"Free wine!" you might think, driving up to the tasting room of a winery in Napa, Sonoma, the San Ynez Valley, or even Long Island. You might have been correct in the seventies and eighties before Americans discovered the French Paradox, the film Sideways, and developed a more sophisticated palate.
"Many people never had a glass of wine until they walked into this restaurant," Charlie Palmer told me just after the opening of Aureole in Las Vegas with its gigantic glass wine tower, designed by Architect Adam Tihany after watching Tom Cruise in the film Mission Impossible. That was in 1999.
Now that wine has entered pop culture and visiting tasting rooms are considered a cool weekend activity, winemakers no longer have to give away free samples to attract potential customers. Yet many visitors resent what they feel are nickel-and-dime tactics on the part of wineries. Veronica Barclay conducted an interesting survey for Wine Business Monthly on the subject in which they surveyed many wineries about what they charge, what the patron gets for his money, and their rationale for it.
According to the survey, most wineries don't charge per taste of an individual wine, but offer a menu that includes a tasting of three, five, or more wines at a price ranging between $5-20. Some wineries offer "estate tasting" by appointment, which includes library wines paired with food made by in-house chefs.
From the winery's point of view, the reasons for charging per taste are quite valid. One of the most important reasons cted is that charging for wine calls for a level of restraint and helps patrons avoid driving under the influence. A second reason has to do with showcasing the wine in the best light - the so-called Tiffany approach in which diamonds are carefully placed on a black velvet display by a pair of exceedingly manicured hands so the potential buyer can get a sense of their value.