What is going on with tasting fees at wineries? Will they be waived if I purchase?

I have a dream: every guest of The Inn On First can walk into a tasting room and say: “I’m from The Inn On First in Napa” and the Wine Educator would say: “Oh, you mean that fabulous romantic Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa….well, then, I’ll waive your tasting fee!”  Ah, to dream.

Tasting fees in Napa can range from $10 on up to $60 or more per person at wineries and at the end of the day that can be pretty expensive.  Yet, when you consider that you typically get to taste 6 to 8 wines for $10 or $15 and don’t have to commit to a whole bottle, that is not so bad.  Or when you pay $60 to taste a selection of high-end wines you would only dream about because the price point of $150 to $250 per bottle or more is a serious commitment, it can minimize the impact or it can scare you away!  (Big smile here)  Wineries love to sell wine but you should never feel obligated to purchase, especially when you’ve paid a tasting fee, and should feel free to say: “no thanks”.  In a real sense, tasting fees give you a freedom you might otherwise experience around purchasing (or not) wine.

Luckily for Napkins (local Napa folk) most wineries share in the Good Neighbor program that provides free tasting when you show your local address on your driver’s license.  For all others, though, there is no rule in Napa about how tasting fees are set, and they do add up quickly.  Here are some general guidelines on what to expect:

If there are significant caves for you to view and walk through, expect to pay more in tasting fees.  I say significant because some wineries have built small caves that you can walk in and out of in three minutes or less.  Others have caves up to 10,000 square feet and include tours of the whole operation from crushing to the barrel room.  These tasting-tours can cost $40 to $50 per person.

If there are other things for you to see such as art galleries, car collections, stunning views, historical buildings, and/or tours through the vineyards, expect to pay more in tasting fees, anywhere in the $25 to $50 per person range.

If the wines at the winery are in the mid to high range ($100 on up), expect to pay more in tasting fees to cover the costs of the wines they are opening for you to try.  These could be in the $30 to $60 range.

Most tasting rooms, especially in larger wineries with walk-up bars, will charge in the lower range of $10 to $20 per person.  Some clearly post signs: “No tasting fee charged if you purchase a single bottle of wine.”

We’re fortunate with some of our business partners that we have 2 for 1 tasting cards, and in rare circumstances today, free tasting cards.  This can help alleviate the concerns for the budget-minded traveler, but it also severely limits where you can go and what you taste.  There is a big difference between the presenting wine that is offered for a free tasting at a winery versus the reserve wines you pay extra to taste, or the smaller production wines at small family owned wineries, or the highly specialized blended wines of upscale wineries.  For those who want an introduction to Napa only, the tasting passes work well.  For those who want to taste the best variety of wines Napa has to offer then paying the tasting fee is certainly worth it.

Will the fees be waived if you purchase?  No guarantee.  I’ve asked around and many wineries state that if a single person purchases two bottles or more, they will waive that individual’s tasting fee.  Others told me it would take a case of wine to waive the fee.  Still others charge the tasting fee whether or not you purchase.  A few admitted that if they like the people, had a good time, and enjoyed the guests’ company, they would waive the fee no matter what.  So what is the answer?

Our philosophy is simple: only purchase what we like to drink.  Expect to pay the tasting fee with no discounts.

Also- most importantly- ask!- with no expectation.

Ask about any case discounts?  Any club member discounts?  Are tasting room fees waived upon purchase?  Many wineries offer you that information, or will put the information on price sheets for you as well.  There is no shame in asking  And yes, always mention that Jim and Jamie sent you from The Inn On First.  If you’re lucky and they love us, they might offer you a discount.  If so, let me know! Maybe my dream is becoming reality!!