I was visiting a small winery in the Sierra Foothills. I've come to appreciate the passion these winemakers put into their wines, and the sometimes-shoestring nature of their operations. As I pulled into the parking lot, a tour bus was pulling out.
"That was almost a waste of time," John the winemaker said. " Six passengers, one bottle of wine, one pair of earrings."
I did a quick calculation. Maybe a $30 sale. For which he'd poured 24 tastes, and received no revenue. And not even a fare-the-well for use of the picnic grounds and the multiple toilet flushes in the loo at 3400 feet when water is so doggone scarce up there.
What's wrong with this picture?
Another winery owner I'd interviewed last week was Evelyn Reyes-Umaña of Bodega del Sur Winery in Murphys. She'd boldly imposed a $3 tasting fee and has been happy with the results. "That cut down on the 21-year-old-birthday-party nightmare, and that's been great," Evelyn said.
Over the past few months, I've conducted in-depth interviews with more than 20 Mountain Wineries in the Sierra and Its Foothills, for the book I'm writing. About one-fourth charge some small fee for tasting. Three-fourths don't. They all should. I plan to speak up on this topic to the remaining wineries on my interview schedule.
Here's one reason why: when I left the discouraged winemaker and went to downtown Placerville, I stopped at Starbucks and ordered a latte. $3.45 and I didn't give a second's consideration before I forked that over.
What's wrong with THAT picture? Absolutely nothing. Looks like a sound business model to me.
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© 2010 Barbara Keck
Watch for my forthcoming book: "Mountain Wineries of the Sierra and Its Foothills". Publication date Spring 2011, Wine Appreciation Guild Publishing.
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