- The economy is in high gear, especially in the Bay Area where most of the visitors come from
- The Sonoma County Tourism office has done a great job of promoting Sonoma County
Tasting rooms with large crowds aren't really good for the visitor or the winery. For the visitor it means slow service, maybe no room at the tasting bar, and no chance to talk with the people behind the bar. For the winery it makes it hard to have adequate staff when they don't know how many people to expect and a lack of space to put them. Most importantly, tasting rooms know the average dollars spent per visitor goes down when they have a crowded tasting room and have little one-on-one contact with people.
Quite a few wineries that previously had been open for drop-in visitors are now appointment-only. This allows for crowd control and means more dollars spent per visitor. A side benefit is many wineries are having difficulty hiring adequate staffing in the current economy. Tasting room positions are generally a lower paying job. If they are appointment-only and don't have to staff for peak times they can have fewer tasting room employees.
The good news is there are still hundreds of wineries to choose from that allow you to stop by when it's convenient for you. However, before visiting you should check the winery's web site for drop-in policy as it may have changed. Does this mean if you don't have a reservation and you just show up you'll be turned away? Maybe. If you come at noon on a Tuesday you will probably be fine. If you try to drop in on an appt-only tasting room at 3 pm on a Saturday you will likely not get in. Each winery will have its own policy.