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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wine Festivals, or I See Drunk People!

Wine and beer festivals and related events usually have about the same format. You pay one price for entry and there are many alcoholic beverages to sample over a set number of hours.

Sonoma County's most famous (or maybe infamous) wine event is the three-day Barrel Tasting event in March. You pay one price for the weekend with a hundred wineries participating. You drive between the tasting rooms where you are offered several wines at each. In some peoples' minds it can be sort of a contest to visit as many wineries as possible to get your money's worth. This is just one of many events like this throughout the year.

Unlimited alcohol has the potential for disaster.

One incident recently in Livermore (a not-quite-so-famous wine area) has a driver reportedly coming from a wine tasting and causing a tragedy. He was legally drunk when he killed two and injured two others. Story   Video at courthouse NSFW

An organization called ZAP puts on a huge Zinfandel festival in San Francisco every year. I attended a few times and it was quite the party. We were smart enough to use a taxi and spend the night in a hotel. One year I worked the event and, yes, people were having a really good time. At the end I brought our supplies outside, sat down, and waited on my wife to retrieve our car. As I'm watching the guests leave I'm saying to myself, "I see drunk people," lots of them, and some are probably driving home!

Until a couple years ago another local large wine event, the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, had you buying tickets. Each one was good for one taste. Having to pay a buck-and-a-half a taste slowed  people down. It wasn't a sprint to see how much you could sample before closing, but more of a marathon to make your $20 last. You would choose carefully because you were paying for this. Now this wine tasting has gone to a pay-one-price event.

Why the change from tickets to one price for all? I expect it was partly an administrative thing for the fair and partly the hassle of collecting tickets. I worked at the Harvest Fair for many years. Wineries were reimbursed for wine poured based on tickets collected. Guests would often do their best to try to not pay and this was the hassle. It's much easier on the staff to not have to deal with this.

At these drink-all-you-can-in-three-hours events everybody pays the same. If you're trying to be good because you're driving home you are paying as much as your passengers who are really putting it away.

The events that have you go from winery to winery, as the Barrel Tasting I mentioned above, will offer designated driver passes that let you in, but don't allow you to consume any alcohol. Of course, not every driver will want to spend all day ferrying around a bunch of partiers.

People should be smart enough to take care of themselves knowing the potential danger on the roads and what a DUI will cost. Most people are smart enough, some aren't.

What's the right answer? I'm not sure, but I half expect something bad will have to happen then things will change. I hope I'm wrong on the bad thing happening though.