In some wine regions, it’s the rule. In others, the exception. Does the winery charge a tasting fee to sample it’s wines, how much is it, and does a purchase waive the fee? The answers to those questions often vary depending on where you are. It would seem that many of the Napa Valley wineries do charge for tastings, while only some of the Sonoma wineries do. More than half of the Lodi wineries charge a tasting fee, and none of the Amador wineries do. More than twice as many Calaveras County tasting rooms have a fee than do the tasting rooms in El Dorado County.
There are a couple of reasons a winery would charge a tasting fee while others do not. A number of smaller wineries do charge a tasting fee, largely to cover their costs of opening a bottle of wine and staffng. Their foot traffic may be sporadic and light, so a tasting fee covers the cost of opening and staffing a tasting room, and the potential loss of inventory. A smaller operation does not make thousands of cases of wine each year, and therefore each bottle opened for tasting represents both a potential sale, and a potential loss. The best way to cover the potentail for loss is to charge a tasting fee.
The other most cited reason for charging a tasting fee is to discourage those that see wine tasting merely as a vehicle to get a buzz on for free. If a wine region has many wineries, it’s very easy for a taster to visit several tasting rooms, taste a bunch of wines, buy nothing and end the day feeling buzzed, or even inebriated. A tasting fee is a viable method of seperating the serious tasters from the casual drinkers.
For the serious tasters, take solace in the fact that many, though certainly not all, tasting fees are waived (or refunded) with the purchase of a bottle. If a winery does not refund or waive the tasting fee, look it merely as a money-making tactic. Otherwise, it’s more of a formality in the discovery of some wonderful new wines. If you have tried the wines available for tasting and truly do not care for any enough to purchase a bottle, don’t feel pressured to buy any – pay the tasting fee and consider it an education in discovering what you don’t like.
Wine tasting should be a fun and enlightening experience. You should discover some new facts or new varietals or blends. Hopefully, you come through it with a few bottles of really good wine, and not an empty wallet due to tasting fees. If you like all, or at least most, of the wines being poured at a particular winery, look into joining their wine club. That’s almost always one sure way to avoid paying a tasting fee, and the pay-off is definitely worth it!