Thursday, February 10, 2011

Is Wine Tourism Dead in Washington (State, not DC)?

No, but I think we can kill it in the next couple of years if we keep trying. Blame it on the Napa Valley. Back in the early years (how early I don't know because I came on the Napa Valley scene in 1969) the Napa Valley Wineries - I think there were four - came upon this idea of enticing customers to their doors by giving free samples of their product, much like Costco does today. The wineries thrived and more people got into the game and thrived. That induced the 'get rich quick' while becoming a 'rock star' mentality to enter the wine business. Free wine tasting in the beautiful Napa Valley became a burden. First, the wineries tried to slow the visitors down by making them take a tour of the facilities. You got to see such things as, "This is our wine press (wow, that's cool, it looks a lot like my destemmer/crusher; these guys must know something I don't know)." After the tour, you received a free tightly controlled tasting of about four wines - five or six if you knew how to say 'gewürztraminer.' Over the years, people outwore their welcome by tasting but not buying. "Hey, I know where we can get $hitfaced for free. Wanna drive up to the Napa Valley?"

Fast forward, Napa Valley wineries started charging for tasting - and charging a lot. Personally, I am not against charging for tasting from a consumer standpoint. I like to go to tasting rooms around the country, check out the products, get ideas and come home. I am not really interested in buying much of the wine, most of which is way overpriced. So, my wife and I pay one tasting fee, taste the wine, say 'thank you,' and leave. Since we have paid for the sample, I do not feel obligated to buy any $hittty overpriced California wine. (We don't do wine touring in Washington because it is plain boring and the tasting rooms are just too uppity.)

Recently, my neighboring wineries have started complaining about the lack of wine tourists and at the same time they have started charging for tasting. Hummm? How did I start this blog? Didn't the Napa Valley wineries start giving free samples to entice tourists to their tasting rooms and didn't they start charging because they had too many?

American public education is a sham (I am an ex school administrator, so I know firsthand.) Obviously, they don't teach the law of supply and demand in public schools. Here is a recap for all of you under 50. If demand for your product is down, you don't raise the price of that product. If on the other hand, like the Napa Valley, demand exceeds supply, you can charge whatever.

One neighboring winery just implemented a non-refundable tasting fee. Twelve people came to our tasting room after happily parting with $60 - and not buying any wine. The next group was very unhappy and didn't taste wine at aforementioned winery. They asked the person behind the counter, "If we buy ten or eleven bottles, will you refund the tasting fee?" the answer was absolutely, "No. The tasting fee is non-refundable." These are lost customers who will never go back (nor will we send our customers to any winery that treats people this way). They told us the whole sordid story. Of course, the guilty winery is not aware of this PR debacle because we aren't' about to tell them. "Why?" You ask. It goes back to public education. They don't teach about Napoleon any more. HUH? FYI, Napoleon (some French guy) had a bad habit of shooting the messenger when the messenger brought bad news. So this winery is happy in the fact that it a.) lost customers permanently and b.) made $60 on tasting fees - and no one will tell them any different.

So tasting fees are killing wine tourism. What is $50 to $100 to taste wine all day at strip malls, park and drink wine villages, and warehouses? Well, I can go skiing at White pass all day for $35 (weekdays over age 64) and have a lot more fun. In fact, with the new expansion into Hogback Basin it is incredible! Okay, I spent $5 for a microbrew at the mid-mountain lodge with a beautiful view of Mt. Rainier out the window. I could have had wine, but they only had Kiona and Portteus.

So, the second way to kill wine tourism is to turn it into a business. Everybody and their dog has a tasting room from downtown Seattle to Bumфuck, Nowhere. Wine tasting used to be fun (it still is in California) but it has lost its meaning in Washington. "Let's go visit wineries this weekend." "Oh yeah, big whoop. Why don't we do South 6th street in Seattle. It's free and we might get mugged or something exciting like that. It's a warehouse district just like Woodinville, you know."


Let's look at the modern tasting room. First, it must look like someone's living room with a fireplace, sofas, a coffee table, and some overstuffed chairs. At the back of the 'living room' is a bar with a snooty young to middle-aged woman who says things like "It costs $10 to taste." And "This is a nice big red wine." Why do all wineries move their living rooms into their tasting rooms? No, it doesn't make me feel at home. It makes me feel like I am in your home - UNIVITED!


So, with a combination of charging for tasting and boring tasting rooms, I think we can get rid of this nonsense called wine tourism. Who needed it anyway? The Napa Valley 50 years ago? That is so ancient history.


When will Costco start charging for samples? You try to answer that with an American education.


Disclaimer: Bonair Winery offers free sampling of four wines from a list of seven of the regular releases. They charge $5 to taste four of the seven reserve wines. For $5, you get a larger tasting glass and the fee is refundable with purchase of a reserve wine.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with the statements you are making here. If I go out of my way to drive, or visit your winery I dont expect to be charged a non-refundable fee to taste your wine. When i first started to learn more about wine, i used tastings to find out what wines i liked and what i didn't like. It was a great way to get exposed to new wine that I might not have been able to try other wise. Since my initial learning of wine I now will go to the wineries I know, or up and comers, to try the new vintages before I buy. I have stopped going to a few of the wineries i used to frequent due to the NEW tasting FEEs. Just as you said above, those wineries have lost a customer. Thank you for keeping your clients happy!