Wine Tasting fees

Tom Cannavan

Administrator
Picked this up on Social Media this morning. How different is this from visits to European cellars, or cellars in South Africa for example:

Going wine tasting in Napa Valley costs more than double what it did six years ago, new data shows.

The average cost of a basic wine tasting in the valley reached $40.62 last year, up from $20 in 2016, according to the reservation platform CellarPass. Meanwhile, an “elevated” tasting — the sort of experience that might include a food pairing or reserve wines — was $82.26 per person, a jump from $30 in 2016.

The swelling consumer price index isn’t the only factor informing wine costs. Many of the most powerful determinants predate 2022. A labor shortage means employers are paying higher salaries. Supply chain hold-ups have resulted in escalating costs for goods like glass bottles, the price of which doubled in some cases. Serial wildfires have shot up insurance rates — Schramsberg’s annual premium went from $200,000 to more than $800,000, Davies said — and their threat requires constant maintenance of defensible space, another costly line item.

“As a businessperson you never want to raise prices,” said Lee Hudson, owner of Napa’s Hudson Vineyards, where a wine tasting now costs $95, up from $65 a year ago. But that price hike, and the fact that sales are higher than they’ve ever been, still can’t keep pace with the soaring cost of doing business, he said. “We’re making less money.”

 
I think there's also a nuance here - wine costs != wine tasting costs.

It would be interesting to see what proportion of wineries revenue and profits come from tastings. My suspicion is that for mid-ranking Cali wineries it's a lot - and they got into this competitive tasting room battle, and those tasting rooms need paid for...certainly my anecdata strongly suggest that a lot of people who visit Napa / Sonoma wineries at the weekend are much more focused on the quality of the experience than they are on the quality of the wine.
 
Picked this up on Social Media this morning. How different is this from visits to European cellars, or cellars in South Africa for example:

Going wine tasting in Napa Valley costs more than double what it did six years ago, new data shows.

The average cost of a basic wine tasting in the valley reached $40.62 last year, up from $20 in 2016, according to the reservation platform CellarPass. Meanwhile, an “elevated” tasting — the sort of experience that might include a food pairing or reserve wines — was $82.26 per person, a jump from $30 in 2016.

The swelling consumer price index isn’t the only factor informing wine costs. Many of the most powerful determinants predate 2022. A labor shortage means employers are paying higher salaries. Supply chain hold-ups have resulted in escalating costs for goods like glass bottles, the price of which doubled in some cases. Serial wildfires have shot up insurance rates — Schramsberg’s annual premium went from $200,000 to more than $800,000, Davies said — and their threat requires constant maintenance of defensible space, another costly line item.

“As a businessperson you never want to raise prices,” said Lee Hudson, owner of Napa’s Hudson Vineyards, where a wine tasting now costs $95, up from $65 a year ago. But that price hike, and the fact that sales are higher than they’ve ever been, still can’t keep pace with the soaring cost of doing business, he said. “We’re making less money.”


I visit Napa and Sonoma regularly - my daughter lives in the Bay Area. I agree about the price increases and the weak pound doesn't help. I tend to spend more time in Sonoma these days - 1. it is less crowded, 2. it is cheaper, 3. they seem friendlier and 4. the wines are often as good as Napa.
 

Tom Cannavan

Administrator
Yes, happy to hear the contrast between Napa and Sonoma is still alive and well, as it's a few years since I visited. But even on my last extensive, professional visit in 2013, Napa had so many tasting rooms that were basically run as big hospitality businesses, while Sonoma still had a lot of small cellar doors with winemaker in jeans and tee-shirts pouring, rather than glamorous young serving staff in branded polo shirts checking the right tasting ticket had been purchased. I guess Oregon and Washington, and Mendocino perhaps, are the way Napa was 25 or 30 years ago.

There are some moves, even in classic France like Bordeaux and Burgundy, to emulate the Napa scene with a full hospitality experience open daily to all-comers, for a fee. I don't really know if that's a good or bad thing.
 
Probably a different kind of tasting but, we noticed that rather early on champagne tasting (usually happened after October til December, for Christmas purchase). I guess champagne tasting has higher demand so they got more confidence to increase price.

6 years ago it was £20 ticket for Selfridges champagne tasting, the wine were things like C Heidsieck BdM 1995, Gosset celebris 2002, Belle Epoque 2006, almost unlimited pouring. Cristal 2007 pouring was a bit less generous, but plenty of other Roederer offered. Fortnum and Mason ticket was more pricy, around £75, but there were endless supply of oysters, cheese, freshly cooked pasta; Pol Sir Winston Churchill 2004 and Piper Rare 2002 were opened one after another all evening. Harrods fizz event was the most expensive and usually very similar wine, but their food was good. By 2018, Selfridges stopped doing it, the wine list of F&M became a bit boring with higher price. And then pandemic; I am not sure there will be this kind of events in F&M and Harrods anymore. Finest Bubbles still do it, but the format has turned into token-based: you can no longer taste what you want, you have to pay for every pour on top of entry ticket. Hedonism... we know how those events are like nowadays.
Sadly, those days when a champagne newbie like me could taste all range of fizz in one event, are gone, at least in the UK. (Or should I say luckily I experienced the last bit of it) It still exist in Paris every year, even the ticket is getting more and more expensive and "masterclass" (de facto just prestige wine tasting) ticket has changed from very good value to are-you-joking-me value. Still, for me it worths a weekend trip, for now.
 
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Off to a producer in N Italy on Saturday and was offered a choice of their €40 or €50 tastings. I suspect they are well-known enough that tyre kickers are a problem but I've not encountered this before.
 
Serial wildfires have shot up insurance rates — Schramsberg’s annual premium went from $200,000 to more than $800,000, Davies said — and their threat requires constant maintenance of defensible space, another costly line item.
I am fairly certain that most counties in CA that have wildfire risk impose legal requirement for landowners to maintain scrubland to reduce risk. It's been like this for years, and the penalties are severe if you do not do it and are found to be at fault. Naturally this is a condition of insurance, but I highly doubt it's something new. As ever there's more detail than the headline!

In Malibu the clearing distance is really quite large, I think 100ft provided your property is over a certain size. The reality is many property lines are fuzzy and lots of owners don't do it. The older residents always insist that a periodic wildfire is quite normal, and is nature's way of clearing things. Of course the impact of humans means this isn't at all viable so we get caught in this perpetual cycle, worsened by increasing heat.
 

Tom Cannavan

Administrator
Another thing I was told in Napa is that local planning departments have basically banned wineries from opening restaurants or any substantial food outlets, to preserve the businesses in the towns and villages. I guess some have invested in swanky tasting rooms and 'wine flights' with appropriate fees o to leverage value from their cellar door operations.
 
Off to a producer in N Italy on Saturday and was offered a choice of their €40 or €50 tastings. I suspect they are well-known enough that tyre kickers are a problem but I've not encountered this before.
My son was in Piedmont recently and I recommended a few wineries to him, then I checked them out and it was generally 50 euros for a tasting of about 4 basic wines. They did manage to find some cheaper ones that they enjoyed. Quite sad though that it was hardly economic to visit some wineries that we have been supporting for years and probably have about $5,000 of their wines in our cellar.
 
My son was in Piedmont recently and I recommended a few wineries to him, then I checked them out and it was generally 50 euros for a tasting of about 4 basic wines. They did manage to find some cheaper ones that they enjoyed. Quite sad though that it was hardly economic to visit some wineries that we have been supporting for years and probably have about $5,000 of their wines in our cellar.
Wow. I've never paid for a tasting in Piedmont in over twenty visits. We are going in September and November and of the visits lined up so far none are charging. The only one I've never bothered with is Gaja as they ask for a donation of €250?! Out of interest who did you recommend?
 
Wow. I've never paid for a tasting in Piedmont in over twenty visits. We are going in September and November and of the visits lined up so far none are charging. The only one I've never bothered with is Gaja as they ask for a donation of €250?! Out of interest who did you recommend?
Just from memory it was the likes of Vietti, Massolino, Fratelli Alessandria, ones that I am familiar with through drinking their wines. They did discover Schiavenza off their own bat, one I wasn't familiar with, but gave them a good tasting.
 
The article didn't touch on the differences between the cost of tasting experiences in different countries and regions. Was there more in the social media thread? Could you post a link?

Pricing winery visits and tastings in my region has been a constant conundrum for me (as people who follow my facebook page will know).
The basic problem is trying to match the expectations of various types of visitor while making the visits work financially for the winery.
Americans used to paying $50 to taste wines and then being presented with a choice of trophy wines to buy at highly elevated prices find it confusing (and refreshing) that many French wineries don't have a tasting fee and sell wines sometimes at less than retail prices. However, those wineries are used to having visitors who only taste what they are likely to buy and have the intention of buying several cases. That's quite different to a visitor who wants a 30 minute learning experience, wants to taste lots of wines and intends to walk away with just 1 or 2 bottles.
Wineries here in the Languedoc and Roussillon who charge a tasting fee risk alienating customers who can easily find other wineries where you can taste for free.

In recent years there have been government grants to help wineries build dedicated tasting rooms and provide "oenotourisme" experiences but this has come (as always in France) with limitations, regulations and certifications. The result is that small wineries like me, who have been offering interesting visitor experiences for years, are not included on the official lists of wineries to visit because we don't tick all the boxes created by the bureaucrats. So we no longer appear on the local wine industry website, which is what feeds into tourist offices and the other, more general tourism websites and publications.
It makes sense to try to segregate wineries by the kind of experience they offer and the kind of customer they want to attract but in my experience, its very hard to put into practice because when somebody turns up at the winery, it's almost impossible to judge how much wine they might buy at the end of their visit.
 
If I remember correctly, Bouchard Pere et Fils in Beaune charge a tasting fee in their rather fancy new retail area. However, it is waived if a certain amount of wine is purchased. That seems a sensible compromise, allowing the oenotourist with limited luggage space the option to pay while the local who wants a couple of cases tastes for free.
Bertagna have a similar approach. I've yet to be charged. :eek::)
Edit. JM Boillot (Pommard) have a similar arrangement. And the outcome has been the same.
 

Tom Cannavan

Administrator
Charging seems eminently sensible to me, and a nice touch if it is refunded in part or whole if you end up buying. I've often been put off visiting a winery when off-duty, because I know I cannot buy or transport wine for one reason or another, and don't feel comfortable tasting through samples and walking away without at least buying a couple of bottles. A charge would alleviate that. I guess the level of charge does need to reflect the price/rarity of the wines.
 
Charging seems eminently sensible to me, and a nice touch if it is refunded in part or whole if you end up buying. I've often been put off visiting a winery when off-duty, because I know I cannot buy or transport wine for one reason or another, and don't feel comfortable tasting through samples and walking away without at least buying a couple of bottles. A charge would alleviate that. I guess the level of charge does need to reflect the price/rarity of the wines.
If anyone at DRC or Rousseau reads this, I'm happy to pay €10.
 
It can be such a crap shoot even when visiting wineries whose wines you've enjoyed. Two wineries spring to mind - one in Otago where they charged us for a tasting that was perfectly possible to have at the cellar door for no fee (and a host who had read the script but couldn't answer anything vaguely specific afterwards), and another in the Hermitage co-op where the host seemed to take against us from the word go, despite not really being demanding or acting in any way that would incur displeasure. Hey ho - but they are two extremes where most have been superb experiences with people who have given of their precious time and even the odd free opened bottle thrown into the mix.
 
It hasn't been mentioned here - not much at least - but my impression is that a lot of French producers regard offering tastings as a marketing excercise. In other words they don't expect it to pay for itself directly from the visits, and certainly not for each set of visitors; it is rather to gain exposure and good will, in the hope it will help sales in the longer term.

One producer said as much explicitly, saying they'd rather offer tastings than spend the money on advertising and sending wines to competitions. And Rolly-Gassmann's marathon tastings, can never make direct economic sense but people remember them and talk about them.

That idea of course depends very much on the good will of the taster. It's not going to work if they take the piss, and just use the tasting to get squiffy on the producers top wines. Or if they regard winetasting merely as a tourist attraction.

The costs of such "marketing" must vary tremendously. If the producer needs/wants to build dedicated tasting facilities and employ staff, it is very different to a family member (who might not otherwise be fully engaged in the business) offering tasters around an up-turned barrel in the cellar.
 
PS: Like @Tom Cannavan, I'd be very happy to pay a modest fee to cover costs. But I don't like the idea of turning tastings into poncy money-making entertainment events where costs escalate. (I think I should avoid Napa Valley. )
 
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