An article published on Friday, March 20, by Peg Melnick entitled, “Barrel tasting brouhaha: Aficionados vs. partyers,” was about how Sonoma County’s Barrel Tasting Weekend had some very unruly attendees.

With a $20 price tag, the event was made easily accessible to everyone. The complaints were pretty much about buses or limos filled with a group of younger partiers. They were showing up at tasting rooms either with a beer can in hand, or with the residue of beer in their glasses, expecting to have the winery pour their wine into that glass. I’ve personally seen that one, too, years ago, and found it to be very annoying… This is not what a wine tasting is all about… shifting from beer to wine, and back to beer.

It’s about great people enjoying a fabulous day, like the ones pictured to the right by Kent Porter of The Press Democrat [From left, cousins Mary Belieu, Anna Belieu, Bethany Peterson and Laura Peterson celebrate Mary’s birthday at Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves in the Dry Creek Valley].

This event is in the initial stages of segueing from wine tasting into the wine drinking portion of the program… A program which doesn’t exist, BTW, along the wine roads.

The dilemma for the group who puts on this two-weekends-in-succession event, is how to now manage what it’s becoming.

It’s a really simple answer… Make it more expensive.

The sorority | fraternity crowd (that escaped their campus for the weekend) is looking for cheap thrills. It’s that simple. There’s a quote in the story that backs up this statement:

“Zack Zimmerman, a 24-year old student at Sonoma State, said none of this behavior surprises him. “I’ve heard people (ages 21 to 24) say: ‘Let’s go to a wine tasting and get plastered.’ One problem is people treat wine like they do liquor at a bar.”

“Zimmerman said the biggest challenge for marketers is to find the group of younger wine lovers who can appreciate and respect wine and the passion that’s behind it.”

I’ve personally left quantity crowd events, turning to more quality ones; by that I mean, give me an event where there’s still room to move, and there’s time to speak directly with the vintners. If you follow the ones they like to attend, in order to be the ones pouring their own wine, you’ll find the best ones.

HINT: When someone says, after you’ve poured a “taste” for him (I say “him,” because I’ve never had a woman say this one to me), “Is that the best you can do?” I stop, pause like I’m listening for something, then say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the bell?”

“The bell?” they ask. “Yeah, the one for when the wine tasting turns into a wine drinking party,” I say. I get raised eyebrows, but never an argument. They know they’ve been snagged.

Wine pouring people must remain in control of what and to whom they’re pouring. “No drunks allowed” is the message. As difficult as it is to point out to someone inebriated that that’s his or her condition, to not do so is as terrible as being in that state.

Raise the price, and it turns quantity into quality every time… And, it’s entirely possible by doing that the same amount of money will be made by the group. It’s an amazing thing. Here’s the math:

  • 5,000 tickets/people x $20 = $100,000
  • 2,500 tickets/people  x $40 = $100,000 (It’s still pretty inexpensive, but it might cause those who reported as “problems” for this year to either not attend next year, or maybe appreciate a more sober price tag?)

The organizers are concerned about losing the serious-about-wine demogrpahic, who are quoted as saying they’ll never return to Wine Road Barrel Tasting… It’s the more serious group that built this event, and still have money in their pockets to support it. If it’s entirely given over to a younger group, it will take years for them to become more responsible, because they’re in an experimenting stage and having a ball… But someone will get hurt, as someone always does when the spiral’s going downward.

If I were in a position to directly give advice (as an event organizer, myself) to Beth Costa, executive director of Wine Road:

Just raise your price a bit, and it will bring out the more serious crowd to which your wineries are wanting to market their wines. The revelers aren’t the ones to make the purchases. In their world, the price of the ticket was their expense for the day. They won’t join wine clubs or get on mailing lists. They’re looking for the next party.

Meanwhile, those who enjoy being being part of a marketing event will continue to make this a very special weekend, for which it was and still is intended.