Often times I spend a few minutes explaining "How the valley works" to my clients that are visiting wine country for the first time. I thought it might be useful to put a few of these tips into my blog for anyone interested in learning about how the industry operates. This is fundamental to planning a successful trip as there are a few things we do here that are not universally understood.
1) Why Do Wineries Exist?
Its easy to get the impression that wineries are bars. That is not the case. Wineries are agriculture producers, and as such in an agriculture preserve like Napa Valley, are grandfathered the right to an educational purchase opportunity. In other words, almost all wineries want the same thing - to sell wine. So, in short, you should consider purchasing wine at the wineries you visit. If you intend to visit a winery that sells a bottle of wine for $250 and you wouldn't pay more than $50 for a bottle, you should not waste the wineries time. That is like trying on Gucci sunglasses on a Ray Ban budget.
2) Should I use a 2 for 1, the priority pass, or free tasting pass?
Wine educators (the ones pouring the wine) make sales commissions on the wines they sell. Coming in with a coupon for a free tasting is like wearing a sign that says "I am not here to buy wine". So naturally, your experience suffers because the wine educator is going to focus on the customers that are more willing to spend the money. Further more, many tasting room managers direct the wine educators to pour smaller pours for those with 2 for 1's. Often times, the money you save, are just corner that are cut out of your experience.
3) How do I get the best deal?
Lets face it. Whether you are rich, poor or somewhere in between - everybody wants a deal. The best way to go about this, is to come in with the mindset that the tasting fee doesn't matter because you wont be paying for it anyway. You see, the tasting fee is going to be your bargaining token when the tasting is coming to a close. After having tasted all the wines, focus on which were your favorites. Tell the wine educator how much you liked those wines. Often times they will mention the purchase incentives but you can also ask what they are. Use these to wheel and deal with the educator, with the understanding that the educator wants you to leave with wine, not just pay a tasting fee. As a rule of thumb, 3 bottles waives one tasting fee, 6 bottles wavies two, and a case (12btls) waives four tasting fees.
All in all, don't be scared to cut through the bullshit and tell the educators what you want. They are there to serve and sell you wine. They will probably appreciate you being upfront about your intentions so they do not have to tip-toe around guessing what you are thinking. Thus making them more comfortable being themselves around you, which will lead to more generous pours and better deals.
Napa Native Blog
Words from a local on the ground floor in wine country, with insight and tips for making the most of your visit.