Home > Washington Wine > Why Do Wineries Have Tasting Fees? One Perspective by Don Phelps, Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards

Why Do Wineries Have Tasting Fees? One Perspective by Don Phelps, Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards

I would like to warmly welcome and introduce Don Phelps, of Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards in Chelan, WA. Don is the author and guest of today’s post “Why Do Wineries Have Tasting Fees”. Having been a tasting room administrator myself for a number of years at a wine shop, I know very well why wine shops have a fee, but I wondered if this reason differed for wineries; it does! It’s surprising how many people do not understand just how much goes into getting that one taste of wine into their glass, and why, in fact a tasting fee is applied. Here is one vintners perspective:

As a small winery (2000 cases) we (Hard Row to Hoe) elected to institute a tasting fee at our tasting room. We did this primarily to protect ourselves against large groups that come on bus tours that historically taste wine, take up staff resources and leave without purchasing. This does happen! We also found that there were a small percentage of our visitors only interested in one thing – drinking free wine!

In our case the tasting fee is five dollars and applied toward the purchase of a bottle of wine if the customer decides to buy, so you can think of it as a non-refundable deposit.  It has been our experience that most folks buy at least one bottle of wine so we actually collect very few tasting fees, other than in the case of the large group tours.  For those that do winery tours just to taste and not buy, the tasting fee allows them to taste and leave without feeling an obligation to buy wine as you might if you tasted for free.

We welcome everyone to our tasting room and encourage big limo and bus tours to visit.  We believe that even if they do not buy on this visit, they will spread the word about the quality of the wine and the good time they had in the tasting room and will eventually be back. Word of mouth is our best advertising.

The bottom line to all of this is the fact that not charging a tasting fee drives the cost of wine up to every wine buyer because a winery has to recover their costs and make a return on their investment or go out of business.

So the next time you are out wine tasting think about the effort and expense the owners went through to produce a bottle of wine to open and share with you and you will better understand and appreciate the purpose of the tasting fee.

Thank you so very much Don, I really appreciate you taking the time to share your insights on tasting fees.

Find Hard Row to Hoe on Facebook and Twitter!

Visit their tasting room: Directions from Chelan: Follow Highway 150 towards Manson. Take a right at Mill Bay Casino on to Wapato Lake Rd., Ivan Morse Rd. is the second right. Look for Hard Row to Hoe winery signs, we are at #300 Ivan Morse Rd.

Or contact them by email! jumpintheboat@hardrow.com

  1. Joe
    December 30, 2009 at 1:54 am

    I’ve heard it’s a municipal law to charge a tasting fee in places like Napa County. I think the “deposit” model is a very fair practice.

  2. December 30, 2009 at 2:02 am

    I agree, the deposit model is fair. When I was in retail, which is a very different animal, I conducted tastings quite often. We only charged when the tasting was a reserve tasting, where we pulled premium wines ($50 and above) from stock to pour. The fee covered our costs and gave the attendees the chance to taste some premium priced wines before making a purchase. If nobody bought anything, we weren’t out anything. If they did, great!

  3. December 30, 2009 at 2:23 am

    This is a great post and addresses something that I’m dealing with right now. I opened my winery one year ago. It’s a small urban winery in Massachusetts focused on making wines with locally grown grapes. To this point my policy has also been $5 for a tasting of all our wines (5 wines thus far) refunded with a purchase. Although this has worked fairly well, reality is that given my price point and my COGS, we are giving away 40% of our gross profit on the tasting when someone purchases just 1 bottle of our wine (which happens often). I’m considering a change to a fixed $5 tasting fee (with glass included) sometime around Spring 2010 when visitor traffic picks up again. We’ll probably still refund the tasting fee when a customer makes a large purchase. I don’t want to make money with the tasting fee, just cover the actual cost of the poured wine. I would love to give tastings away for free regardless of purchase as many retail stores do, but I just can’t compete at that level.

    • December 30, 2009 at 2:52 am

      Yes Marco, this is what I was thinking about when I read everyone else’s response about how appropriate it is to refund the fee if a purchase is made. The way I personally see it is that my tasting fee (refunded at purchase or not) is for the wine I tasted during the flight that I wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance. Not only that, it is for the experience, ambiance, access to vintners and winery staff, the occasional wine dog snuggle, the meet and greet of other enthusiasts in the room, and the memory created at that tasting room. In my opinion, it is a tiny price to pay and I am in no way upset when a winery does not apply that fee to my purchase, no matter how large.

      • December 30, 2009 at 3:07 am

        Marco – interesting idea of including a glass but to be honest you will need to keep a really large inventory of them on hand. The other issue is that lots of folks do not want logo glasses or cannot take them with them if they are from out of the area and traveling by air.

        I agree with you about the percentage of gross profit lost when a person buys one bottle. You pour 20% of a bottle to sell one – can’t think of many other businesses that survive on this model.

        Thanks for commenting and good luck!! Judy and I are from New England (NH & CT) so next time we are back we will look you up. What is the winery name and location?


      • December 30, 2009 at 4:31 am

        Don, thanks for the follow up. I would love to not have to bring the tasting glass into the picture, but here’s the thing… so many wineries include them in the tasting fee around here that many people have come to expect it, especially when a fee is charged. On the upside, I won’t have to worry about washing glasses everyday.

        My winery is Travessia Winery. An urban winery right downtown New Bedford, MA, near art shops, museums, theater, restaurants, etc. Look forward to meeting you one day.

    • December 30, 2009 at 4:36 am

      The problem with giving away the glass is you have done nothing to alleviate the large portion of your gross profit you are losing with every one bottle sale – all you have done is add to the expense column while not incresing sales at all. I would focus more on educating the consumer on why you have a tasting fee in the first place rather than provide another “free” gift.


    • December 31, 2009 at 9:26 am

      Marco, I would recommend that you continue applying the tasting fee to the purchase of wine. If it’s that much of a financial burden, perhaps you could split the fee – maybe rebate half of the fee if they buy one bottle (or even two) and the full fee if they buy more than that.

      Personally, if I pay a tasting fee I am much more likely to buy wine if the tasting fee is applied to the purchase of wine. This is especially true if I’m on the fence about buying the wine. If I pay $5 to sample a wine and then buy a $20 bottle, in my mind I just bought a $25 bottle of wine.

      By only applying the tasting fee for large purchases, it’s a diminishing return. If I buy 12 bottles of $20/bottle wine, the tasting fee is a much smaller percentage of the total expenditure at that winery.

      If you do decide to change your policy, I would encourage you to track your sales per visitor both with and without rebating the tasting fee. Make an educated policy change.

      Good luck!

      • December 31, 2009 at 11:46 am

        Thanks for the input Brian… appreciate it very much. Like Paul mentioned in his comment, there are many factors that go into this. For my winery for example, being an urban winery, we get a considerable amount of visitors who happen to just be walking by and have no pre-desposition to taste and buy wine like the visitors to a traditional winery/vineyard. Some of these people haven’t ever been inside a winery, never mind the idea of paying to taste something. But that’s part of our job, to educate them about wine in general and our wines in particular and hopefully convince them that the $5 refundable tasting fee is worth the risk. If some end up walking out because they are “afraid” of the $5 tasting fee (refundable or not), there’s just not much we can do. I don’t think that there is a perfect solution. As a final aside, all my wine club members get complimentary tasting when they visit the winery, no purchase necessary… it’s one of my wine club benefits.

  4. December 30, 2009 at 2:34 am

    I’m totally cool when wineries charge a tasting fee as long as they refund or credit it toward the purchase of the wine. In my opinion, the purpose of the tasting room is to be able to experience the full offering of the winery. If I like a wine, I’ll buy it – If I don’t then I’m not out the price of the full bottle, just the tasting fee.

    I’m also fine with the tiered approach. These two are free tastings today, these three are in the $5 menu and these premium reserves are $10 (or more depending on cost).

    Don – you and your wife are awesome. We loved your wine, your winery, your view, and your story! Hopefully we can make a trip to point pleasant on our next visit in May 😉

    Josh @nectarwine

  5. December 30, 2009 at 2:37 am

    First of all, Don Phelps totally rocks! 🙂

    Second of all, charging a non-refundable deposit in this matter is MORE than fair! I would be more than happy to pay five bucks at a winery to taste their wine if I could then turn around and use that $5 towards a purchase, I would be VERY happy!

    Great post!


  6. December 30, 2009 at 2:59 am

    anyone who complains about having to pay a $5 tasting fee is probably not going to be able to afford a $20 bottle of wine. Tell them the free stuff is on the floor. I would pay more to have cheeses, fruits and breads with the wines, make it a brunch or mid afternoon lunch experience.

  7. December 30, 2009 at 3:01 am

    Having spent considerable time in tasting rooms, I have seen many cars of people,often not much above legal age,who come in to drink, not to taste. Some even turn back when told there is a fee. Wineries are businesses–surprise,surprise–and won’t be in business if they give away too much product. Tasting fees are fair when kept in line with the value of the wines being poured. We want such wineries as Hard Row to succeed, so we can continue to buy their wines. Primitivo, here I come! Good statement,Don.

    • December 30, 2009 at 3:10 am

      Here here Joanne! As I stated above in a comment, the tasting fee (refunded at purchase or not) is for the wine I tasted during the flight and the memory created at that tasting room. I too have seen (in my years working in a tasting room) many people turn away from a tasting because of the fee, some seem down right offended by it. I know just how much money is lost from pulling the corks on great wines all day when people don’t make a purchases EVEN if a tasting fees applies.

      I think what needs to be remembered though, and Don mentioned this, that even if no purchase is made, people do remember you and will tell people (provided the experience was good), and/or come back when they have more expendable income. Being 30, I remember plenty of times in my 20’s that I tasted wine and could not afford to buy it. Now that I have an income and wine budget, I go back to those wineries/shops and spend my money. Very young and inexperienced wine drinkers are the next ‘crop’ of customers, and that is important to note!

  8. markmye
    December 30, 2009 at 3:10 am

    Wineries should be free to charge any fee they want, or make it free. It’s a business and they are free to make business decisions.

    I don’t like fixed fees that are not refundable. If you are giving up too much COGS, then make it for example, refundable with the purchase of TWO bottles.
    It’s called customer service. If someone buys a case, they can probably afford $5.. but the feeling is totally different.

    Also, my experiences are, if i call the wine maker and make a private tasting appointment, i don’t need to pay any fee, but usually I will get some wine..

  9. Scott Abernethy
    December 30, 2009 at 4:41 am

    I agree for the most part, but when trying to organize CIVILIZED bus tours, I hate being treated like a second-class wine drinker. I tried to introduce a busload of people (~20) to a new winery and they refused us. Otherwise, I can see the winery’s point of view.

    I almost never taste wine without buying at least a bottle. Therefore, I don’t mind paying a tasting fee that applies towards purchase. The irony of the whole thing – if I taste their wines and don’t like them, I’m stuck paying a tasting fee for wines I did not enjoy!

    • December 30, 2009 at 5:10 am

      Hi Scott,

      We never turn anyone away – in a bus or otherwise. We do ask on a busy Saturday that the driver call us to let us know when they are coming so we can be ready to acommodate them.

      Think about when you go to a restaurant – if you eat the food do you pay the bill, whether you like the food or not? Of course you do, you just don’t go back again. A winery is no different – a lot of work, passion and expense went into creating that bottle of wine and while it may not be a match to your palate it does not diminish the cost or effort. That is why it is called tasting, so you do not have to buy the full bottle and then pour it out because it not what you expected.


      • December 30, 2009 at 7:49 am

        Yeah Don… but I’ll bet you’re not charged for those samples you like (or not) at Costo. The cost of that sample is built in and it’s part of marketing. Those companies decided to endure that cost to present their product to you.

  10. December 30, 2009 at 5:07 am

    Yes Scott, I see what you are saying. I have not only attended wine bus tours, (in which I was not the only one on the bus on a serious wine buying trip), but I have also lead tours with very wine savvy folks who had every intention of making wine purchases. However I can see that it’s tough for wineries to be ‘open arms’ on bus tours that generally yield drinkers vs. serious buyers and enthusiasts. OK Scott here’s the deal. You and Seattle Wine Gal team up and start the WA Wine Buyers Bus Tour. You in?

    • Scott Abernethy
      December 30, 2009 at 5:47 am

      I think that’s a loaded question!

      I chair the wine committee at a country club and have set up several bus tours. Those that go on our tours generally buy a case or two of wine each during a trip. However, I have to do a lot of “scouting” before we leave to see who wants us and who doesn’t. I always pre-arrange with every winery we will be stopping at.

      We found that the acceptance of bus groups was better in the Prosser area than in Walla Walla. Interestingly, fewer wineries in Prosser charged tasting fees, too. I think Walla Walla has been hit hard by the “drinking” bus tours and that has made it tougher for more serious wine tasting groups.

  11. December 30, 2009 at 6:40 am

    Rockstar AKA and more appropriately SeattleWineGoddess There are many perspectives to the conundrum of charging for tastings. It is a complicated issue that crosses over to even public consumer tastings. It is further compounded by winery SRP, COGS, financial health, location, production, and demand. Don’s policy is actually a very respectable one to manage a troubled part of the industry which is abusive tasting room visits that can sometimes lead to catastrophic results – http://bit.ly/4DPWi9. I am not sure the right answer in aggregate but each winery’s policy is a multi-faceted decision that must be in tune with their brand image and the financial costs/opportunities for how they sample their wine.

  12. December 30, 2009 at 6:58 am

    At my tasting room, the tasting fee is free.
    To use the bathroom however, is $10.

    • December 30, 2009 at 11:28 am

      I like it! or how about a $30 tasting fee which includes a free bottle.

      Great Blog @SeattleWineGal

      Jack twitter=@NWWines

      • December 31, 2009 at 1:22 am

        Thanks Jack, for checking out my blog! I like your tasting fee idea. HA HA!

  13. December 31, 2009 at 12:59 am

    I noticed in an earlier comment about Walla Walla being “hit hard by the ‘drinking’ bus tours.” Actually, you are partially right. I started my “wine career” almost 10 years ago working in tasting rooms. What we saw was not the “drinking” buses, but the “looky loo buses.”

    In the earlier years of the Walla Walla tasting rooms, several of the wineries were “attractions,” and not just about the wines. Unfortunately, there wasn’t one bus that I can remember working with that was even curious about the wines, but more about the restrooms and if we could give them glasses of water. If they were curious about the wines, it was often grumbling because we didn’t have a “white zin.” We often felt like we were nothing but a rest stop after cleaning up the bathrooms and picking up their litter.

    Now, if you want to talk “drinking” vehicles, it was the limos. I cannot tell you why, but it never failed they would show up a minute before closing and often announcing when they entered the door, “You are the 14th (or 18th or 20th…) winery today!” And if we had other customers in the room, the limo folks were always distruptive and knew how to break the pleasant ambiance of current wine tasting. And because they showed up at closing time, we became their private “happy hour” time to kill until their restaurant reservations. And when it came to sales – – nothing. Sure, one could argue that they would come back and it would be worth our time later, but I could argue different. After being at 10+ wineries in a day tasting several wines at each one, can your palate really distinguish any of the wines, especially if you have chosen not to spit? Of course, not.

    When one of the wineries I worked for chose to charge a tasting fee on event weekends and place tasting fee signage outside, it became a game for us to watch the limos slow down at the winery to read the sign and then speed off and leave. At that point, it gives you some insight to their motives and it often isn’t really about the highlights of your winery.

    When many of the wineries in Walla Walla started implementing tasting fees, I was kind of hesitant to see it, but certainly understood it. And especially after a big event weekend when the wineries report that head count was down from previous years, but sales were higher than ever, well – – that alone is very telling. Tasting fees can help divide the serious customer who is truly interested in your business and your wines from those who are only about the alcohol.

    • December 31, 2009 at 3:07 am

      Thanks Catie – good insight!

      • Scott Abernethy
        December 31, 2009 at 3:35 am

        Good, complete reply, Catie! I think you’ve supported my premise. However, even when I have scouted ahead to let a winery know we would like to come to a particular winery, we still met some resistance – usually in the form of a higher or mandatory non-refundable tasting fee that was not imposed on walk-in individual tasters. I now just make it a point to only wine-taste in Walla Walla in pairs or small groups.

  14. December 31, 2009 at 3:34 am

    The tasting fee is an absolutely fantastic model. I’ve only been to wine and beer tastings that featured lower-end product (less than $20 per 750ml), which is a good way to generate interest in a slow-moving, affordable product. I’m not at the stage in my life where I’d be willing spend more than 30 dollars on a wine I hadn’t tried before, and I would never expect to attend a tasting for wines at such a high price-point without paying some sort of fee. Consider this an endorsement from one of the everypeople for this idea!

    • December 31, 2009 at 3:57 am

      Thanks Joshua for your comment – most folks do not have a problem once they understand the issue

  15. MB
    December 31, 2009 at 7:47 am

    Wow, everybody seems so agreeable, but nobody’s mentioning anything but $5 fees. Here in California, fees that low are practically non-existent! There’s plenty that charge over the top. I was at one that was $20, refundable toward wine purchase. You got 4 tastes. If a taste follows the federal 1 oz rule, that’s about 25 tastes per bottle, so the winery expects to ‘sell’ each bottle they taste for $125. That’s quite a bit beyond recovering costs. The wines were in the $80-$100 a bottle range (I run a winery & know this is completely unjustified), so if someone buys a bottle, the winery is actually making less $$ on the customer! My winery does NOT charge a tasting fee, and it’s quite rare that someone doesn’t buy. Rather, I find people say how much they appreciate that, and they buy more! I’m not saying fees aern’t justified-I’ve recently told the local wine tour operator that I’m charging $5 pp in the future because of extra staffing & nil sales from the tasters. Limos are a problem, but not frequent enough to turn around & charge everybody who comes in. And the ‘repeat offenders’ are sent packing after a staff consensus to determine if they’re really a problem, but we’ve had a whopping 2 of them in our 93 year history. So yea to the $5 fee, but the over the top stuff? Unfortunately it’s become the rule rather than exception.

    • December 31, 2009 at 11:29 pm

      Thanks for jumping in and adding a comment MB. Yes, we here in WA should feel very grateful to have $5 or no tasting fees (even at high-end wineries where the price points range from $50 per bottle and up, such as Pepperbridge and Woodward Canyon in Walla Walla). During my last trip to Napa, I spend my entire wine buying budget on tasting fees alone and had very little money left over to bring much wine back home with me. I was shocked by the fees ($100+ per day). I think it’s tricky balancing act to make tasting fees work. On the one hand, no winery wants to give out free wine, on the other, it’s very important to target my demographic (young professionals), who don’t have much spending power…yet.

      • January 1, 2010 at 1:07 pm

        At one large winery in Napa, the trick was to join their reserve club then you could taste all you want for free! (instead of $10 a taste) Say hello to $100 worth of tasting. Later you were on the hook for the bottles but the wine is good! (I still have a couple of bottles of ’97 reserve cab) but it was still a nice perk that day!

  16. December 31, 2009 at 8:18 am

    I agree that folks abuse wineries by tasting all day long and not buying.. but here’s my thing…

    If they don’t like the wine then they should be refunded the money back – at that time, they’ll also get no more wine served to them… 🙂

  17. December 31, 2009 at 9:15 am

    I don’t mind paying a tasting fee, but I do think that wineries should apply the fee to the purchase of wine. I am much more likely to buy wine when either there is no fee or when the fee is applied to the purchase of wine. If I just paid $5 to sample your wine, I’m much less likely to drop more money on your wine (especially in the $10-20 range) unless it’s a truly exceptional wine. From a consumer standpoint, the tasting fee is adding to the cost of the wine. This is doubly true when I’m hitting several wineries.

    I appreciate wineries like Sokol Blosser that waive the tasting fee for their club members. The wine industry is full of great wineries, so those little extra touches bring greater loyalty.

  18. harmonymatters
    December 31, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Wow, what an interesting comment stream!

    I’ve done quite a bit of tasting in the Yakima Valley (although it’s been about a year now), and I’ve been surprised that more wineries don’t charge tasting fees. I understand the reasons for and against, but ultimately, I think as consumers and wine appreciators we need to keep in mind that we’re walking into a winery and consuming a real product that the wine maker, grape grower, and staff have labored to produce. True, it is part of their business model to offer samples in the hope of producing sales (and I usually buy at least one bottle at each winery I taste at) but really, a tasting fee is warranted even if you don’t buy, since you are consuming a product.

    Whatever each winery decides, one thing I know is that I will keep going on tasting trips! Fees don’t dissuade me from tasting, or necessarily influence my buying decision. Tasting is the best way I know to discover new favorite wineries. If increased tasting fees are the wave of the future, so be it. I’d rather pay fees than see small production wineries take a hit because they’re trying to offer too much for free.

    • December 31, 2009 at 11:35 pm

      Thanks for jumping in here Naomi. I’m with you on tasting fees. As I mentioned in my reply to MB above, however, is that for a certain demographic (young, in college etc) tasting fees can be very tough to afford. It is these same cashless tasters that are the new crop of wine enthusiasts. It’s good for wineries to get their trust and brand recognition now, so they will be loyal customers when they have spending power. It really all depends on the short and long-term goals of each winery. I can understand all sides on this topic. This really has been an awesome discussion (at well over 30 comments)- Thanks everyone!

  19. Annette
    January 2, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Good points, I think I will definitely subscribe!🙂. I’ll go and read some more!

  20. January 3, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Thanks Don and Scott. Scott, I think I can also give you some insight as to why you may have been met with with some resistance when calling ahead. On weekends, when wineries typically see groups or pairs wanting a tour and special tasting, fees are often charged due to staffing. Wineries will have their regular weekend staff on schedule, but it isn’t always convenient to take one staff member away from the tasting room bar and leaving the staff short.

    So, from my experience an extra staff member will get called in ahead of time to do the tour or special tasting. Too many times, I have seen the extra staff member (or been one) get “stood up” with no-shows or the group shows up over an hour late (no phone calls) and get rather indignant when nobody is around or anxious to show their sorry late-butts around.

    The most memorable was a tour bus that was expected in at 3:30pm, didn’t show, called to say they would be an hour late and finally showed up at 6:30pm and then the tour guide barked at us because we weren’t acting enthused enough for her and wouldn’t give her wholesale prices on her wine purchase. I was one of the three staff members called in to take care of the bus and management was assuming they would pay us for no more than two hours instead of four. After being stung a few times before, management then decided to implement fees for groups.

    It’s just one of many wine tasting room horror stories I could tell. Unfortunately, like with most rules or fees and no matter the business, it is the honest and serious consumer that takes the brunt because of the bad apples.

    • January 4, 2010 at 6:45 pm

      Wow- thanks Catie for sharing your insights on this. I think that many tasters (in tour buses or otherwise) have no idea what’s actually going on behind the scenes, and what goes into providing them with their tasting. Given your tasting bus horror story, I can see why management decided to implement the fees. It seems perfectly understandable to me.

      • January 4, 2010 at 6:52 pm

        You’re very welcome. I definitely think that refunds with tasting fees are a great incentive and I believe the majority (if not all) the wineries in Walla Walla offer free tastings if you are a wine club member. And what I found while collecting the tasting fees, it was a good way to recruit wine club members.

    • donphelps47
      January 4, 2010 at 9:26 pm

      Great discussion – just to clarify – at Hard Row to Hoe we offer free tastings to wine club member and up to 3 guests. This way a wine club member can bring spouse/significant other and 2 others in for free tasting or they can bring 3 friends. It is one of the benefits of being a wine club member and encourages them to bring friends to the winery.

  21. January 4, 2010 at 5:39 am

    i guess i’m spoiled having just recently moved back to seattle from san francisco, where tasting fees can go up to $50+. a bit out of control to be sure, but folks in the northwest have had a rare experience with little or no tasting fees in the past. i think they’re a good thing, especially for the winemakers who struggle every day to stay profitable. and, if you run into a wine you taste and happen to love, most wineries will waive the fee if you buy their wine.

    • January 4, 2010 at 6:46 pm

      Here here! Thanks for the input RJ, so glad that people seem open and receptive to tasting fees. Do you think that the fee should be refunded with purchase or are you OK with it not being refunded?

      • January 4, 2010 at 7:20 pm

        yes i do think it should be refunded or not charged when there’s a purchase. it not only makes the tasting more palatable for some, it also motivates people to buy wine and that, after all, is the purpose. plus, if you have quality tasting room people, who treat their job like that of a hospitality rather than retail role, they should be able to get a lot of people to buy.

  22. January 4, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    I think you approach is just right, Don. In Europe wineries are just thinking about tasting fees (although they are already charged by many in Champagne and Bordeaux). Certainly in France where I know best, many have charged a small fee for groups for years, presumably because of some of the bad experiences related, but they have alwas offered free tastings for individuals (providing someone was available). Family wineries are often so small that no-one is available to host a tasting except with advance notice. Up until recently in Europe, almost all individual wine tourists visited wineries with the express purpose of buying. Now wine tourism is starting to increase, often by air (or fly-drive) where purchasing is impossible, so more wineries need to consider charging and I hope they follow your ideas.

  23. January 5, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Seattle Wine Gal and Don Phelps,

    I always thought the tasting fees were quite reasonable in relation to what you received, particularly for the smaller wineries, but didn’t realize how small the vintners ROI was in end. I’m now even more appreciative of wineries that offer free or nominal priced-tastings. Thanks so much for the enlightening post and follow-up comments.

  24. January 6, 2010 at 9:16 am

    The discussion has been awesome – thanks to all for participating in it. A special thanks to the Seattle Wine Gal for asking me to author the article and to the Wine Gal for posting it on her Facebook page where more discussion has taken place.

    I think Wink Lorch might have provided one of the real jewels in the discussion when she mentioned what is happening in Europe. When wineries first began selling their wines directly to the consumer there were not a lot of folks driving around the countryside looking them up. When the occasional person did stop by it was for the express purpose of purchasing wine and therefore the winemaker shared his wines with them so they could make an informed decision on which wines to buy and I suspect they rarely left with less than a case of wine.

    Today folks go to wineries the way they used to go to the movies, FOR ENTERTAINMENT. Their primary function in going is not to buy wine but to drink wine in a socially preferred setting. Folks fly to different parts of the country to taste wines on a much more frequent basis than they did in the 1950’s I am sure. They also drive to wineries much more often. The bottom line is more folks are going to wineries than ever before but the bottle sales per person is continuing to drop.

    In the summer months we average just over one bottle per customer and we pour them 5 one ounce tastes or 20% of a bottle to stimulate that sale. Anyone with any business experience can quickly see what is wrong with this model. You cannot sell 15-25 dollar bottles of wine under a free tasting model and stay in business.

    Thanks again! Don

  25. February 23, 2010 at 9:36 am

    I wrote about this exact issue about a year ago on my blog. Essentially, my point was that a reasonable tasting fee keeps out the people who just want to get drunk, and provides access to more than just the wine as you get to experience the place and the stories that go along with it.


  26. May 27, 2010 at 8:59 am

    You have done it again! Incredible writing!

  27. July 22, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    This comment is way late, but I’ve just inherited the tasting room at our winery and was doing some random searching to see more about how things are done elsewhere.

    Here on the Niagara Wine Trail, most tasting fees are not refunded with purchase, but none are higher than $3 (second tier wines excluded).

    Considering most tastings equal at least a standard glass of wine when all is said and done, I find the easiest way to quell objections is to tell them $3 is a pretty cheap glass of wine.

    Also, we do have loads of people out just to drink just for fun, since “winery hopping” is cheaper than bar hopping and much more fun (don’t get me started on the bachelorette parties!)

  28. July 23, 2010 at 10:55 am


    You raise an interesting point about the bar-hopping scene because as I recall you always pay for your beer – they never give it to you 🙂

  1. December 30, 2009 at 2:09 am

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