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Monday, April 12, 2010

Regulating Tasting Room Hours

A front-page article in the April 12th Santa Rosa Press Democrat talks about county officials looking into setting limits on tasting room hours.   For years a 4 or 5 p.m. closing time was the norm but it's crept up as late as 7 p.m. now.

As to be expected the winery folks interviewed thought it wasn't necessary because they could "self-regulate" and it "would hurt business."  Another industry that can self-regulate.  Yes, as a matter of fact I am laughing right now.

The first tasting room I remember was Mayo in Sonoma Valley staying open until 6:30 p.m. when everyone else closed by 5 p.m.  Don't try to tell me folks are tasting at 6 p.m.  No, they're drinking.   Tasting rooms are not bars.  They should not be in the happy hour business.   Not too long after Mayo opened they had an inter-winery party one evening.  I asked the manager how the late closing was working and what kind of crowd she was getting.  She just rolled her eyes.

Will it hurt business?  Probably for those wineries open so late.  It's no secret in the tasting room biz that the late crowd is looser with their wallets.  I've tracked the time of day by sales dollars and the end of the day on weekends is pretty damn good.   And that's being open until 5 p.m.   I'm sure six would be even better and seven would be better still.

If a tasting room closes at 6 p.m. the folks who slip in the door at two minutes before closing aren't generally cut off but taste through a normal flight meaning they are there probably 40 minutes past the official closing time.  This means any regulation should probably be a "last call" type of rule rather than a closing time regulation, as last call at 5 p.m. is different from closing at 5 p.m.

In the "old days" when tasting was free the purpose was to sample the product to decide if you wish to purchase.  As there got to be more winery tasting rooms in a given area it turned into free drinking for some people so tasting fees came into being.    With these fees often ranging up to $20 and sometimes more many tasting rooms are all too happy to become a de facto wine bar.   That is, a drinking establishment.

Wine tasting should be just that.   Happy hour should be at a bar.  Wineries are not in that business I hope.

Press Democrat article