Tasting fees have become standard at nearly all Walla Walla tasting rooms and its common sense. If a winery doesn’t charge tasting fees they’re likely to encounter people who come for the free wine with no intention of ever buying any wine.
Nearly all Walla Walla wineries refund the tasting fee with a one-bottle purchase, but there’s a trend in other wine regions towards not waiving the tasting fee with purchase or requiring a minimum purchase (a set dollar amount or at least one bottle of a certain price level purchased).
In Napa Valley, the typical tasting fee these days is $15-20 (and can get up to $50-100 for special reserve tastings at some wineries) but where ten years ago the tasting fee would always be waived in Napa with a purchase, the opposite is now true. At least 75% of Napa wineries now keep the tasting fee, whether you buy wine or not. And while some wineries will require a minimum purchase to waive the tasting fee, others won’t waive the fee even if you’re buying hundreds of dollars of wine.
Such a policy makes little sense to me from a business perspective or from a customer service angle. It seems to me that the winery’s primary goal in having people come to the tastingroom to sample their wines is to sell wine. I believe the winery should look at each customer who comes in the tasting room door as an opportunity to show off their wines, to show off the winery’s hospitality and hope that they can turn that wine taster into a regular customer, someone that will buy wine and tell others about the wine and their experience at the winery.
Unless the wine is truly terrible, most people given the choice of paying a $15 tasting fee or buying a $25 bottle of wine (and having the tasting fee waived) are going to opt to purchase a bottle (or more). And sometime down the road that customer is going to drink that bottle of wine and perhaps enjoy it enough to buy more of that wine or tell others about the wine. If the winery doesn’t waive the tasting fee with purchase, many customers will just pay the tasting fee and leave, unhappy with paying $15 for what might have amounted to three one-ounce tastes. And they’re unlikely to return.
So why have so many wineries in other wine regions chosen not to waive the tasting fee with purchase? Because they can. Napa Valley has more visitors each year than Disneyland, while other popular wine regions in Oregon and Santa Barbara have seen their wineries institute similar tasting room policies in the last few years.
But just because the winery can get away with retaining the tasting fee from visitors to their tasting room doesn’t mean that they should.
As I mentioned above, I believe the main goal of the tasting room should be to sell wine and to promote the wine and the winery. And while some of you may not realize this, when the winery sells wine directly to customers at the tasting room – at retail price -- they’re making a much larger profit then they do on their typical wholesale sales to distributors (for bottles that end up being sold in stores and restaurants).
At the end of the day it should be all about the customer’s experience and building the relationship with that customer. How do you build that relationship by refusing to waive a tastingfee when a customer buys 6 bottles of your $40 wine? Wine lovers want to come home from a wine trip with lots of new wines and experiences to talk about. Who wants to come home from a wine trip with a few bottles of wine and $400 in tastingfees charged to their credit card?
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