Napa Valley Wine Tasting: The High Cost of “Free”

Apr. 1, 2018 | by Jim Beazley

These days a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet will ranges from $15 to $150 per bottle. What if you could pay just a few dollars to taste a wine BEFORE you shelled out, say $82.50 for the average bottle, would this make you feel more confident in your purchase?

Deciding where you’ll “spend your taste buds” can depend on the cheapest tasting fee, or why not the full experience of visiting a place that bottles a wine you’ll love?

But first, just let me put all this into prospective for you.

If the fact that there are over 400 wineries in the Napa Valley isn’t astounding enough, let’s consider that a full 290 of them now require appointments.

Some 85 offer tastings right out of their still-fermenting barrels!

There are 89 who don’t require appointments. And only 14 officially offer “complimentary” wine tastings with purchase of wine.

Finally, according to “Visit Napa Valley” (the official tourism bureau), wine tasting fees ranges from $5 to $50 per person. And the wineries with special tours or food pairings run from $60 to $150 per person.

Our guests usually can only muster four winery visits in a given day of tasting and touring. A typical “wine tasting/tour” offers at least four wines. So, let’s do the math…four wineries, four wines each – that’s 16 “tastes” of wine!

You may not be surprised that most guests return to the inn and go straight to their rooms for a nice long nap. Now, multiply this by the average stay of three days and you can understand why guests sometimes don’t order wine with dinner.

Wasn’t wine-tasting free before?

Yes. Then a funny thing happened in 1976: The Paris Wine Tasting, known as the Judgment of Paris. It was a wine competition organized by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, in which French judges carried out two blind tasting comparisons: one of top-quality Chardonnays and another of red wines (Bordeaux wines from France and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from California). A Napa Valley wine rated best in each category! The rest, as we say, is history. A “new world” of Napa wines had been discovered!

As well, there USED to be just a handful of wineries in the Napa Valley. They occupied land that cost from $3,000 to $10,000 per acre. Today a piece of the choicest land on the Napa Valley floor costs an average of $310,000 per acre, according to a report by the California Chapter of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

The Wine Spectator says vineyards usually produce between two and 10 tons per acre. A very low-yielding vineyard that produces two tons per acre makes about 1,440 bottles, or 120 cases, while an acre that yields 10 tons produces about 7,200 bottles, or 600 cases. When you do the math the COSTS per bottle are $45-$215 and that’s just for the LAND! Now include the physical wineries, the equipment, the expertise, the labor and marketing and you start to understand why tastings are no longer free.

Then add in the fact that a majority of Napa’s vintners now sell direct to their customers and you are close to a clear picture of wine-selling environment today. This and soul crushing competition between wineries, wine regions and entire countries!

Yet, demand for Napa Valley wine is at an all-time high. And even though Napa grows less than 4% of all premium wine produced, popularity of touring and tasting in this small valley has never been higher. We are definitely experiencing the law of “Supply and Demand”. This is why many Napa Valley premium wineries not only require appointments, but some only offer tastings by invitation.

Clear reasons to continue to visit the Napa Valley

Lest we get hung up on just how elite and snobby the wine scene has gotten, let me assure you there are reasons why the vast majority of visitors come to experience the Napa Valley: This small county, 45 miles north of San Francisco is the only Agricultural Reserve in the United States. Simply put, it means agricultural land is valued at the highest levels and zone-restricted to agricultural use. Napa’s cities and towns are surrounded by an urban rural line much like old European towns with their medieval walls. Outside the “walls” are acres of vineyards, not suburban sprawl.

Napa Valley in March

In winter the green hills have more in common with Ireland than Southern California. Mustard turns the dormant vineyards bright yellow, then green, then into Nature’s golden fields. Spring, summer and fall will greet you with lush trees, gorgeous flowers, and an electric buzz of being in a world-renown wine and food mecca.

In this small slice of paradise live many people dedicated to the finest examples of food and wine to be found on the planet. Oh, and for a small price they will let you taste it.

There are nearly as many ways to experience the Napa Valley wine scene as there are wineries, and you can depend on your innkeepers here at the Beazley House to help with an itinerary no matter what your level of “wine education.” You will be sent into the Napa Valley confident in the choices of wineries you’ll be visiting.

-JB