Monday, December 11, 2006

Rising Tasting Fees

This past year has seen an increase in the fees charged for tasting wine. Last weekend, my guests paid the highest fee I have yet seen for a winetasting experience -- $50 per person. This was at Far Niente Winery, which produces high quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and a dessert wine called Dulce. However, the visitor's experience at Far Niente includes far more than just a quick tasting of wine. A trip to Far Niente includes an extensive tour of the winery along with Gil Nickle's car collection and a sit-down tasting of current releases and library wines accompanied by cheeses. Despite the high cost, Far Niente remains one of the most popular wineries that are open only by appointment. In the summer, one needs to make a weekend appointment six to eight weeks in advance.

Many other wineries in the Napa Valley raised their fees this past year. Wineries that previously charged $5, now charge $10. Those that charged $10, now charge $20. A few have held the line. Frank Family and Rombauer still do not charge. Clos du Val still charges $5 for their current release tasting, but has started a reserve tasting on weekends that costs $20.

In the Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys, a year ago most wineries did not charge for tasting. Now most do. One tasting room manager told me that she instituted a tasting fee because too many bridal parties were coming just to taste. She was fine with the groups coming to have fun, but realized they were unlikely to buy any wine. So she decided to start charging a fee to recoup some of her costs.

When Robert Mondavi opened his winery in 1966, his goal was to produce quality wines. He was concerned, though, that people would not spend more for the quality wines because they were unfamiliar with them. So he included a tasting room where visitors could sample his wines and decide for themselves whether they were worth the extra money.

Tasting rooms continue to serve an educational purpose. Visitors can learn more about wine in general, the winery they are visiting, and their individual tastes in wine. However, with the increased charges, tasting rooms are becoming profit centers for the wineries. Visitors can now expect to pay between $10 and $20 to taste wine in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, with tastings of reserve wines costing more. In the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys, most wineries charge $5 or less to taste.

If you would like to take a custom Wine Country tour, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

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