Friday, February 27, 2009

Are Tasting Fees Acceptable?

I originally started this post in 2007, but never quite finished it. A recent post here and here made me think about the topic once again. Over the past year, my feelings have shifted a bit, but not dramatically. In 2007, I had a different frame of reference for tasting fees, wine prices, and what "good" wine really meant. Looking at the notes I had started for this post, I see that I expected more tastes for my money then, but the general principles are still the same.

Some of the shift in perspective has been because in the past 2 years, I've been exposed on numerous occasions to wines that previously would have been out of my range ($50+), and my palatte has shifted a bit to be able to appreciate these. In 2007, spending $40 on a wine was a rare occassion, and now I find myself being a club member of a couple places that only sell $40+ wine.

I'm comfortable paying a $5-$10 tasting fee, assuming that there are enough wines. I'm not willing to pay $10 for 3 tastes, unless the wines justify it (relatively expensive bottles with good reviews or word of mouth). For $5, I would expect to taste 3-5 wines. For $10, I'm expecting 6-7 wines. Getting a tasting fee refunded with purchases basically means I'm going to buy a bottle of wine (unless they are all crap), but there is no way I'm going to expect a "refunded with purchase" policy as a standard.

The two major sides to the argument about tasting fees speak to a tasting room covering costs (and keeping out the free-drinkers), and getting your wine into potential customer's hands. From the tasting room perspective, I doubt the $5-$10 is covering all the costs of wine, glassware, staff, electricity, etc. that is being consumed in the tasting room, so it can't all be about covering costs. Keeping out the free-drinkers is a valid reason, because those people don't care a bit about your wine, they just want a free buzz. Mostly, the tasting room is just looking to recoup some of their costs, while providing an opportunity to get their wine in front of the consumer.

Frankly, and this might sound harsh, if you can't afford a $5-$10 tasting fee for each of the 4-5 places you might stop in a day, then maybe you should find something else to do (or you could always share tastes with someone). Being in a tasting room is about more than just "trying before buying." You learn about the history and story of the winery and winemaker, about their philosophy towards wine, and get a better perspective of the fermented juice that you're drinking.

Sometimes, you might even get a history lesson about where the grapes were grown (I've gotten this before, while tasting at Tyrus Evan, and learned all I'd ever want to know about the Walla Walla area and the geological events that caused it to be what it is). If that itself isn't worth the admission fee, you get to try some wines you might not have access to otherwise.

Expecting to try wines for free seems to be an expectation held over from when the Oregon wine industry was in its infancy and trying to establish itself. In the '80s, Oregon didn't have the brand reputation it has now, and so it had to try and show that there was decent wine coming from here. With the quality of wine coming out of the area, paying $5-$10 to try something new seems fully within reason. I don't want the Willamette Valley to become the next Napa, with extrordinate tasting fees everywhere, but a few bucks here and there really shouldn't stop someone from experiencing what Oregon has to offer.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Return?

I can't believe its been over a year since the last post. A lot has happened, and some things have changed in our lives which has made blogging a low priority. Sirpa and I both have new jobs, which means I can't spend all day at work surfing the net and blogging. There's still the desire to put my thoughts down in this blog, so I'm going to try and post at least once a week going forward. We have definitely been through some situations that would be great story telling, and would help the message of this blog. In many of these encounters, Sirpa and I end up being the "gurus" of wine with the people we are with, which is an interesting thing when you consider that both of us are under 30.

To 2009, the year of great experiences and more blogging!