change toward charging, because how can afford to give it all away?

    Still… we all love the free….

  5. Thanks for the article, Jo, but I disagree with your conclusion.

    ‘Ripping off’ is a very strong statement to make about folks who, for one reason or another, decide to not purchase wines from a tasting room.

    Perhaps they are scouting for wines to purchase at another date or do not prefer the wines they have sampled,regardless of whether they paid for the tasting (or in your opinion, the sales presentation)or not.

    Being in the wine business for almost ten years myself, mainly working in tasting rooms (some public, some by appointment only)I have also seen it all. I also know to never judge a book by its cover, and visitors may leave with my card and no wines at that time only to contact me later to request very expensive wines to be shipped to them or a friend/family/business aquaintance.

    Speaking of ‘ripping off’ someone, I would never feel guilty of enjoying a sampling of wine from a huge,corporate owned winery (such as Constellation, Diageo, and yes even KJ) without buying something before I left. I do not think the investors and board members of these wine & spirits giants (or Jess Jackson and his racehorses and helicopters) will miss my contribution to their financial windfalls.

    It’s always a nice gesture to leave with at least something in your hands, but not doing so shouldn’t require feeling shameful or regretful about parting with hard-earned cash for undeserving(and frequently overpriced)wine.

    Cheers from The Wine Consumer!

  6. Jo says:

    The Wine Consumer,

    You make some very good points that I can’t argue with, as they more than balance out those who do go out to rip off a winery.

    Big boys and their toys… true for that group. None of love corporate greed, because that kind of life style takes away from the other classes living well.

    Scouting out for later purchases – honorable group.

    Leaving with something in one’s hands – always a great gesture.

    My ripoff examples… the other side of it.

    Those whom have been judged by me are the ones who have behaved badly, and it’s my sensibilities that have been insulted.

    Remember, I wrote… “Most of the people who visit wineries are really wonderful people. They come from near and far, and are genuinely interested in learning about wine. And, they purchase some wine to enjoy during their trip, or to take home with them and enjoy at a later date.”

    Some may not have purchased wine, but they still fall into the “wonderful people” category, because they learned something, and expressed their appreciation. [I failed to write about this example, because this story isn't so much about wonderful people... but they ARE there, as you wrote.]

    I went on to talk about the opportunists… “There’s another group who come to wine country, who are opportunists, not the least bit interested in learning about wine or wanting to purchase anything. It’s the weekend, ‘Let’s go to wine country to get slammed’ crowd.”

    I still see these guys as ripoff artists… most especially when they hit the mom and pop wineries, that aren’t within the three tier system and are open seven days a week trying to make a go of it.

    I emphasize with mom and pop, because I now own/run one. I know that if I owned a winery and any one of my three examples above showed up, I would have preferred that they had chosen a movie as a date location… If they chose to show up because it was only about free wine and getting high.

  7. [...] can you send this photo to me from this post ~ http://www.wine-blog.org/index.php/2010/01/28/why-people-should-go-to-winery-tasting-rooms/ I want to start a tasting group, and give this picture to someone planning for [...]

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