Back in the quiet days when casual drop-ins to Napa Valley tasting rooms were charged little or nothing to sample wines, one Stags Leap winery owner was heard complaining to his colleagues about one type of visitor he absolutely detested.
“I hate it on weekends, when all these bike riders come up from the Bay area in their tight shorts and stop at our tasting room,” he groused. “They act like they’re interested in buying wine, but how are they going to carry it home? All they really want is to use the restroom, and then they ride off.”
The tasting room atmosphere and the cost of sampling wine have radically changed in Napa and elsewhere in the wine world, but winery owners still have pet peeves about a small minority of visitors who have bad habits. While weekend bikers are no longer a problem — public facilities are now available — just don’t ask tasting room managers what passes through their minds when a stretch limo unloads four couples who have already consumed a few glasses and belligerently demand service.
Bad behavior is everywhere
Unfortunately, some of these problems have been magnified as visits to wineries have exploded worldwide in the past two decades as wine drinkers have turned into wine tourists, wanting to experience their favorite wineries and wine regions close up and in person. Importantly, if they enjoy the experience, they will continue to buy more of the winery’s bottles, often directly shipped, when they return home.
Even normally quiet Burgundy in France is now opening three new visitor centers, and Bordeaux welcomed 7.7 million wine enthusiasts the year before the pandemic. In most American regions, visitors now drive revenue at mom-and-pop wineries, as few winegrowers even bother to try to sell their bottles in wine stores. But no place in the U.S. hosts more visitors than Napa Valley, America’s iconic but physically small wine region, which in 2018 hosted 2.85 million visitors — most of them wine lovers — who spent $2.23 billion.
Winery owners are understandably hesitant to criticize this lucrative direct-to-consumer for other visitors. But, they say, there are some bad behaviors they see over and over.
The 7 guests of doom:
1. The wine “expert” who dominates the discussion, but never buys any bottles.
“It’s usually a man,” says one Sonoma winery owner, who, like others in this article, asked to remain anonymous. “He loves to loudly give his opinions about what a great wine this one or that one is — asking for another pour, of course — and then he ends up being the one who doesn’t buy any wine.”
2. People who schedule appointments for special tours and tastings but show up 20 minutes late.
Yet they still expect to use their full allotted time before heading off to their next appointment — even later, of course. Most wineries, especially those which are very popular, plan for a transition time of a few minutes between appointments. Those who arrive late think nothing of eating into the time of the next guests who have shown up on time. One late appointment in the morning can throw off a winery’s schedule for the rest of the day.
3. Families who want to drag the family pets and unruly, underage children to the winery with them.
Historic Concannon Vineyard in Livermore Valley, California, was recently blasted on social media when it did what many other wineries dream of doing — barred anyone under 21 from their tasting room so guests could enjoy an “adult experience.” Concannon said in its announcement, “We have received feedback from guests and [club] members alike asking for a more intimate experience on weekends to fully unwind, relax, and enjoy the pristine grounds.” Banning pets might cause an even bigger dog fight.
4. Groups who arrive in stretch limos without reservations and then demand to be served.
Many smaller wineries outside of California have limited tasting space, fewer visitors, and part-time staff. They often require or advise reservations, but groups who hire a limo with the aim of visiting every local venue often ignore the niceties and fail to reserve in advance. “Recently, we had a limo with eight people arrive, some of whom had already been over-served,” says the owner of one small eastern Pennsylvania winery. “We explained to them we were already full, serving customers with reservations, and couldn’t take them. They became abusive with the staff and took photos to post to social media, saying how terrible we were.”
5. Guests who bring food or alcoholic beverages with them.
“The most common is people trying to sneak in a beer for that one person in the group who doesn’t like wine,” says the owner of a Paso Robles winery which, like many wineries, also serves light snacks. “Or they bring in the tasting room a smelly tuna sandwich when people are enjoying the aromas of the wine.” Many wineries who have outside picnic areas will allow visitors to bring their own food — but not someone else’s wine.
6. People who love to test the rules.
Wineries cite guests who want to taste wines that are not on the flight they’ve paid for, who “want to sit inside when they booked an outside table or vice versa,” and those who try to use their wine club discounts for friends who haven’t paid to become wine club members.
7. But perhaps worst of all are the customers who have scheduled the last appointment on a busy day.
Too often, they show up inebriated and boisterous or late and tired and grumpy or, as is often the case, they have decided to call it a day and go home early — without bothering to call the tasting room.
Winery staff feel sorry for consumers who cheat themselves by not getting the full winery experience.
“The joy of visiting a winery is in trying something different,” says the marketing head of a large Virginia winery, “so if guests have already decided that they hate Chardonnay or Merlot or only like wines with certain characteristics, they are missing part of the fun.”
Bikers in search of bathrooms may be a thing of the past but, say winery owners, less-than-thoughtful tasting room guests are still on the tasting circuit.
It’s time they too disappeared.