Event,IMHO,Wine tasting

When they’re out of control

Another year, another barrel tasting, and another trip to the vomitorium… Ah, barrel tasting… It’s such a joy when they come to town. Townies hide out, by the way.

People ask me, “Are you going barrel tasting?”

“Ah…. no thanks.” But, that’s just me and a few of us who have been here long enough to know it’s best to leave it to the newbies. I used to go, but became involved in the wine business and was on the other side of the table for years….

I wonder, why can’t people just privately call a favorite winery, ask to have a barrel tasting for the possibility of buying a case of that wine and get an appointment; with the intention of buying, mind you? This gives the winery lots of time to schedule an appointment that works for the business, with a potential good sale. While it’s a novel way of thinking right now, it will work; that is, until everyone and his brother or sister tries it. I say, go for it now. Start a trend and be safe from the madding crowd.

So, last year I was right here, too, because I get the local news. I wrote, Society & Sobriety: When a Great Idea Becomes Challenged

“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.”

This year it’s $40… Still very cheap for two days of wining.

From the Healdsburg Patch:

Barrel Tasting Weekend Comes Under Fire at Brief City Council Meeting

“The event has produced a culture of incredible drunkenness in town,” she said. “My fear is that something tragic is going to happen.” She recounted a general atmosphere of inebriation, especially among people in the 20s, that was disturbing to merchants and other town visitors. Barrel Tasting is one of three large annual events sponsored by Wine Road Northern Sonoma County, an association of wineries and lodgings in the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys. Participants purchase passes to a number of participating wineries and are issued a wrist band and wine glass, and are able to sample developing wine from barrel in order to buy “futures.”  There were over 100 wineries participating this year, though a number of Wine Road member wineries do not take part. “The glasses they carry to go from one tasting room to another are supposed to be empty,” recalled Montecuollo. “They are not empty. They are being filled with beer in some cases.”

My same fear for Dark & Delicious, where people do things they’d never do when they’re sober, like steal a 3-Liter auction item, or glasses right off the table in the admin area, t-shirts and full wine bottles placed in corners of the admin area… I’ve seen it all. This isn’t whining, as I just saw one of my colleagues write about what happens after this Barrel Tasting event. It’s just reporting details of what it’s like to watch a Bacchanalian orgy sans sex, while sober and trying to make an honest living…

Ah, yes, I remember the mouthy jerk who wanted me to pour wine for him years ago. He had just tumbled out of a limo with a gaggle of other people, all swaggering, with glasses in their hands, with the residue of mixed beverages or beer in the glass, expecting fresh wine in that ridiculous glass. They were all so proud that they were out wine tasting… And yes, they were the 20 somethings, fresh out of college and still living the frat house days. Sigh… They do grow up. Some don’t make it, that’s the way life goes.

So… what if we taught our children to enjoy wine in their own homes with meals, creating the civilized environment that we all crave. Well, that would be heaven, wouldn’t it, and where would we go when we die?

The real question is how to make it more safe. What if it were even more expensive? That would work with some of those who have figured out that $40 for a weekend of drinking lots of wine is a really good deal.

Who doesn’t remember worshiping the porcelain God? We’ve all been there, but when it’s so public in wine country, versus a friend’s apartment in Bangor, Maine, let’s say, organizations have to find a way to keep it from continuing bad publicity.

I struggle each year with my Dark & Delicious event. This is why I keep my event to three hours versus four or more. It’s been my experience (15 years of public tastings) that after three hours, that’s when wine tasting becomes wine drinking. And, wine drinking on top of wine tasting is a recipe for disaster; or, as some would say, and accident waiting to happen.

May all of us who have to organize wine tastings have the strength to keep it as safe as is humanly possible.

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11 Responses to “When they’re out of control”

  1. Hey there, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your blog in Firefox, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, amazing blog!

  2. Richard says:

    Thanks for writing this – and bravo for the “what if we taught our children to enjoy wine in their own homes with meals” – why can’t we do this? Well, because, you would be arrested if anyone found out! Your kid has wine with dinner, tells his schoolmates, they tell the teacher, the teacher calls the cops, the cops show up at your house and arrest you for serving “intoxicating beverages to an underage minor” or some charge…

    And, is this part of the problem – yes it is…but how do we resolve it?

    Also, I have contributed before about people showing up at wine tastings I’ve poured at – I’m shocked they can even stand, much less drink – and they become angry when I wouldn’t pour for them and told them they were intoxicated and I could not by law or in good consciousness, serve them. Usually they wander off cursing under their breath…

    But, I would be remiss if I didn’t say – aren’t the wineries themselves partially responsible? I mean “Barrel Tasting Weekend” is almost an invitation to behave this way. Obviously, on any weekend, any Tasting Room will have the bus or limo full of “celebratory participants” but not in the numbers one sees on the “special weekends.”

    But how do we resolve the issues? Wait until there is some horrible car crash that kills 10 people? and then it all gets canceled? Teach “responsible pouring?” but what if the people aren’t driving? It’s a real Catch 22 situation…

  3. Jo Diaz says:


    You bring up so many important points, including my kids telling their classmates, the cops showing up and arresting me for being a maternal “Social Host.” Yup, there’s now a name for it, and it’s on the books as what to charge someone, as innocent as a parent trying to educate a child to level of sophistication that would be far better for all of us.

    Yes, I fear that it’s going to take a carload of “tipsy tasters” to solve this one, because either the wineries aren’t doing enough to slow intoxication, or the hired vans aren’t. Something isn’t adding up… And the event will be destroyed.

    It’s a constant concern for me, as I plan my events. Fortunately, right now I only have one event where there are consumers involved. My other two are business-2-business educational forums, and a good does of food is always included, too, to help with digestion and metabolizing the wine.

  4. Richard says:

    I did not know there was a name for it! That is truly disturbing – “social host” – oh, how very sad. My parents treated alcohol like everything else, very liberal attitude – served it to me when I was 4 years old because it was whiskey and red and I thought it would taste good – they gave me a drop in a small glass! and to this day, I can’t stand the taste of any hard liquor!

    Parents also bought beer and wine for me when I was about 15 as I expressed an interest in trying it – and, of course, I lost all interest since it didn’t seem like fun because they approved! and both told me “if you like it, we’ll buy more – what do you know about it?” So, I studied up on wine and beer – I believe this helped me develop a respect and appreciation for wine… (NB: for all the internet police, both parents are deceased – one would presume you could posthumously prosecute – sure there is some statute covering this!)

    But, yes, while we are all responsible, it is tough to try to know what to do – ultimately, the party people need to take responsibility for themselves – but they won’t (I can tell you from long experience!), so that leaves the poor winery – and the best thing they can do is educate their staff and let the staff know that nothing bad will happen if they refuse to serve someone who is intoxicated and behaving badly! I have been threatend with lawsuits but none ever materialized! and won’t… so, simply a matter of education and behavior… BTW: I was recently visiting a restaurant in wine country and a group of drunken rowdies showed up (about five of them) and the manager refused to seat them – there were threats, almost to the point of fisticuffs! and then the leader of the rowdies told the manager he would be back with his attorney forthwith (his actual wording was something like “ahl bee bu-hack with… wi… wi… wi-hith my… LAW-yerr for… for… wor-fifth!”) While I was seated, I applaud this manger – and, I’m sure he has not heard from anyone’s attorney…

    This type of behavior does seem to be on the increase? the economy perhaps?

  5. Jo Diaz says:

    Richard… Great note to the Internet police.

    Regarding, “educate their staff and let the staff know that nothing bad will happen if they refuse to serve someone who is intoxicated and behaving badly!” this is SOOOOO important. If I knew I had control in a tasting room to not worry about a boss who’s only worried about his “customers,” I’da thrown many people out without a blink of an eye.

    As for the drunk, being that drunk means he couldn’t even remember who did anything to him. That’s the best part. Being that blitzed, the next day is a distant – if not a complete – memory (loss).

    I’ve come to know that one, too.

    It’s a shame that people can’t take responsibility for their actions. It would mean that they’re emotionally mature. Imagine a world with all people completely emotionally mature and willing to compromise, because that’s what emotionally mature people do… Allowing for differences and not trying to change everyone into his or her own image and likeness (I thought that was God’s job). I believe that world is called Utopia. I just know, I don’t want any more reincarnations in this one.

  6. Kvin says:

    It could be worse, you could have no business.

  7. Jo Diaz says:

    Yes, it could be… But vomit on a carpet is also costly in getting it out (aromas, stains, etc.) and the people who would have bought but left because it was a mess. It’s a crap shoot, no pun intended.

  8. Great article, Jo. I too liked this line “what if we taught our children to enjoy wine in their own homes with meals, creating the civilized environment that we all crave.”

  9. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Gwendolyn. It says it all for me.

  10. Dave says:

    For many years (since the early 90s) my wife and I, often accompanied by other family members, have spent two or three days in early March in the Healdsburg area for wine tasting/buying in the surrounding AVAs. Some of these trips coincided with the Barrel Tasting event. After a couple of experiences with Barrel Tasting behavior, we shifted to the adjacent or intervening weekdays. We have usually been able to barrel taste if we asked, and have thus avoided the crazieness. It probably doesn’t hurt that we always purchase wine as we feel an obligation to reciprocate for the experience provided by the wineries and several know us from our annual vists and are very generous with their time. A little courtesy and recognition by the wine tourist that wineries are businesses that need to get some ROI from their marketing efforts is all it takes to have a great experience.

  11. Jo Diaz says:

    Well said, David. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

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