Let’s face it, wine tasting is a lot of fun. It can also be pretty expensive. With many wineries charging $10 – $20 per person per tasting, or even up to $50 per person, the budget can go pretty quick in a day.
And sure, you can get all (or most) of your tasting fee costs applied towards the purchase of a bottle or two of wine if you find something you like, but surely there are ways to avoid spending your hard-earned cash in the first place, right?
If you are in the mood to go wine tasting but want to avoid spending a lot of money up-front, consider these options…
Ask at your hotel – many hotels in the wine country have those little display racks with cardboard flyers for local tourist attractions. Sometimes, you can find flyers for wineries in those racks with special offers (and/or you can ask the hotel concierge).
Check your credit card – many credit cards have special perks for museums or amusement parks, and sometimes for wineries. For example, the VISA Signature® Card will get you complimentary wine tasting at 60 wineries in Sonoma County.
Look for a Visitor’s Center – In addition to being a great source of information and maps, these centers frequently are the target of marketing efforts from wineries trying to attract visitors with discounts. The Center in the city of Sonoma (453 1st Street East) is on the East side of the Sonoma Plaza, and the one in the city of Napa (600 Main Street) is part of the recently completed Riverfront Center.
Find a “Wine Country This Week” – this weekly magazine (produced regionally in several wine areas) should be in everyone’s car as they go wine tasting. Excellent maps and event listings will let you know where the wineries are, what their operating hours are, and what special programs are in place while you are visiting. In addition, the magazine usually has wine tasting coupons for some wineries with advertisements in the magazine.
Make friends with a local resident – Sometimes, wineries offer free tastings or discounts to locals. For example, members of Napa Valley Vintners offer Napa county residents specials on tastings, tours, and purchases through the Napa Neighbor program.
Be respectful to tasting room staff – Many wineries hand out referral cards to other wineries, hoping customers will get sent their way. However, manners are crucial here. If you ask a tasting room staff member “We want to do some more wine tasting, but don’t want to pay for tasting fees, do you have any free passes at other wineries?” you will be given referral cards for wineries the tasting room staff think That Guy should be sent to (if you get anything at all). However, if you say something closer to “I really like your Pinot Noir, are there other wineries around here that make the same style of Pinot Noir you would recommend?”, you are probably going to get (a) referrals to wineries that you actually would like going to, and (b) sometimes a referral card.
If you find (or are given) a card with a discount, it may be for a free tasting (for 1 or 2), or a free basic tasting (where you can pay more for an upgraded tasting), or a BOGO offer (pay for one tasting, get one free). Read the fine print so you know what is being offered, especially if your tasting party is more than just two people.
Now go have fun.