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Friday, July 31, 2015

Visiting Wine Country - A Wine Buyer's Manifesto

Take a shot glass. Put half an ounce of water in it. Pour it in a wine glass. That tiny bit of liquid is what you usually get when you get a taste of wine in a tasting room. 
No problem…wineries aren’t bars and they don’t want their patrons getting drunk and driving around on the rural roads that usually appear in wine country (by the way, you’re not supposed to swallow’re supposed to taste it and spit it out into the bucket provided so the alcohol doesn’t erode your sense of taste).
We love wine here at The World on Wheels. We love that, in our biased opinion, we live in the greatest wine producing area in the world.
Many of our trips involve wine tasting and drinking. Some are even taken just to taste the wine and we usually come home with at least two cases of wine in our trunk.
Winery owners…take note of that last sentence above…at least two cases, a lot of the time, even more.  Now, let me tell you how you’re killing the golden goose…wine buyers like me.
Here are the reasons that I’m really starting to sour on going to wineries for tasting and wine buying…

Exorbitant tasting fees.  Wine tasting used to be free. This perk is fast diminishing.  Then it became a token fee, to dissuade from getting plastered and driving down those narrow country lanes.
Let’s face it, a $5 fee isn’t going to break the bank and, if you let me apply that price to my purchase, not a problem.  The problem comes when I go to a winery, they charge $12 to $20, or more,for 5 small sips (the minimum going rate in many wine destinations these days) and then tell me I can’t apply that amount to my purchase.  First, I’ll probably look you in the eye, say “are you serious?”, and turn around and walk out when I find you are. Second, I won't be back and I won't be buying your wine.
I usually visit 5 or more wineries a day. I’m not going to pay $24 or more (for at least my wife and myself) at each stop for the “privilege” of sampling wine (see the first paragraph for how much of a taste you get) at each one, especially if I can’t use that amount for my purchase.
High Wine Prices.  I realize that some wines are so good, so lovingly had crafted with great care by the winemaker that they justify quite a premium. However, I just paid for the gas to drive my butt up to your vineyard, to (probably) pay for the “experience” of tasting your wine. I just saved you plenty in shipping costs alone. I don’t want to pay $25 a bottle for your wine, then drive down the hill and see it on the shelf of Albertson’s for $6.99.  If they can sell it to me for that price, you sure can too.

Wine Clubs. The latest lame excuse to extract more money from winery customers to get them to buy more.  I don’t know of any winery that doesn’t have a wine club these days.  The come on is “join our wine club and you’ll get free perks” like free tasting, discounts on wine, and other special promotions. The catch is that you’ll have to buy at least a couple of bottles of wine that they select for club members that are not cheap, and pay for shipping if you don’t live nearby, several times a year. On average, with shipping, this will cost you at least $60 for each two bottle shipment.
At many wineries, this is the only way you’ll get a discount and that is usually measley…something on the order of 10% per case. Hell, my local Ralph’s offers me a 30% discount on 6 bottles now, how is this supposed to entice me – especially if you just have a few selections of wine that I’ll get over and over?  And am I expected to join every winery’s club?  All 3,300+ in California?
Give me a meaningful case discount without having to join an expensive club. Give me a club where I don’t have to pay (Sobon Estate, for example, only asks for your e-mail address to join the club and get a 20% case discount).

Or if you absolutely must have a club, why don’t you join forces with other wineries in your area and have a regional wine club? Can you imagine what a wine club featuring selections from all the Sonoma wineries would be like?
(NOTE: There are several independent wine clubs that get wine from all over the world and not charge you an arm and a leg for the privilege – one I’m a member of and highly recommend is The Wine of the Month Club in Monrovia, California.)
Nightclub Atmosphere. Recently, on a wine tasting adventure, we stepped into a winery tasting room. It was like entering a disco. Loud live band, crowded, dancing, complete with bartender wiping down a spot saying “twelve dollars each, what’ll you have?” Turned around and walked out. If you’re going to foster that kind of atmosphere, just stop calling yourself a winery and say you’re a bar or nightclub.

Okay, now that I’ve listed my biggest pet peeves, know that I still find some outstanding examples of wineries that mostly do it right. Props go to the wineries of Amador County – home of some of the best red wines on earth – for scoffing at the idea of charging for tasting, at least for now (though a couple of pretentious newcomers are trying to change that); Galleano for hanging on by a thread, charging a modest fee ($5) that can be applied to their very inexpensive and delicious selections (they’ll even give you a coupon to have a glass of their wine at a local Basque restaurant); and the increasingly hard to find, honest winemakers of California that prefer to let their wine to the talking before you open your wallet.
For the rest of you, please take some of this commentary to heart. I’d like to enjoy trips to the wine country again.
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

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