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10.08.2006

Extortion in Oregon Wine Tasting Rooms

I just got back from a lovely three day weekend of wine tasting and eating around the Willamette Valley and Portland, Oregon. It was a fabulous trip (about which you'll be reading several times in the coming weeks). We (Ruth and I and two of our friends) tasted a lot of good Pinot Noir, saw some beautiful country, and had some lovely meals. Really the trip was only marred by one thing, about which I am now going to rant: unbelievably high fees for wine tasting at many of the wineries. We're not just talking expensive, we're talking extortion here folks -- profiteering pure and simple.

Think I'm exaggerating? Try these on for size. Two one ounce pours, of two current vintage Pinot Noirs for $8 at the Ponzi tasting room. Four of the same sized pours for $17 at the Carleton Winemakers Studio.

Yes that's right. $4.25 per ounce. Not sure how expensive that is? Your average wine bottle holds 25 ounces. Do the math.

Even if I am estimating incorrectly and those miniscule tasting pours I got were a bit more than one ounce, that means we (and the rest of the visiting public) were being charged more than SEVENTY-FIVE DOLLARS per bottle for our wine. Which, by the way, was way more than even the highest retail price of any wine we tasted over the course of three days.

Can I tell you how fucking outrageous this is? Completely.

Let's get one thing straight. I don't mind at all that wineries charge a fee for tasting their wine. It costs something (a lot) to maintain a tasting room and pay the staff. And the wine costs something, too. Especially for wineries with smaller productions, they simply can't afford to give wine away all day long. Also, regrettably, there are a lot of people who think nothing of spending a weekend wine tasting without buying a single bottle of wine from any of the several wineries whose hospitality they take advantage of.

For all of these reasons. Wineries are completely justified in charging a fee to taste their wines. As many in Napa and Sonoma have started to do over the last ten years.

Of course, many wineries choose not to charge for tasting. These wineries clearly recognize the value in offering free samples to their prospective customers -- a tactic that has been proven to increase sales (just think of all the samples you see in grocery stores around the world). Whether through genuinely inspiring a purchase because of the consumers appreciation for the product, or inducing one through the consumers self-imposed guilt at getting something for free, samples work. Period. One must also not underestimate the value of free hospitality from a brand standpoint -- people will leave with a better impression of the brand no matter what they thought of the wine.

Those wineries that do not subscribe to this logic, or who have done the math and somehow are not coming out ahead on the costs of the tasting room, are, as I said, justified in charging for tasting. While I have not done the math (and would love someone in the business to share some numbers) I believe an acceptable fee for tasting to be between two and ten dollars. Fees at this level seem like they have the potential to both recoup the costs of the wine, as well as provide incremental revenue to offset staff and facilities costs at the winery.

Tasting fees should be waived when visitors purchase wine. Not only does this make financial sense (when a winery sells its wine at retail cost -- and often the winery sells it for higher than you can find the wine elsewhere-- it is making between four and ten times the profit margin that it does selling through distributors) it also makes sense from a goodwill perspective. Customers will be incentivized to buy wine, will feel good about "saving money" by having the tasting fee waived, and will feel like the winery is appreciating their business.

Why so many of the wineries we went to in Oregon couldn't figure out this simple logic is beyond baffling. So baffling in fact that I must simply conclude the opposite: they know that they are raping their customers financially, and they're smiling all the way to the bank. Which, on the face of it, makes me never want to buy another Oregon Pinot Noir ever again. Especially when in Napa -- NAPA! the epitome of over-hyped and over-priced luxury approaches to wine -- tasting fees are actually substantially lower.

Of course, there are wonderful wineries in Oregon that have no tasting fees (August Cellars, Chehalem, Elk Cove, Lawton, Patton Valley Vineyards, Scott Paul wines, Willakenzie, among others) and still others who have sensible fees that are waived with purchase. Let them not not be the subjects of my, or any consumer's ire.

For the rest of the Oregon wineries who are charging twelve, fifteen, or seventeen dollars to taste a few wines, I have this message: How in the world can you justify charging consumers four to six times as much for your wine as they would pay ordering it by the glass in a wine bar 20 miles down the road?

You can't. SHAME. SHAME SHAME.

I normally forbid most commercial plugs on this blog, but I would like all my readers (including the wineries themselves) to post the names of any Oregon wineries they know of that do not have tasting fees. Let's stop this madness.

Comments (49)

Brian Miller wrote:
10.08.06 at 11:20 PM

My single biggest annoyance is when they don't waive the fees when you buy. Heck, I don't even mind buying two bottles. There's a real mix of policies on this-and sometimes even if they don't offically waive the fee, if you buy a really nice bottle, they forget to charge you (of course, it was the winemaker himself who did that at Trefethan, so...)

Some of the wineries charge a lot, now, of course. Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, for example, charge $30 in their Reserve Room. But, I have to admit, these were awesome, amazing wines, some 10 years old, and they were pouring almost full glasses, not one ounce pours. Too much, to be honest. I had to go to Yountville and walk around for a while, frankly, because I did not spit-I was too thrilled with what I was drinking.

Fatemeh wrote:
10.08.06 at 11:20 PM

Alder, wow. I'm shocked to hear of the pillaging taking place in Oregon. It's not at all what I would have expected.

I have to say, though, I can't remember you cursing so viscerally -- it practically reached out of the monitor and strangled me -- and I laughed aloud!

Can't wait to hear about the pleasanter of your adventures.

Alder wrote:
10.08.06 at 11:29 PM

Brian,

Thanks for the comments. Reserve wines, are, of course, a different deal, as they are worth a lot more, and if the winery is pouring you full glasses then at least you have the potential to get your money's worth (compared to what you might pay at a wine bar -- which in this case would be much more, if you could get the wines at all). Full pours, though, are a bit of a waste, I think. They should offer two prices -- one for full pours, the other for one or two ounce pours.

Jack wrote:
10.08.06 at 11:42 PM

Sorry, but there's more than a few wineries in Napa County doing this (you don't think they Came Up With The Idea in Oregon?!) ...and why I have a hard time recommending Napa Valley wineries with tasting rooms. (I suspect you haven't tasted at the bigger wineries along Hwy 29 recently.) And then some of these same wineries don't refund the exhorbitant tasting cost when a purchase is made...that's right when you need to say, oh - then keep the wine and refund my money.

Let us not forget those who walk into a winery, see how much it costs to taste, and immediately leave, feeling already screwed by the time lost. Or the awkwardness of a friend not being able to afford to pay for the tasting who you're tasting with.

These tasting rooms are usually the winery's biggest profit center; they sell wine club memberships which are the golden ticket. So why make visitors pay a high price to taste wine - wine they might not even like (like $20-$25 for 3 over-oaked super-young wines)?

(And, personally, I'd rather see a List of Shame here.)

Jack wrote:
10.08.06 at 11:45 PM

Um, sometimes "reserve wines are worth more" and sometimes not. And I get pissy when they do the full pour thing - it's a tasting room, not a wine bar!

Alder wrote:
10.08.06 at 11:48 PM

Jack,

I can actually only think of one winery (Opus One) whose tasting fees are over $15 in Napa (theirs is actually $30 for a single wine :-o ). Are there others?

Erwin Dink wrote:
10.09.06 at 6:09 AM

What those wineries haven't learned about yet is customer loyalty. Reasonable fees, waiving them for purchasers, and some kind of membership plan with benefits will go a lot further towards increasing the bottom line over the long term than this shortsighted approach -- they may recoup some of the overhead of having a tasting room but they will alienate many potential customers.

I'd also love to see a hall of shame -- talk about a good use of Web 2.0 technologies... someone pass me the Wiki.

Mike Lutkenhouse wrote:
10.09.06 at 9:25 AM

Too bad, because the wines are great, and maybe a recent thing unrelated to market forces. We had a great time tasting/buying wines over last Memorial Day weekend when all the wineries were open, and did not experience near the prices you were charged. I do find that the high power sales pitch to join the winery club a real turn off, anywhere.

John wrote:
10.09.06 at 9:28 AM

I walk in, I see fees, I walk out. I buy most of my wine at the wineries, and while I understand that I might not be their typical customer, I'm just not interested in them if they manage their tasting room for its entertainment, as opposed to its retail, value.

I guess I miss some good wine this way, but gee, I seem to have enough as it is. And I only have one vote, so I use it. Sometimes I'll say something like "that's a shame, I usually buy by the case" as I leave, but otherwise I'm no activist.

jeff wrote:
10.09.06 at 10:14 AM

At the risk of being overly commercial, I just wanted to say to John that at our tasting rooms we try to give some entertainment value while we pour wine - and we do not charge for tasting. I don't see anything wrong with part of the tasting experience being entertaining - as long as the wine is also good!

What the Oregon wineries are doing is breathtaking to me. I can't imagine getting away with it for very long no matter how good my wines are!

- j

Dustin wrote:
10.09.06 at 10:56 AM

Amazing Alder;
I am guessing that I am spoiled because of My "Industry" priveledge... I don't remember the last time I got charged for fees, but that also entails the frequency of our visits, and the fact that we generally purchase wine if it is worth it.
This included my trip to the WIllamette in July... Not once did we pay a tasting fee... but I am unsure whether this is because of the "Industry" privelege or whether my roommate said he "Lived in McMinnville." Do you think this 'extortion rate might be set up for Californians? As much as Scott has immersed himself into the life of the Oregonian, he is stll having a hard time with being a "Californian."
D-

enoch choi wrote:
10.09.06 at 11:16 AM

it's been 8 years since i visited them but at that time these didn't charge tasting fees:
Chehalem, Ponzi, Adelsheim, Montinore, Beaux Frere, Torii Mor

Alder wrote:
10.09.06 at 11:51 AM

Dustin,

You must have gotten "industry" treatment because of your friend. These tasting fees are not haphazard. Each of the wineries that charged had their fees posted in the form of signs or in the form of "menus" that clearly stated the fee. There were no asterisks suggesting that they were for us Californians only.

Alder wrote:
10.09.06 at 11:54 AM

Enoch,

Adelsheim now charges $10 and does not refund unless you purchase six or more bottles, if my memory is correct. The Ponzi tasting room in Dundee is one of the highest fees around. I would be shocked at the gall of the place if the fees were different at the winery itself.

I didn't make it to Montinore, Beaux Frere, or Torii Mor.

Saint_Vini wrote:
10.09.06 at 1:03 PM

"These tasting rooms are usually the winery's biggest profit center"

Most tasting rooms make little profit, you'd be surprised at the overhead (highway 29 and Silverado Trail can be exceptions, though). Most wineries look at the tasting room as a brand building expense, not as a profit center.

Alder, I think Niebaum-Coppola (now "Rubicon Estate") is now $20-25,

V

Mithrandir wrote:
10.09.06 at 1:49 PM

This is interesting, because it's changed a lot in the last three or four years. In 2003, tasting fees were rare in the Willamette Valley, except for maybe $3 for a 2-bottle reserve flight, which was generally comped with purchase.

Most of this info is a least a year old.

When I was last at Adelsheim they charged $5 for a reasonable flight - four to six wines, I think. They did build their tasting room recently (the first time I tasted there, the tasting was held in a dining room, which was actually a very nice feel), and I'm guessing that they're still recouping expenses. It's unfortunate though.

With the exception of Montinore Estates (decent cheap juice), I don't think any of the wineries on Hwy 47 charge to taste. Notably, WillaKenzie is fee-free.

Penner-Ash comps their $5 fee with purchase (in fact, I've had them comp 2 with one purchase). So does Rex Hill. Not sure about Anne Amie; they might.

The co-op tasting rooms (like Carleton Winemaker Studios) are basically wine bars, and seem to charge like it. The big names usually charge fees and are less likely to comp. This is probably supply and demand for the most part - in other words, they can, so they do.

I'm surprised about Ponzi. The last time I tasted in their winery, they had a flight of five or so gratis, and a reserve flight of three for about $3. Did you taste at the winery in Beaverton, or the wine bar in Dundee?

I could name a number of mid to low-quality wineries that don't charge, like David Hill (very decent mid-range) and Schaffer Vineyard Cellars (cheapest swill I've had in the valley).

I'm surprised you feel like you paid more than you would have in Napa. The last time I was in Napa (2005), the going rate for a flight seemed to be about $10. I blew $40 in Mondavi's reserve tasting room, for 4 two ounce pours, and that was a good deal at that winery.

Because all this has changed so rapidly in the last couple of years, I suspect the various wineries are hunting for the middle-ground. Fees are new here, and so the locals don't seem to know the rules. A wine-blog smackdown may be exactly what's needed to shift the market in the right direction.

Alder wrote:
10.09.06 at 2:40 PM

Mithrandir,

Thanks for the comments. You are correct that Willakenzie is fee-free. Anne Amie does comp their fee with a purchase, but I think there is a minimum purchase to do so.

You point out that the co-op tasting rooms are basically like wine bars, which is fair enough (The Carleton Winemakers Studio is in fact a separate business from the winery, and must actually purchase the wines from the winery at wholesale) but they are different than wine bars in one important respect. When you are tasting there, they are pouring you the same amount of wine that you get at a winery tasting room, yet they are charging you prices higher (by volume) than any wine bar I've ever been to. No excuse in my book.

The Ponzi prices I am quoting are for their tasting room in Dundee.

I taste wine in Napa with visiting friends all the time. Admittedly we don't go to Mondavi or Coppola's Rubicon Estate, or Chandon, but we do go to a lot of fairly mainstream places and pay fees between $5 and $10, though I would have to say about half of the places we usually go are still free.

John Dito wrote:
10.09.06 at 3:26 PM

High tasting prices can definitely be a turn-off. My thoughts are that some of the more serious wineries may be trying to scare off the tour bus crowd. But as someone who almost always walks out with at least a couple bottle I agree those fees should go towards your purchase.

As far as free goes, I cant remember the last time I tasted for free, but we do tend to seek out smaller wineries.

winemonkey wrote:
10.09.06 at 3:46 PM

Ouch! I'm surpised that you didn't get the tasting fee waived if you bought. That is almost unheard of. What does it say about how much the winery believes (or clearly does NOT believe) in their product if they don't waive the fee if you buy a bottle.

Craig Camp wrote:
10.09.06 at 5:29 PM

At Anne Amie we have a $5 tasting fee that is refunded with a three bottle purchase. Normally we offer about five wines with a few others tossed in for those who are more interested. There are a lot of issues here, but just a few points. An Oregon tasting room is not licenced to sell full glasses of wine and we are limited to offering 1.5 oz. tastes. Strange as it may sound, while we can't pour/sell full glasses, it's OK for you to buy a full bottle and drink it on our patio. One of the main reasons we started charging the fee is our tasting room was overrun by tourists just looking for free wine. This would mean that our tasting room people had little time for serious consumers. At every wine event we attend we pass out cards that entitle you to a free tasting and we also provide the local B&Bs with the same complimentary tasting cards.

More comments later as duties in the cellar are calling...

Gene wrote:
10.09.06 at 9:12 PM

Alder, IMO, a tasting fee should be $2-5 unless the wines are very expensive, and the fee should definitely be waived with a purchase. I just came back from Red Mountain and the Yakima Valley Rattlesnake Ridge area and don't remember paying any tasting fees. They must have been miniscule or not existent, if I don't remember. I once got suckered into paying something like forty bucks to listen to a marketing pitch and taste five one ounce pours at Far Niente. The wines were good, but not that good.Amity was an Oregon Pioneer, but they seem to have gotten very commercial and very greedy.Tasting rooms and Mailing lists are very profitable for wineries. Not only do they get the %0% retail markup, but they also capture the wholesale take of 23-30%. If they grow their own grapes, selling at retail in the tasting room briongs about an 800% gross profit over what they could get by selling the grapes.

Gene wrote:
10.09.06 at 9:16 PM

P.S. 50% retail markup.

Craig Camp wrote:
10.09.06 at 10:13 PM

What serious wine consumers don't understand when they visit a winery is that the vast majority of winery visitors are only slightly interested in wine and are just on vacation. On top of this are locals just out for a fling. For a small winery to give away literally thousands of bottles of their production just so the 2 or 3 % of serious wine consumers don't have to pay a tasting fee is just not logical. If I could find a way to give every reader of Vinography and other serious wine forums free tastings I would be thrilled to do so, but the reality of the situation is such consumers represent a very, very small percentage of winery visitors.

I would suggest that any consumer that offers more than passing interest will be greeted with not only a complimentary tasting, but also with special tastings of wines not on the day's tasting list.

(now to bed - lots of pinot to press tomorrow)

napa_vino wrote:
10.09.06 at 10:43 PM

I'm not sure about Oregon, but I know of only one winery tasting room in Napa that is completely free - Cartlidge & Browne in American Canyon. I think things in Napa have changed, especially in the last couple years. Many wineries have joined Opus in the $15+ category (even Sterling is 20 bucks now).

tedo wrote:
10.10.06 at 4:44 AM

I know the last time I went to Napa a year or so ago, almost all charged 5 dollars. The only one that didn't were Beauliu Vineyards (I know misspelled) but that was the reserve room. Neibaum Coppola was 15 ( but they did give away the Reiedel Tasting glass), and Mondavi 25 (but tour was included and you got 15% of purchase). The other ones I attended Twomey, Robert Sinskey, Stags Leap (regular), and many others were no more than 5-10 dollars, and most waived the fee or gave a discount if you purchased wine. Not to bad in my opinion.

BrooklynGuy wrote:
10.10.06 at 8:18 AM

I understand the economics that require a fee in the tasting room, particularly if the producer is making 2 or 3 thousand cases or less per vintage. Also, its understandable for a winery to charge a tasting fee if the tasting occurs during "non-peak" days when the bottle is likely to sit open for days until the next tasting, and might not be representative of the wine by then. But I also think that it is ridiculous not to waive the fee if wine is purchased, even one bottle. After a great flight of white and then red wines at Adelsheim, for $10 each for me and the wife, we purchased 2 bottles of $60 wine. They did waive the fee because we spent over $100 (this was 2 years ago, and oddly, in early January when there weren't many people wandering in to justify opening the bottles for us to taste). At Archery Summit they poured 4 reds ranging in price from $35 to $150, and did not waive the $10 per person fee when we bought a bottle of the $35 wine. I would have appreciated the option to taste the flight WITHOUT the $150 bottle (which needed years before you could actually taste it anyway), and then they might have been able to waive the fee. In the end, Oregon wineries with high fees that are not waived just encourage people to do their initial tasting at places like the Ponzi wine bar or any of the other lovely tasting rooms in the area. Both wineries and consumers lose that way - people do not experience the winery, and wineries lose business.

lime wrote:
10.10.06 at 9:06 AM

I had a good time at Andrew Murray Vineyards in Santa Barbara. Though tasting was $12 or so, it included 7 excellent wines including the reserves, and I got to keep the large Riedel stemless glass. They didn't waive it when I purchased a $50 bottle, though. Perhaps for a >$100 purchase or such.

Alder wrote:
10.10.06 at 9:32 AM

There are plenty of free tasting rooms in Napa, including Casa Nuestra, Vincent Arroyo cellars, Kathryn Hall, Pina cellars, Robert Keenan, etc. (if my memory serves me correctly).

Bertrand wrote:
10.10.06 at 9:47 AM

That's something I struggle to understand, especially in a country with a strong customer-friendly culture. At least the fees should be waived when you buy a couple of bottles. I guess there's been such a strong demand for tastings in recent years even with the fees, that they feel they do not risk to alienate the potential customers.
I think anyway that wineries should opt for more modest tasting rooms. I am sure many customers would prefer a rougher looking tasting room if they feel authenticity. And it would weigh less on the costs.
Every country has its own "rules". In Hungary, you also pay a fee to taste (a full glass). In France, tastings are free in the wineries, even in the small ones.
Here is a better deal coming soon :
The Paris Wine Fair ( next nov. 23-27)will gather about 1000 independant french vignerons from all the Appellations, each of them offering tastings of their wines (5 to 10 wines each on average)...

casey wrote:
10.10.06 at 12:45 PM

wow, it's been great reading through your rant and the repsonses. One thing someone touched on here are the 'complimentary' glasses (with a tasting fee of course). Personally, i have soo many damn glasses at home, I don't need, or care to, pay $10 dollars for a tasting and get to keep the etched glass. there have been instances where i've just given the glass back, but of course there's no option to discount, or waive my tasting fee. ;-) sure, it's part of the brand buiding experience, but really, keep it. i have plenty, thanks.

but all in all, i do my best to plan trips with friends to wineries that have no fee, or will waive them if there's a purchase of A bottle. (a minimum of 3-6 is ridiculous IMO) As an SF local, I have plenty of chances to get to napa and sonoma for fee-free tastings, including some of those Alder listed.

But like Mr. Camp said, we're only the 2-3%. this is obvious as any given day the big boys like BV, Mondavi, etc are booming with tourists happy to pay their fees while we drive right on by. Business is business, but respecting your customer will do wonders for you in the long run.
cd.

Jess wrote:
10.10.06 at 12:59 PM

I agree with all of the comments that charging a fee for tasting is understandable. Having just spent 2 weeks tasting in Napa, Sonoma, Russian River and Dry Creek, we experienced all sorts of different approaches to charging fees. A lot did waive the fee, some waived half of the fee...to this I thought, come on now. For some reason, when I looked at my receipt after purchasing several bottles, it just seemed cheap to me that they still wanted their $5 for the tasting. Then there were several places that seemed to "forget" there was a charge or maybe they disagreed with their employers charging policies. Nonetheless, my overall impression was that we didn't have to to pay too much for the tastings we had. I did have to laugh at the woman at Conn Creek who wanted my $10 lickety split, barely before the glass touched my lips although she later did give me 10% off even though I didn't purchase the full 6 bottles and they offered a heck of a lot more wine for tasting than was normally on their menu due to an earlier VIP tasting that offered left overs.

Bar Nothing wrote:
10.11.06 at 2:00 PM

"These tasting rooms are usually the winery's biggest profit center."

This has actually not been my experience. While wineries do make more per bottle, they don't see margins in their tasting room sector. Especialy with the bigger guys, where the tasting rooms are closer to gift shops with a wine bar. These entities rely on national and multinational wholesale markets via their distributors. The tasting rooms are mere blips on their sales analysis radar screens. Fetzer just closed theirs because of this. Sokol Blosser, for instance, sells 80% of it's product on the national wholesale market, and roughly 75% of their total case production is one bottling called Evolution. Sokol Blosser charges $10 to taste 5 red wines and $5 to taste white wines and blends, last I checked. These fees are also non-refundable with purchase.

Brian Miller wrote:
10.11.06 at 8:20 PM

Re: The Big pours comment up thread. I would normally agree with you, but I really, really like Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' wines, so the full glasses were appreciated. It was a better deal by far than some tasting flights at wine bars.

Morgan Hite wrote:
10.12.06 at 12:48 PM

I went to Oregon in May and I have to concur the fees were insane. Granted, I was there over a holiday weekend and we went to Beaux Freres, Adelsheim, Domaine Serene, Domaine Drouhin, Archery Summit, and 1 other and we were paying 15-30 per person for a tasting. They did have cheese, but somehow i dont think that makes up for the fees we paid. The pours were also REALLY insignificant.
great wines up there but I dont really have a desire to go back and I'll just buy Oregon pinot locally.

dan wrote:
10.12.06 at 1:08 PM

I am curious though about this, as I have worked in the wine Business for 15 years, and have come across a number of issues regarding this. My issue is, when we go to a restaurant, do we always complain if we are charged a corkage fee to open that bottle of wine?? It is sorta the same issue, nobody wants to pay for a service that they are getting. I can understand the high fees are a little crazy, but $3-$6 to taste 6-8 wines is not a bad deal when if you get a glass of wine at a restaurant it is $8 to $10 dollars.

Everyone in the business is trying to make money, not just give it away. Everyone expects the wineries to do that. It is also like donation requests that I constantly tell people no on. We only make so much wine I can not afford to give it away!!

Alder wrote:
10.12.06 at 1:24 PM

Dan,

You're absolutely right and your sensibilities represent the "rationally moderate" stance that I am trying to hold in this discussion. Paying is not a big deal at all, when the fees are reasonable. And just like many policies in restaurants that forgive the corkage fee if you buy a bottle from the list, wineries should waive the tasting fee if you take home one of their bottles after the tasting.

This is a business after all, and no one should feel entitled to get something for nothing.

10.13.06 at 9:25 AM

They knew you were from Californicate, there is no charge for residents. :-)

Anne wrote:
10.16.06 at 4:43 PM

We have had vacationed in Sonoma primarily, Napa a few, in the past two years. Every winery waived the tasting fee, even the one we didn't buy from. I felt badly, but the wine was bad. I only go to the smaller wineries, not the big factories. Personally, a tasting fee of $10 not to mention more, is a DEFINITE turnoff. I am not there to get a cheap buzz, but to see if the $35-$90 bottle is worth it. If the fee is not waived, I will not stop. Fortunately our experience has been wonderful. Maybe staying with the smaller wineries is the key.

Frank wrote:
10.16.06 at 6:41 PM

I recently visited the same area, including Ponzi's Dundee location. I thought that the price was higher than usual because it wasn't really a tasting room so much as a wine bar owned by a winery. It sold wine by the glass, food, and was otherwise situated like a wine bar. So it seemed to me at the time that they charged wine bar prices because they were operating as a wine bar.

Anyhow, I hope you made it across the street to Argyle, which was my favorite winery in that region. They charge for tastings but waive the fee if you buy a bottle.

Alder wrote:
10.16.06 at 6:47 PM

Frank,

Thanks for the comments. Yes, the Ponzi room was a bit in the grey area between tasting room and wine bar (they actually poured wines from a couple other wineries, which I thought was cool) but at the end of the day what pissed me off is that what you were buying was still the same amount of wine you'd get at any other winery. A small splash in the bottom of the glass. And to pay four bucks for that was a ripoff regardless of whether they are a winery tasting room or a wine bar.

We did make it to Argyle.

pinotlover wrote:
10.23.06 at 9:52 AM

Wineries in Oregon that I have paid tasting fees:

Adelsheim $15 (waived for members and up to 2 guests)
Styring $5
Bergstrom
Cristom (we weren't charged because we bought wine)
Bethel Heights
Archery Summit $15
Penner Ash (about $10, I think)
Panther Creek (waived for us)
Walnut City Wineworks $5
Ponzi $8 for 2 Pinots
Domaine Drouhin $5
De Ponte $5
Art on the Vine (retail shop) $5
Willakenzie is free

Maria wrote:
10.29.06 at 7:31 PM

It's interesting how things have changed there. I lived in Eugene from 1995 to 1999 and every few weekends I'd take off with my trusty Wine Country map and go tasting, trying not to hit the same ones, and discovering little tiny wineries and being introduced to the world of wine. The best part of it was listening to the wine maker explain everything and I learned so much. (Thank you Jim from VanDuzer and Richard Sommer at Hillcrest!) This would be why, when I left Oregon, I had to have a huge blow-out wine tasting party to get my 70-odd bottles of Oregon wine down to a reasonable 20-odd that I could move with me :-) I remember there being fees to taste at over half the wineries, but in the range of $2-6. I did usually buy a bottle or two, unless it just wasn't doing it for me. You can't like all wines! I have many favorites that I remember. But, $10-15 and more to taste? It seems a lot. When I was able to taste a reserve, it usually cost about $1 more (if I remember correctly that long ago) and that was worth it of course. I do recall many refunding the fee when I purchased. Now that I live in London, I'm searching all over the place trying to find some, and it's looking impossible (which is how I stumbled on this blog). Sorry to have been so wordy!

tamara wrote:
12.19.06 at 11:33 AM

I work for Ponzi Vineyards and would like to point out that the Ponzi Wine Bar is just that, a Wine Bar. It is not a tasting room. They offer the unique option of being able to taste wines from all over Oregon without having to visit multiple wineries.

At the winery tasting room in Beaverton, we always offer at least one complimentary tasting with wine flights ranging in price from $5 for 3 wines to $8 for the Reserves. Unofficially, fees are often waived with larger purchases and wine club members (+ 2 guests) always taste for free. If the guest is really nice and seems genuinely interested in the wines, the staff will often offer opportunities to taste other wines side be side for free or a tasting of our exceptional dessert wine to leave guests with a sweet taste in their mouth.

It is important to remember that wineries make their living selling wine. I know of no restaurant you can visit and taste the food for free before you buy it, why should you expect to do that at a winery? When the Oregon wine industry was just starting out, wineries offered free tastings to establish themselves as serious winemakers making beautiful wines. With the Sideways phenomenon, wine tasting has grown into a sport with consumers driving from winery to winery to get free tastes of wine w/no intention of making purchases (not to mention often getting overly intoxicated). Wineries implemented tasting fees to cut down on the irresponsible consumption taking place, opening themselves up to the more serious consumers.

By the way Alder, check your math. On average, you get only about 15 pours to a bottle (because the wine is served in a large burgundy glass, it may look like a small pour, though it is generally closer to 2 oz). Even for your $4/oz pours, that's only $60 a bottle. Take into account the staff required to pour, the glassware that needs to be purchased and cleaned, crackers that are provided, utilities to keep the tasting room open - it hardly adds up to the rape and extortion you refer to.

Additionally, alot of the info posted here is quite old. Most wineries in Oregon and Napa too now charge fees, some as much as $15-$30 just to get in the door.

For those looking to get something for nothing, wake up. The world does not work that way. In addition to exceptional wines, for a moderate tasting fee, we offer guests a winery experience. They can play bocce ball on our courts with our sets for free, enjoy a picnic, tour the historic grounds, view the cellar and get as much wine education as they would like by a friendly, knowledgeable and entertaining staff. You don't get that at the supermarket.

Alder wrote:
12.19.06 at 9:51 PM

Tamara,

First, thanks for taking the time to comment. Where to begin? It seems like you have four main points here in response to my article/rant which I summarize as follows:

1. The Ponzi bar is a wine bar, not a tasting room, so my complaints shouldn't apply

2. My math is wrong when it comes to figuring what you're making per bottle.

3. The idea of a free tasting doesn't make any sense...wineries are in business to make money...you don't get a chance to taste at restaurants before you buy...etc. etc.

4. The information contained in my article and the comments is way outdated and incorrect -- lots of places charge $15-30 per tasting in Napa.


So, one at a time:

1. Re: Ponzi Wine Bar being a wine bar. If so, it's the first wine bar I've ever been to in my life where I pay for a glass of wine and got the same size pour I do when I'm visiting wineries. You can't have it both ways. If you're a wine bar, then charge like one and pour like one. Give people the option of buying a half glass or a full glass and charge accordingly, but don't charge me four bucks for the amount of wine every wine bar I've ever been to would have poured me for FREE to see if I wanted to buy a full glass of the stuff.

2. While I'm extremely skeptical of your assertion that the pours you are giving are 2 ounces, I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and go with your math. At $60 per bottle you're still making on average $10 to $15 more in profit than if you had sold the wine retail (which is WAY more than you usually make on a bottle of wine that you sell to some distributor). I don't see how you can justify making that sort of profit from the sales of "tastes" of your wine. The goal of ANY tasting room is to get people to buy the wine so that you can be a healthy profitable business, not to run a healthy profitable business by selling tastes of wine.

3. Please take care to distinguish between my thoughts and some of the comments from readers that follow. I never, ever, suggested that tastings should be free. The analogy with the restaurant doesn't quite work, however, as wine is not something that people sit down and eat in your presence, where they can send something back if they think it's awful. Also, the general public often has no idea whether your wine is any good or not (as opposed to restaurants, for which people tend to be much more conscious of reputation and quality).

4. I'm in Napa frequently tasting wine, as you might imagine, and while there are a select few wineries that are charging the outrageous prices you quote, most of them are not. My information is six weeks old. Care to share the last time you were in Napa and specifically which wineries charged you $30 to taste wine?

Ben Bicais wrote:
12.20.06 at 1:59 PM

Hi Alder, Here is a list of some of the more expensive wineries in Napa where I have tasted. You are right that even in Napa it is pretty rare to see a $30 tasting fee, and many of these more expensive pourings also include a tour, cheese pairing, etc. (along with tastes of $100+ bottles in most cases) I have been to all of these wineries in the past year, so I think this information is pretty up to date.

Chateau Montelena: $10 standard tasting, $25 for Cabernet tasting in Reserve Room.
Sterling Vineyards: $15 ($20 on weekends) for tram ride as well as tasting of 5 wines.
Stags Leap Cellars: $10 standard tasting, $30 reserve tasting, $20 additional for private tour.
Franciscan Oakville Estates: $5-$10 standard tasting, $30 for private reserve tasting.
Beaulieu Vineyard: $5 standard tasting, $25 reserve tasting.
Rubicon Estate: purchase by the glass or $25-$50 for private tours/tastings.
St. Supery: $10 standard tasting, $15 reserve tasting.
Robert Mondavi Winery: private tours ranging from $20 to $105.
Opus One: $25 for tasting.
Domaine Chandon: $9-$14 tastings, $20 for private tour and tasting.
Darioush Winery: $35 for wine tour and private wine and cheese pairings. (they offer less expensive tastings as well)
The Hess Collection: $10 standard tasting, $35 reserve tasting.
Trefethen Vineyards: $10 standard tasting, $20 reserve tasting.
Pine Ridge Winery: $30 for reserve and barrel tastings with cheese pairings and private wine educator. (they offer less expensive tastings as well)
Robert Sinskey Vineyards: $15 standard tasting, $20 reserve tasting.
Silverado Vineyards: $10 standard tasting, $20 reserve tasting.

Erwin Dink wrote:
12.20.06 at 4:46 PM

For the record, I'm one of those people that gets a small group together and travels to as many wineries as we can for 3-4 afternoons of tasting wine. We always have a designated driver and yes, some of us get drunk before the day is over. We also always taste with the hope of buying, if nothing else, at least one bottle as a courtesy (more if we like what we drink) but we will sometimes not buy anything if we really don't like the wines. In some situations, we like the wines so much we sign up for the wineries club and we continue to support the winery with purchases for years to come. Most of us live in the East and we seek out wines that are not readily available to us here through the retail market. To be completely frank, we almost always expect free tastings and we are rarely disappointed, although we try to visit small, lesser known wineries off the beaten path. Sonoma County is one of our favorite regions.

Our reactions to wine tasting fees vary and depend on two factors:

1) are they reasonable (as determined by our budget) and

2) are the wines being tasted within our budget.

I'll taste for free wines that I know I can't afford and I'll gladly pay a modest fee to do the same but I may not pay to taste wines that I know are out of my reach if the fees are high. In fact, I've always considered that to be one of the reasons some wineries charge such high fees to taste -- they're weeding out the riff raff (like us) and they have every right to do so. Still, we're not just out looking for free wine or to get drunk. For us, visiting wineries is about discovery and learning. When we discover great, affordable wines, everyone benefits, especially the wineries who may otherwise not ever have been able to reach us as potential customers.

We're not cheap -- we're just not rich, either. If I have a total wine budget of $300-500 dollars on a trip then having to spend $10 (or more) to taste at each stop seriously cuts into my ability to buy wines to bring home. I'm not saying that $10 is unreasonable to charge and I have gladly paid it at some wineries but if I had to pay that every time I would have to buy less wine. Who wins then?

One final point: My budget used to preclude buying a $20+ bottle of wine except for special occasions. As a result of visting wineries and tasting as much as I have in this manner I now am willing to spend more for every-day-drinking wine and a lot more for special bottles. By being able to taste wines that I might not have previously considered based on price alone I have learned a lot about the value of wine and the amount of money I spend on wine has probably tripled over the past couple of years. My budget hasn't changed significantly but my priorities have based on a deeper understanding of what makes a good wine. Having had many wonderful, afforable, tasting room visits is what made this possible.

Alder wrote:
12.21.06 at 10:50 PM

Ben,

Thanks for the info. You didn't make this point directly, so I'm not sure how you feel about these prices, but let me say that there's definitely a BIG difference between walking up to a tasting room counter and paying $5-$10 for a tasting, and getting a private tour and cheese pairings for $35. Also, if a winery is gonna bust out some older vintages, I most certainly would A) expect to have to pay to taste them and B) expect to pay more.

All but a couple of the wineries you cite have tastings for $10 or under.

Nic wrote:
04.27.07 at 10:12 AM

I've found both the rant and the comments afterwards quite illuminating. I'm from Vancouver B.C and have done several wine trips within our wine region (the Okanagen) and having a tasting fee is an anomaly rather than the rule here.
I appreciate that we're not of the same calibre as California wines and perhaps not that of Oregon (I know very little about the region) but I have to wonder if our wineries can do it and still turn a profit, why can't others?
I'm making a trip to the Willamette area in the next month with one of the purposes being to visit wineries.
I recognizse that we're not vinophiles like some people here but our biggest purchasing trip was 4 cases of wine-obviously we're not there just to get drunk for free. But the fee is a huge turnoff and while I may pay for a few on our trip, I will make a point of visiting those wineries that do not charge a tasting fee.
Take from that what you may from a tourism perspective.
Perhaps others in other regions besides CA, OR and BC can make comment about tasting fees where they are from or have visited?

Alder wrote:
04.27.07 at 8:05 PM

Nic,

Indeed, if BC wineries can do it, why can't others?

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