The Experience in the Tasting Room
There have been numerous articles over the years about winery tasting rooms and the different kinds of experiences visitors can expect. With the growth of the Virginia wine industry and the new players in our area, this is a timely subject worth visiting again.
Tasting fees are pretty standard now but it is important for new visitors to know what to expect. In Virginia, not all wineries charge for tasting, but most do. On well-traveled and established wine trails, plan on paying between $5 and $20 for your standard tasting experience. For an additional cost, some wineries offer tasting options such as special wines or wines paired with food. Although some wineries will refund the tasting fee if wine is purchased, or include a souvenir glass, not all do. The tasting fee money helps defer the cost of the wine poured and pay for the staff member to serve the wine and educate the taster. The local breweries and distilleries are following this model closely.
Food options offered by wineries continue to evolve as the wineries grow. Some wineries have restaurants incorporated with their business and some have food available for visitors to purchase. Increasingly, wineries are identifying a challenge with guests bringing their own, or “outside” food. Outside food poses several challenges for wineries, such as folks bringing outside alcohol (anything other than the winery’s own wine, which is illegal and can cause the winery to lose its license), lack of after-picnic clean up, decreased product sales, and limited space. If folks are camped out all day with their own food, the business is not turning over the spots with new customers. It can be challenging to balance the need to make sales and pay bills with the need to offer a welcoming environment. Some wineries will offer outside picnic areas for guests bringing outside food; some say “no coolers,” and some wineries do not allow outside food on the property at all. It’s best to check the websites or call the wineries you plan to visit.
Each winery is a reflection of the owner’s style and vision. Some wineries have more festival style wines and the atmosphere to go with it. Others have a more relaxed feel to the tasting room, offering wines that are more terroir or location driven. Some may have very limited space for tasting or seating afterwards. It is important when you are planning a winery day that you do your homework and consider what the folks in your group would like. Quality wines are critical to success for our wineries, but managing and meeting customers’ expectations is very important as well. I always recommend that folks purchase wine to bring home as well as enjoying it at the winery. But a key point goes along with that: if you did not enjoy the wine or experience, do not feel obligated to purchase. This is pretty simple logic but be sure to use it, as it helps wineries know what customers enjoy. Buy what you like and help those businesses grow through the endless challenges. Enjoy your experience.
Written by: Doug Fabbioli