One of our favorite things to do in wine country is to enjoy a picnic lunch at a winery. In the Napa Valley there are far too few wineries that have picnic areas when compared to Sonoma, Paso Robles, and other California wine regions. Napa County ordinances have been tough on the newer wineries, not allowing them to offer this wonderful experience to the wine traveler. Sadly, on our trip to the Napa Valley this past week, we discovered that one of our favorite wine picnic areas had been fenced off and the winery was now charging a $35 table fee to use the picnic area. Hard to believe but true!
The winery is Rutherford Hill that sits up atop the hill above Auberge Du Soleil. The Rutherford Hill Olive Grove picnic area is wonderful. The view is fantastic and the setting gorgeous among the many olive trees. Two months ago the winery had its fill with badly-behaving tourists, so the corporate office (Terlato Wine Group) made the decision to fence off the picnic area and charge the $35 fee per table. $20 of that fee can be applied to the purchase of wine. The winery still has a free picnic area and one that we used, not wanting to pay the $35. The area sits behind the winery, and it is very noisy due to the cooling equipment located in the back of the winery. The wonderful view of the Valley is not visibly from this picnic area.
Our server at the Rutherford Hill tasting room told us what prompted the decision to change its picnic policy. It seems that more and more people were driving up to the winery, unloading the car, bringing in beer and other wines and not even bothering to venture into the tasting room. Some left trash on the tables. You would think that people who come to the Napa Valley are educated types with a mindset of proper etiquette and good common sense. I have heard this scenario at other wineries, so Rutherford Hill is not alone in this case.
My worst fear is that the action at Rutherford Hill will spread to other wineries. I surely hope not. Please, when you use a winery’s picnic area, don’t ruin it for the rest of us.
For a complete list of wineries with picnic areas, consult this list on our WCG Website.
Larry Chandler says
Perhaps $35 is high, but what is wrong with a charge to use a picnic area that belongs to a winery? It’s not only right to limit the area to paying customers, but if the area is on winery property it can put the winery at risk if people get out of control.
Most wineries charge tasting fees. It’s good when the fees are refunded with purchase, but if tasting fees weren’t charged, people will come to the tasting rooms just to drink at an open bar. Same with picnic areas.
It is a sign of the times. I don’t think there is anything wrong with charging whatever. In the end, the consumer will determine if this is a legitimate price. It was a Monday when we were there and absolutely no one was using this beautiful picnic spot.