Today’s Rant is a bit of a continuation of a rant I had a couple of weeks ago. It is clear that I have not gotten over it.
Weird, a coincidence, or something else? When I sat down to write this post, I had a vague recollection that I had previously written about the topic of today’s rant: tasting room fees.
So I searched my (close to) 3,000 posts and I realized that I had, indeed, written about the money grab that is tasting room fees on April 4th, 2013. Just about as close as you can get to precisely a decade later.
Ten years after that original post, tasting room fees are not only, in my opinion, still a problem, they are now out of control.
I understand the basic premise of the tasting room fee, I really do. Set a price that will dissuade the casual drinker from popping in to down a bunch of free juice and wasting everyone’s time. There are costs associated with operating a tasting room that do not get covered if you allow everyone to waltz in, toss back a few ounces of wine, and then skedaddle. Thus, attaching a, say, $20 fee for the tasting would cover it, and “reimbursing” or waving the fee if the customer makes a nominal minimum purchase makes good business sense, at least to me.
As a result of the pandemic, most (85% according to the Sonoma Wine Tasting Blog) tasting rooms are now by appointment only. This also makes sense to me as it makes it easier to schedule staff to cover the tasting room–it is not wise to pay someone to hang around all day on the chance that a potential customer might drop in. This also helps in limiting the number of casual “customers” who might want to stop in for a few free glasses of wine on their way to dinner. (By the way, that last point has been all but eliminated by the fact that almost all tasting rooms close by 5:00 or earlier.)
Today, as I sit in my hotel room writing this, in addition to being by appointment only, many wineries now charge what I consider exorbitant fees for a tasting.* The days of the nominal $5, $10, or even $20 seem to be long gone. Now, it is much more common to see $30, $50, $75, or higher fees to taste wines. Sure, now they are called “tasting experiences” and often include a charcuterie board, a brick-oven pizza, or an “exquisite tasting experience that was designed to pair perfectly with our wines by our in-house world-renowned chef”.
*Again, according to the Sonoma Wine Tasting Blog, the average tasting room fee jumped from about $25 pre-pandemic to nearly $40 today, with “reserve tastings” (whatever that means) starting at $50 in most places.
What if I just want to have a taste of a few of your wines in order to decide if I want to purchase a bottle or twelve? Sorry, that option no longer exists in many tasting rooms it seems. To make matters worse? It is becoming increasingly less common for tasting rooms to waive their fees when one purchases a wine.
Case in point.
One of my favorite producers in Healdsburg recently recounted the following experience. She had a group of eight that had an appointment in her tasting room (she charges a fee, I am not sure what it is, but she waives it with a purchase) and they ended up buying five cases of wine. Fantastic. They asked her for a recommendation for a winery to visit the following day and she decided to call a winery that I had just visited and raved about–wonderful wines, beautiful spot.
On the phone, she explained that she was another winery in the area and she had a wonderful group that she would like to send their way. Before she could even finish her sentence, the person on the other end of the call bluntly stated that there was a $35 tasting fee per person plus a 20% mandatory gratuity (that’s another $7 for the math-challenged). When asked if they waved the fee with a purchase, there was a pause and then the response “with six bottles, per person.”
My friend decided to send them in another direction, to a place that would be at least a little more welcoming.
And I don’t blame her one bit.
Tasting Room Fees Skyrocket in Wine Country
Tasting room fees rise in Sonoma County in pandemic aftermath
When we tasted in Napa in May every place required a reservation, every fee was what I consider to be high to very high but all were waived with a purchase. Most would wave one tasting with a three bottle purchase. What I found interesting was we’d PREFER you purchase wine and not just pay the fee. Oh, I even had to pay a $100 fee at one place for a “tasting experience”.
We used to go quite often to Healdsburg and Napa. Healdsburg was always more reasonable but I’m reading about the high prices and the ridiculously high prices in Napa. Pretty much priced us out of going.