Wine Tasting Fees Bad for Business?

September 30, 2009 – 7:35 am

Chateau Julien
Above: Patty giving us a tour of the Chateau Julien Wine Estate

I’m not in the wine industry. Or the food & beverage industry, for that matter.

But, I do travel a reasonable amount and love to visit different wineries and breweries around the country.

On my last visit to wineries around Monterey County California, I must say that I was somewhat disappointed. Not because the wine was bad, but because of the wine tasting fees and the attitudes of several of the brands.

So first, let me say that most of our wine stops were great, and I recommend taking the tour at Chateau Julien (our favorite!) and stopping by to visit with the fine folks at Scheid, Talbott, Bernardus and Ventana Vineyards, to name a few. There were several wineries in Monterey County that I would have liked to visit but we just didn’t have enough time (Bernardus was the farthest South we got).

So, here is the my complaint: wine tasting fees.

I’m not complaining because I’m cheap, but I’m complaining because some wineries are trying to make money from wine tasting fees.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that businesses have to cover their costs. And I’m fine with covering costs, especially, if nothing else, having a wine tasting fee policy keeps people from stopping by and drinking without any intention of buying.

But, if there are tasting fees, they should either be reasonable enough that it’s a break even for the winery ($3-$5?) or applied towards purchase with a reasonable threshold (like $25).

Some of the wineries, which I won’t mention, had $10-$15 tasting fees that were not applied towards purchase. In my opinion, higher prices may be fine for reserve wines but not for wines that are in the $25-$50 price range.

If tasting fees are applied towards purchase, I’m pretty likely to purchase something to recoup my costs, but only if the threshold is low (i.e. 1 bottle, not a case). Some of the wineries had a high threshold for applying the tasting fees towards purchase.

For the wineries that charge for tastings, are they not confident enough in their product that they don’t think anyone will buy it once they taste it? If someone is tasting 5 or more wines, the chance is pretty good that at least one of the wines is going to hit home and the customer will purchase.

If the tasting fees aren’t applied and I’m on the fence on whether to purchase or not, I’ll usually thank my hosts and walk away. Why? Because unless something was great, there isn’t any incentive to buy, and I feel the winery already made some money off of me, which doesn’t sit well with me. Plus, there are so many great wines out there, and with limited space and funds, not everything makes the cut for the Jacobsen Estate cellar.

If there aren’t tasting fees and I was on the fence? I almost always make a purchase out of respect for the brands and their time. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I make a purchase at almost every wine tasting I go to. And if I don’t like anything they’re pouring, I try and find something else to buy.

But, what bothered me the most was how some wineries, when asked about tasting fees, simply responded “nobody provides free tastings anymore” and shrugged off my inquiry.

Maybe there was just too big of a disconnect between the wine makers and the storefronts? Or maybe, in this down economy, the sales people were more worried about making a quick buck and collecting a check vs. investing in a long term customer?

My favorite wine area to visit is Sonoma County (map).

Last time I was there, almost all of the fees, if there were any, were applied towards purchase, and the people were incredibly nice.

And guess what, I purchased quite a bit more wine.

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  1. 5 Responses to “Wine Tasting Fees Bad for Business?”

  2. Well, I’m not a fancy wine drinker. Worse, I’ve never been to a wine tasting.

    That said, I’d be surprised if some of the California wineries aren’t trying to shoot for the stars with product differentiation. They want a more elegant crowd, so they charge more for everything in the hopes of scaring off customers. And snubbing customers who question prices is right in line with that sort of business attempt.

    When I deal with things like this, I just hit up Google Maps and review the businesses as honestly as I can when I’m calmed down from being mad about the crappy service. Then others are warned about the costs which may serve the business’ interests(if they’re trying to get the ultra rich to stop by). If they don’t want that sort of reputation, the business can always fix the price problem or CS attitude problem and respond to the review.

    By dumbwhore on Sep 30, 2009

  3. Personally, I have never opposed paying a tasting fee. Lot’s of the boutique wineries in Texas barely make a dollar a bottle and I don’t think they could continue to operate if it wasn’t for tasting fees.

    By Kyle Rames on Sep 30, 2009

  4. So glad to see this topic being explored. As I said in my blog, http://bit.ly/nHIHi, I think wineries should offer at least one free initial taste. Thanks for visiting coupleofwinos!

    By Lisa on Oct 1, 2009

  5. I am in agreement with your post. I just returned from a wine tasting trip in the Finger Lakes. There they have a pretty agreeable tasting fee set-up. Many tastings are free, but most are $1 to $2. The highest fee is $5 and most are applicable toward your purchase. (You can find some of my travel posts on my blog at http://toledowinesandvines.blogspot.com.)

    Although wineries may miss out on some money on the front end, they more than make up for it on the back end. Then they are making money on the wine sales (and not just a bus load of tourists).

    Cheers.

    Dave

    By Dave N. on Oct 27, 2009

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