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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Trends in the Tasting Room

Things evolve, including how your visit goes when you check out your favorite California wineries.

In the "old days" it was, "Come in and try our wines to see if you like them"  (for free).  With the popularity of wine tasting, especially in Napa, that attitude and price is pretty much gone.

Perhaps some of this is a sign of the recessionary times, but here are trends I've noticed:

  •  Consolidation and "corporatizing" is still happening, but most don't advertise the fact.  The real winery owners are often corporations like Constellation, Fosters, or Diageo.  Sometimes it's rich families like Gallo, Jackson, or Foley.  Does it matter?  I don't know.   But the winemaker's job can be drastically different whereas the common view is he/she spends time in the vineyards, is hands-on with the crush until the wine is bottled vs. sitting in front of a computer in an office bartering for grapes with other wineries in their portfolio.
    Is this guy coming soon to a
    tasting room near you?
  • The mission of the tasting room has gone from hospitality and wine education to retail sales.  The tasting room has changed from a place to show off your wines to a profit center.  You see this in things like job titles (and objectives) changing from Hospitality Manager to Retail Sales Manager.  Will the focus go too far in the direction of the sales push?  Probably in some places.
  • Keeping people on site rather than just moving them through quickly.  Wineries with large enough facilities are looking for ways to keep you there to give you more opportunity to spend money.  The best example of this is the Coppola Winery family theme park.

Are these trends bad?  They don't have to be.  Lots of businesses are corp-owned, lots are there to sell, and many like you to stick around rather than checking out the competition.   It's just that the low-key family farms are getting harder to find.  Or maybe it just becoming a mature business.