As more and more Virginia wineries hop on the band wagon of charging tasting fees, it has brought the issue to the front burner again for me. In Virginia the idea of wine tasting as a weekend event has really caught on over the past few years which has, in part, contributed to the boom in winery opens across the state (not a bad thing). Virginia as with California and other states have the same problems of people treating a weekend of wine touring as they would a wine festival, or bar hopping, cruising from one to the next without much intent of purchasing wine. Now I know this is not the majority but it seems that this type of “customer” ruins it for the rest of us both by disrupting the tasting experience and causing wineries to take action against unruly customers.
Wineries typically charge tasting fees for two reasons. The first and most obvious is to recoup on the lost juice that is poured in the tasting room each day. The second is to limit the crowds in the tasting room, giving a better opportunity for the people that are there to learn about and enjoy the wine to do so. I completely understand both which is why I am always on the fence on this issue.
First and foremost, it is my opinion that a tasting room is somewhere the consumer can come, learn about the wine, and try before you buy. The thought is, the more they learn about it, get connected with it and of course if the juice is good they will be more likely to buy it. It is the same with car dealers, if they actually get you in the car they have X higher percentage of getting you to but it, not that I want to compare wineries to car dealerships. (please don’t take that comparison that way) Secondly, it is a place for people to come and enjoy the surroundings, relax and of course drink wine.
Wine Business Monthly did a study back in ’06 and I think it was around 50% of tasting rooms charged a fee and about 45% of those did not put tasting fee towards a bottle purchase. The second part is what frustrates me, if you have to have a fee to weed out the riffraff that are there to party that’s cool, but if I come to buy 3 or 4 bottles of wine don’t make me pay an additional $10 – $20 (me and wife) for tasting. I know that I read a study a while back but can’t find it now that talked about tasting fees detracting from sales, which it completely does for me. No matter how awesome the experience was, if I wanted to spend $100 on wine that day, then only $80 of would be for wine if I had to pay said fees. I guess to the bottom line of the tasting room it doesn’t matter because they got all $100 anyway, but when you factor in overhead costs of storing the bottles and the lost marketing aspect of having their bottle pulled out a party for 20 people to see, I think the winery would be losing out.
I know a lot of wineries, especially in California, use the appointment process to slow traffic and weed out party drinkers from the tasting room which I think is a better approach. You still get the serious consumer, but don’t penalize them. WIN WIN!!
Wineries are in business to make money, I understand that, but isn’t the point to sell wine in 750ml increments instead of 2oz ones!
Just my 2 cents!
PS My in-laws small winery charges a tasting room fee, refunded with purchase.