Are tasting room fees out of hand in the Napa Valley?


Written by:

Joe Becerra

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The two of you want to take a weekend wine country getaway to the Napa Valley. Most people budget for lodging and meals but often forget about figuring in the costs of their tasting room visits. Since we started tracking wineries for WineCountryGetaways.com in 2003, the tasting room fees, especially in the Napa Valley, have skyrocketed.

Let’s say you plan on visiting eight wineries during your two-day stay in the Napa Valley. That’s a pretty decent number of wineries to visit but many travelers get in much more than that. For you and your spouse or partner, the fees for those eight wineries can add a significant cost to your trip. My guess is the low-to-middle ground tasting fee for most Napa Valley wineries is about $15 per person. Throw in a tour or “Reserve” or “Special Selection” tasting and, Whoa! You are now looking at a big price tag of tasting fees for your weekend getaway.

The last couple of days I have been playing with a new iPad App called the Wine Tasting Tab. I am amazed that this little App has a database listing the tasting room fees of 800 wineries. I used this the App to research the tasting room fees in different California counties. According to my small study using this piece of technology, I found that the Napa Valley has by far the highest tasting room fees around. I don’t think that is one bit surprising to anyone that regularly visits the wine country.

When we travel to the Sierra Foothills, we are often taken aback when a tasting room charges a fee. In the Napa Valley we have the same reaction when we find a winery that does not charge a tasting fee. The other part of this equation is that in most cases the Sierra Foothill winery that charges a tasting fee applies it to the purchase of wine. According to the Napa Vintners Association, only 13 wineries apply the tasting room fees to the purchase of wine. Why so few?

Nine times out ten, we purchase at least one bottle of wine from each and every tasting room we visit. But as we travel to the Napa Valley and pay a hefty tasting fee, I am less and less inclined to purchase a bottle of wine. Heck, I already spent a fortunate tasting a tiny pour of perhaps only four wines. I feel like I am getting the shaft. I think the fees are just too high and perhaps may backfire on wineries because of new tech gadgets like the Wine Tasting Tab. Why should one go to a winery charging $20 a tasting as opposed to one charging $5 or $10?

Photo taken in November 2008 at the William Hill Winery in the Napa Valley

I like going to Hendry’s Winery to taste wine in the Napa Valley. I like the old- time atmosphere that George Hendry provides in his tasting room. No fees are charged to taste. When I leave his winery, I know I am going to carry a boatload of wine out the door just because I like the way he does business. The same can be said about going up to Smith-Madrone on Spring Mountain, another old-time winery with no fancy tasting room or fancy wine talk. Ah, the good old days of the Napa Valley.

  • Joe Becerra

    Joe Becerra has been traveling to wine country and enjoying wine since 1965. He is a retired educator, and now have the time the opportunity to share his wine travel experiences through this Website.

42 thoughts on “Are tasting room fees out of hand in the Napa Valley?”

  1. Yeah, I’m fed up with tasting fees also although wineries throughout California wave them for us. There was a time decades ago when wine travel was simple and cheap.

    Winery Tab is very light. Winery Quest Pro iPhone app is far more robust with more filter selections and winery info.

    We’re updating our tasting fee info for Napa and Sonoma Counties on WineQuesters.com right now. From Temecula north to Livermore and the Santa Cruz Mountains is mostly updated. Lodi and Sierra Foothills next.

    Check our powerful search engine to personalize trips.

    Also, all the region maps have the most robust filters available.

    • We generally do not try the “member of the trade” for waiving fees because our gig is to find out how the tasting room staff treats the ordinary visitor. We have a eliminated several wineries off our list for a variety of reasons. But in general tasting room fees are out of control and sometime soon the bubble will burst just as it has for wines priced over the top.


  2. I think the opposite will happen. You have to think about the from the other side of the bar. If I charge you nothing to taste my wine, and you leave without buying anything, I just lost money. With every guest that tastes and doesn’t buy, I lose money. On top of this, charging a tasting room fee weeds out the riff raff. Of which, there is plenty. I assure you.

    While you may indeed buy a bottle everywhere you taste, you are in the minority. Fact. I not only have to staff and maintain a tasting room, but incur the liabilities asssociated with it. This adds an entirely new expense to the winery. We began charging $20/person for the basic tasting a year ago. The positive effect it has had on not just $, but customer experience as well is nothing short of staggering. Now, my TR staff can focus on customers more, and give a more intimate winery experience better expressing the culture of our little company, rather than being glorified bartenders in a corrall of people drinking for free.

    Napa Valley now surpasses Disneyland for annual visitors. As a result of that, it’s up to winery owners to find new ways to control not only cost, but customer experience. We were resistant to change at first, but now are so happy we did. So a tasting room fee means you may not visit 8 wineried in a day, but it may cause you to focus more on the experience the winery is trying to provide, rather than just saddling up to a bar and sipping free juice. You can do that at home.

    • So why not apply the tasting fee to the purchase of wine. If a person buys a bottle of wine, takes it home and likes it they are likely to purchase more of the same. To me that is a win-win for both parties. I agree that a tasting fee keeps out the riff raff but applying the fee to a purchase may also. Thanks for your comments.

  3. I always find this debate interesting and amusing…is there another industry that produces a perishable product and gives it away? Why is wine different? The Napa Valley hosts somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 million visitors annually. You seem to suggest that the experience be gratis, that staff salaries, infrastructure costs associated with obtaining permits, utilities etc…to provide a tasting environment and the cost of the actual product itself be absorbed by the producer out of some sort of good will. Very interesting. If we use your example of purchasing at least one bottle per visit, that translates into a poor business model for the producer. By the time you have been entertained by a paid employee, sampled several wines, perhaps been given a bottle of water, then have the fee waived with the purchase of a bottle, you’re essentially paying only the cost, if that…it may be a bitter pill to swallow, but wineries are businesses, cash and labor-intensive businesses.. A winery that produces between 5,000 and 10,000 cases, as many in Napa do, and hosts 4,000 visitors a year – a low-end estimate – may pour 150-200 cases or so a year in tasting room samples. That’s a significant percentage to give away…and as food for thought, keep in mind that even with these exorbitant tasting fees most winery tasting rooms lose money…We can debate from now on whether Napa real estate and the Napa brand is overvalued, but we can do the same thing with Rolex and Porsche…in the meantime, it probably is a better ‘deal’ to go to the Texas hill country and taste their wines, but as the old warning reminds, you usually get what you pay for.

    I wonder how it would play if I insisted on sampling all the ice cream at Safeway – without paying of course – before possibly, maybe buying one pint?

    • I can buy your argument to some degree. But don’t you want to encourage people to buy your wine? If they even take home one bottle and serve to a guest you have some great PR going. As to your comment about the going to the Texas hill country, that sounds a little cruel. Believe it, they make very good wines in the Sierra Foothills. Try some! By the way, have you been to Costco? Plenty of free samples are given out there.

  4. HL you are completely correct. Joe your point “don’t you want to encourage people to buy your wine” and “If they even take home one bottle and serve to a guest you have some great PR going” is absurd. Why don’t wineries just give bottles of wines to people visiting their tasting room? Wouldn’t that be good “PR” they would take the bottles home and share them with their “influencial” friends and say how great it was that they got free bottles of wine. Wineries are a business, they are trying to make a profit. You are paying for the experience of visiting the winery, tasting the wine and learning about it. If you don’t want to pay the tasting fee, simply buy the wine and take it home.

  5. “According to the Napa Vintners Association, only 13 wineries apply the tasting room fees to the purchase of wine. ” Not all wineries belong to that very expensive group; many of the “little” independent wineries will indeed credit back the tasting fees with wine purchase, you need to ask when making a reservation what the policy is. For those who really want to enjoy wine while learning about how they are made, the experience will be far better than what you will get at the “no charge, no reservation needed” places. Sometimes the old expression “you get what you pay for” actually is true.

  6. First, Joe, thanks for mentioning my app, Wine Tasting Tab. It was created after my wife and my three adult sons went on a tasting trip in Napa/Sonoma in 2010. We were spending so much on the tasting room fees we couldn’t afford many souvenir wines. So, we started searching on iPhones for places that had free tasting, or that would refund the tasting fee with purchase. What we found out is that few wineries posted the specifics about tasting room fee and menu. I discussed the idea for the app with my smart-phone savvy sons. They thought it could work. It is no easy task assembling all the data we collected to get Wine Tasting Tab up and running. I am the former Food & Wine Editor of the Sacramento Bee. Being accurate was very important to me. We charge $2.99 for our app, but for a one-time download you get a lot for your money. People who bought it when it only had 600 wineries still use it now when it has nearly 1,000 wineries. This includes winery profile information such as amenities, varietals, case production, etc. The other reason for the cost is that it allows us to stay in business without clogging up our app with ads, offers, prizes, coupons or other stuff. It’s just an intelligence report on NorCal wineries. It will help you find luxurious tastings for $50 to $100 or places where you can taste for free. Check it out: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wine-tasting-tab/id398142510?mt=8
    It’s also available on Droid: android.com/market or androidzoom.com.

  7. So there must be some tipping point for when a winery starts to lose their shirt in the tasting room, right? Most wineries only started charging these exuberant fees in the last ten years or so. Before that, hardly any winery charged a tasting fee. How did wineries survive for decades not charging a tasting fee?

    A tasting fee may help to keep out the frat party crew, and I believe that is the main reason why places like Coppola started charging $25 just to get through the gate in the first place, (drunk fools have ruined many wine tasting experiences, I know). Then high fees became the norm. Why? That’s a pretty big jump. Free to $25!

    Have Napa wineries become too big? Has the region become uncomfortably overrun? Having more visitors than Disney per year doesn’t sound like a good thing, particularly when all those visitors are in cars, making Route 29 look like the Disneyland parking lot. Napa does give the wino tripper what they pay for, but is it worth it?

  8. I do agree with charging tasting fees. I work at a “by appointment” only winery. We make 4000 cases of wine. When I was hired to start up a tasting program, I wanted to raise the fees to weed out the non serious wine buyers. When someone makes an appointment I let them know by e mail or phone the tasting fee is $35 per person. I do comp one tasting per $100 purchased. As a small winery we can only see so many people per day (by law). The Fee weeds out customers who wont pay $35 for a tasting it keeps me selling wine to wine buyers, not pouring for wine tasters. I did do the 1 bottle 1 tasting fee waved, but we sell a rose for $25 so the tasters who i like to call “lookie loos” would just buy a $25 bottle and walk. I am paid on wine sales not tasting fees so i am motivated to sell wine. The $100 per has worked great for me.

    On a side note we are a part of the NVV and I don’t think the stats they gave you are correct. If you are buying more than a bottle most tasting rooms are willing to wave the fees if you ask.

    I do like the Sierra foothill wineries but that is comparing apples with oranges. The cost of making wine in the Napa Valley is at least 2x the cost of making wine in the foothills.

  9. When tourists started flocking to California, a tasting room (aka retail shop) had to be designed. Wineries didn’t charge a fee before that time because the staff they had on hand (winemaker, owner, cousin) could run a tasting area. Wineries did not decide to take advantage, they decided to make this expense pay for itself. Wineries are businesses, no matter how large or small. The most profitable sales a winery can do is through their wine club, aka direct shipping. Notice how tasting room staff will not only sell you a bottle, but also direct you to their website. That is their job. I think tasting room fees are fair, and I find the idea of wanting something for nothing very distasteful.

  10. Interesting article. At the end of the day, it is the wine sales in the TR that will grow the bottom line. It also comes down to occupant capacity. If a TR can accommodate many guests, a lower barrier to entry (tasting fee) makes sense. While exorbitant tasting fees might deter the party crowd they also might deter someone who is new to wine or budget conscious who perhaps might become a loyal customer if only the fee were more palatable.

  11. HL I agree with you 100%.

    Drink Oregon/Washington wine! Better price, less traffic, less snobbery! Napa is out among the people in the know. Way better wines at a much more reasonable price.

  12. Here are some thoughts to consider…with over 4 milion visitors per year to the Napa Valley–and Napa Valley producing just 4% of California’s wine, one can easily put two and two together to quickly see how this does not work for a winery to give away their product. If other wine regions had the renowned of Napa Valley and had the same visitor share, they too would be in the same position. In the late 1990s when wineries in the valley began to charge for tastings we found a dramatic decrease in “party” drinking. The winery experience is now significantly better because visitors are interested in tasting and learning about great wine, not traveling a trap line tasting room to tasting room getting hammered. Nearly 70% of all wineries in the valley are producing fewer than 5,000 cases a year–they simply cannot always give their product away

  13. The tasting fee thing is a genuine rip off. Wineries make a ton of bucks.. They can charge a nominal amount. But $20 for 2oz taste of three wines is high. In Napa they look at you and see a credit card coming in looking to be swished. They are snobs also. Sonoma is much more user friendly. I refuse to go to Napa wineries because of their attitude. I spend good money and they make you feel cheap when you buy a mid level wine. Attitude is a major issue..
    Many of the wines you see are discounted at many shops, so you are paying top dollar for wines that are discounted elsewhere. If you do not care then go for it, but I choose to make the most of my dollar. Some of these Napa producers had better get their heads out of you know what, because people are not spending $50+ for table wines on a regular basis.
    One step further is the influx of quality wines from other parts of the world. Same grapes and quality close to California. Price is so much less…. I drink wine not labels.

  14. Mike Beltran and aaron,

    You’re EXACTLY the type of clients we’re looking to weed out. So please, spend your $ elsewhere.

    What defines “in the know”?. Because wa and or are so two years ago. Probably time to pony up for that enthusiast renewal.

  15. It is interesting to read the above comments from the winery point of view and the consumer point of view.

    In today’s Wall Street Journal, the Weekend Edition, Lillie Teague writes a very good article about her experiences at three tasting rooms. To my surprise there are only 75 wineries that are actually opened to the public without an appointment required. Link to article – http://on.wsj.com/go3Hdv

  16. Snobbery = not considering a wine of value because it may or may not be in fashion, (ie “so two years ago”). Personally, I like a wine regardless of where it’s made. Consumers don’t care how much it costs to make wine in Napa vs Washington, (that’s the winery manager’s problem). Consumers just want a wine they like to drink. If a good WA wine is half the price of a Napa wine, then they’d be fools not to consider it no matter what the Wine Enthusiast says.

  17. I too find this article interesting and the comments more so. The “you get what you pay for” comment struck a chord with me and I felt compelled to reply.

    We are a small family run, “Sierra Foothill” winery. We offer COMPLIMENTARY “Comparative” tastings with light appetizers every Saturday and Sunday from 12 noon until 5pm. Our free “tasting experience” and time spent with the winery owners and winemakers has been very favorably received. We are only open on the weekends but we see approx 9-10 thousand visitors a year. We serve our wines seated, at tables out on beautiful terraces, with food because we truly believe that is how wine should be enjoyed and shared. The wines are presented in 4 numbered glasses – with tasting notes that correspond with each glass – so that each “taster” can compare the first with the last and “recall” what they have tasted. We also encourage them to compare the wine before and after a bite of food. We want them to “experience” the interaction of the wine with the marriage of food – a true delight.

    Our wines are award winners (our Port took Best of Class and Judges Choice at the 2010 San Francisco Chronicle – we have also received BEST OF SHOW for our Syrah at Orange County – many Gold medals at the State Fair, etc.) I think our guests get a very valuable “tasting experience” and we appreciate their time and visit!

    We only make 2200 cases a year and yes we sell out. We are not distributed. WE LOVE what we do and being able to share it!

    Our motto has always been to deliver wine at price that leaves no doubt of the value received and provide a tasting the you would “LOVE” to Experience. We focus on our guests. In all fairness to the Napa wineries – we do not get bus loads of “bachlorette parties” nor tourists who don’t buy… but if we did… I think our model of “value” would be (and is) well received – it has been our experience that if the wine matches the palate of the taster and is “valued” correctly – they buy it.

    If the volume of your sales has been dropping perhaps it is time to examine your “model” and think of your customers as well as your bottom line. I think both can be taken care of….

    Jacque Wilson – Pilot Peak Winery, Penn Valley, CA

  18. What Jacque Wilson said above is exactly what I was thinking when I was reading the comments from the Napa Tasting Room people further above (Marcus, Tonto, &.). It sounds like Pilot Peak is interested in making a true connection with customers.

    On the other hand, talking down to, and outright ignoring customer’s tasting room experiences is unwise, (see above comments where Marcus told potential customers to “spend your money elsewhere” just because they commented about tasting fees!). Narrowing your audience to just those who care about having Napa Valley on their wine label, and those willing to pay for that honor, is not growing the “business”, nor is it a very sustainable model. It is that kind of attitude that has caused many to spend their money anywhere but Napa.

  19. I’ve worked and managed winery tasting rooms since 1982 and think the article and comments are quite interesting. In 1985 I managed one of the first wineries to charge for tasting (because we were pouring great wines and most visitors were so ripped they had no idea where they were) and the results were a 33% drop in visitors and a 50% increase in sales. Strange how the consumer direct program I now manage at a different winery features free tasting. (BTW, both wineries are in Napa Valley). The main difference is I now work for one of those small, by appointment only places that sees very few visitors and most of them are fairly wine savy. Almost all of them buy wine…yet it quite expensive to run the tasting room. If we had a larger number of drinkers and fewer buyers, we’d charge.

    It seems to me that the wineries that are more corporately run have fixed policies on charging as they see it helps the bottom line. They may claim this and that but the bean-counters love that number on the spreadsheet! Many wineries that are family operated are more liberal in either charging and/or waiving fees. All in all, wineries need to know what message they wish to send to their visitors just as the visitors need to really understand why they want to visit wineries.

    Free tasting is not a right, it’s a privilege.

  20. I think whether to charge tasting fees or not should be a strategic decision related to positioning the brand, and of course that decision will be related to the size of the winery and its location. But ultimately what I as a customer am looking for is that the winery provide value for my tasting fee money and hopefully exceed my expectations in providing an enjoyable time when I visit. A tasting room employee who doesn’t do much more than pour wine in a glass and acts bored and uninterested (unless they are aggressively giving me the wine club pitch) doesn’t provide much value to me, nor does a wine tour where I am shown a few steel tanks and room of barrels with little more than a nod to making the presentation somewhat fun and interesting. Perhaps the reason I hear so many people complain about tasting room fees is not that they mind paying for an enjoyable and enlightening experience, but they feel they are not receiving much value for their money in a lot of places they visit. Yes, tasting the wine is nice, but as others have pointed out, I can buy a bottle and do that at home. A tasting room should provide more.

  21. I own a small winery in Calistoga making between 1700-2000 cases. We are open by appointment, have a $10 tasting fee and usually pour 6 or 7 wines. We will comp the tasting if the customer buys at least 2 bottles of red wine, and we encourage sharing of tastes. In 2010 we saw about 6000 customers and poured 111 cases of tasting samples. The tasting fees we collected worked out to covering the cost of the wine poured, annually. Our tasting experience is owner led 5 days per week. What I’ve experienced in my tasting room these past 12 years is that “free” denotes a party atmosphere. There has to be a value associated with the experience, otherwise the tasters don’t seem to care or to pay attention, they just want to drink and leave.
    I don’t understand why visitors to Napa Valley or any other wine region think that the samples should be free. I don’t get to sample gas for free, or food in the grocery store (Costco’s margins are about 9%, it’s not a valid comparison). I don’t get to get a free sample blouse or a free pair of shoes for trying on 10 pairs at the store. Napa Valley has some of the most expensive land, housing and living expenses in CA. The visitors to our valley are awed by the beauty of these hills, hills protected by an Agricultural Preserve that have secured them as agricultural land forever. There’s a high price to pay to live here and to produce wine here. Tasting fees, for me, put a line in the sand for us, if you aren’t willing to part with a 10 spot for 6 tastes, you aren’t going to buy a $30 or $40 bottle of wine. If you ask to have it waived with a red wine purchase, we are happy to, but I agree with the comment above, it’s a privilege, not a right.
    Land prices in other areas: Sonoma, Sierra Foothills, OR and WA, along with legislation that promotes food service in combination with wineries gives those places a different financial model that we simply don’t have in Napa Valley. Each area has it’s strengths and weaknesses, and price points…there’s room for all of us in this big world of wine.

    Laura Zahtila Swanton
    Zahtila Vineyards
    Calistoga, CA

  22. What Laura Zahtila Swanton says above makes perfect sense and is not full of unnecessary attitude about it. I don’t think that the other comments above that question Tasting Fees are meant to say that all tasting should be free, or that it’s a customer’s right. Janeen’s comment is more to the point; customers are looking for a great experience. If they pay $25 at a tasting room and only get lots of attitude and snobbiness, that’s not worth it. If wineries are going to push the fact that they are, indeed, a business first, then they should act like a business. No business can get away with not having excellent customer service at all levels. It’s absolutely true that free tasting is a privilege. But paying $25 is not a privilege, so customers shouldn’t be treated like it is. They should be treated like paying customers, whether they end up buying a bottle or not.

  23. Mr. Marcus,
    Being very vocal and proud of your “snobbery” why don’t you tell us what great winery you work for so I can “spend” my money elsewhere. If you feel that strongly let everyone know where not to go. I bet your employer won’t appreciate their bottom line dropping because of your lack of customer care and service!

    On another note…
    I agree 100% with charging for tastings. there is a high cost to making the product. All I have to say is Napa has great wines but OR/WA are just as good with out the pretentious attitude that you get from ppl like my friend Marcus up there.

  24. We just launched an incredibly popular iPhone app called “Tasting Pass Finder” It is GPS enabled and it instantly finds FREE Wine tasting or 2 for 1 tasting passes closest to you in Wine Country of Napa Valley & Sonoma County.

    Below is a link to it:

    Featuring tasting passes from over 75 wineries, it has quickly become one of the top 5 most downloaded Apps in categories for Napa Valley, Sonoma, Wine Country.

    • This will certainly help bring down the cost of the tasting room fees. How do wineries join the App?

  25. Wow- this certainly makes me feel bad about the trip I just booked to Napa. I worry that I will feel out of place if it’s truly snobby. I just want to have a good time with my girlfriends and try some new wines, but all these negative comments make me think I should have booked a beach trip instead.

    • If you just do a little research you should have a great trip. Start with the visitor center in Napa to get your bearings.

  26. I have no problem with a winery trying to market its’ wares covering their costs. Giving away free wine isn’t a winning strategy. But how many tastes does a typical bottle of wine yield? Try this at home. Get a 1 oz. shot glass, fill it with water and pour it into a typical wine glass. You will see about twice the amount of liquid served in a tasting! A 750ml bottle is about 25 oz. of wine or 25 healthy tastes. If a winery that includes 5 wines in their tasting charges $15, that’s $3 a taste. Multiply by 25 and you get $75 a bottle. ($150 is the taste is only half a shot.) Is this the price of the wine? Probably not – you are getting ripped off. A winery should not charge a potential customer (taster) more than what the retail value of the wine is – that’s profit enough! Done.

  27. Tasting fees are out of control as is the price of wine in general.
    I can often get a better value from the southern hemisphere than I can from the winery a few miles from my house. I’ve paid to taste wine that I didn’t like and that stinks. John is right, when you figure out the price per ounce in the tasting room it is exorbitant when compared to the retail price. The unfortunate truth is wine tasting has become too popular, to trendy, it’s not about wine anymore.
    I used to visit an artisan farmer and taste his wares and I loved it. Now I feel like I’m visiting the manager of a strip mall it has become so commercial. I don’t mind paying for wine but a lot of what is in that bottle is ego and real estate.

  28. A comment I haven’t seen made is that if one pays $15-25 for 4, 2 oz. tastes, one is likely to actually drink what is given to you. We usually avoid the snobbish tourist-jammed Napa Valley in favor of Western Sonoma where few charge, or $10 is all. In the favored wineries where I am not charged, I might sip one glass and spit a few more. I leave sober. It is a 2 hr drive back to the East Bay. I would be legally drunk if I went to two $20 places and drank what I was given.

    Would the a___oles who said take your business elsewhere above please identify where they work, so I can most certainly follow their advice.

    • We just spent this past weekend in the Sierra Foothills. We went to five different wineries and none of them had a tasting room fee.


  29. Lots of interesting comments here…some very angry and defensive comments too…wine is all about the romance of the grape and Napa is the ultimate! I live in the most beautiful place in the world and we love to share it with you. However, we appreciate people who know and love the place and the wine as much as we do. We are an estate winery and vineyard. So, when you taste our wine you are tasting at our house wine that we have grown on our own property, processed the grapes lovingly at our small,small winery and bottled on premise. We do have a tasting fee…we open at least three $80.00 to $130.00 bottles for you and you get the tour and tasting of your life! We have had no complaints because we tell prospective tasters about our fees straight up and they make their own decisions. Napa Valley is famous for cabernet Sauvignon and we make the best! CHEERS! (the tasting fee is applied to a case of wine)

  30. I have enjoyed reading through this thread and seeing the views on both sides. About February 2009, the wine bug bite me and CellarTracker says since April 2010 there are 240 bottles in my consumed category. At this point, I would say my wine understanding is beginner/intermediate. Next week I will visit Lodi, Sonoma and Napa to taste a large array of wines so I can determine what to purchase from my local retailers. I have contacted most of the wineries I plan to visit and concur the fees are quite high. So below I have a few questions and statements and would appreciate some feedback:

    Why do most wineries charge full suggested retail for their products? I would assume since their is a reduced costs to sell direct, it would be passed on to customers. If their product maintains moderate to high quality they will likely have long term consumers of their wines. If it is because they don’t want to compete with the retailers of their product, why don’t they create a vendor networking system for visitors to book purchases with their local retailers? Although some visitors like to purchase at above market value during their visit to have an actual bottle for the stories and memories, other have the concern of high prices and added cost for transporting the wine home.

    Since a 750ml bottle can yield between 12 to 17 tastings and the average flight is around four, each bottle for a:
    $5 tasting produces revenue of $15-$21.25
    $10 tasting produces revenue of $30-$42.50
    $15 tasting produces revenue of $45-$63.25
    $20 tasting produces revenue of $60-$85.
    From my experience in purchasing, the vast majority of Napa wines have a market value below $85 for current releases.

    If tastings shouldn’t be given away free, should the price be above market price?
    Should tastings be complimentary if a purchase is made and what level purchase?
    Should the overhead of opening a tasting room be a cost of doing business since it is considered advertising?
    Does charging high tasting fees keep out unruly intoxicated individuals?

  31. I totally get why a winery would charge a fee. I have been visiting the Napa Valley since 1996, and have seen tasting fees go from $0 to, well higher and higher.
    With more and more visitors coming, a winery cannot give away wine through tastings…totally understandable. But in less than 10 years, I have seen huge increases in tasting fees.
    I understand the “weeding out” comment to a certain extent, but I think some wineries may be approaching an elitist mentality. And the more other wineries charge, the easier it is for your winery to up its prices.
    Now, high fees encourage memberships (because you get free tastings) and with some wineries, purchases if they apply the fee to your purchase.
    A couple of things to bear in mind here:
    1. A business will charge as much as they can for a service, as long as…
    2. People are willing to pay that amount for said service.

    As long as there are a high amount of visitors annually to Napa Valley, expect higher fees (as lousy as that may sound). Once certain wineries see a drop off in traffic (which will happen to some) because of high fees, there will be a market adjustments.

    • You are very right on! I have not seen and data on visitors for this year. I am guessing from observation that tourism is down this year. Now let’s wait for the tasting fees to go down.


      • I agree that prices are outrageous but the hotels seem to be doing well. We always travel midweek to get the best prices and we also book last minute. The tasting fees are crazy at some wineries. I can find plenty of Napa Valley wines at my Safeway and Costco for much less. Example: Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cab is $28 at the winery. It is about $18 at the Safeway. Go figure! Thanks for your comment.

  32. Just returned from Napa and wish I had read this first as I would have done some research using the phone apps that are mentioned. Having last visited Napa in 2000, I was amazed at the cost of tastings and wine now. Back then, tastings were free or maybe $5 and they usually included the glass! I wouldn’t mind a reasonable tasting fee that applies to purchase, in fact I would have bought more wine if that was the case.

    What hasn’t been mentioned is that in addition to tastings wineries are charging $20 for tours! So they are charging $40 for my wife and I, who are potential customers, just to tour their production facility?? I can understand how tasting fees can reduce the number of people looking for freebies and how tasting room costs need to be covered, but what possible justification is there in charging exorbitant amounts to tour a vineyard and wine cave??? Not to mention charging $30+ for t-shirts and wine prices that are ABOVE retail. I actually saw a bottle at a Napa winery that was selling for $14 MORE than what I paid for the same wine at Bottega the night before.

    Then, after leaving Napa, we went to Tahoe where I purchased some of the same wines AT A CVS STORE for $5-$15 less than the prices I had seen at the winery. Can any of the winery owners explain that??

    Although we enjoyed our trip, especially a few of the smaller wineries we visited, our next wine tasting trip will be to Virginia and Maryland wine country…at least I can save on the airfare and the outrageous hotel rates being charged in Yountville…

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