After a long hiatus, I’m back! I just updated the list of free tasting rooms for 2019 and, well, the results are mixed. Only a handful of free tasting rooms remain in Oregon, Paso, and Napa although I was surprised to find a few new ones to add in Sonoma.
What happened to the free tasting rooms?
As I’ve written about before, the business model around tasting rooms has changed. In the good ol’ days, tasting rooms were considered showrooms, often operated at a loss with the hope of making it up through bottle sales and club signups. But today, the American economy is roaring and tourists have money to burn. With this, many wineries have become destinations in and of themselves and the tasting rooms have become profit centers, especially in Napa where many formerly free tasting rooms can now easily run north of $40 per person!
Bargain hunters, take heart!
For those of us who enjoy free tastings, there are still options. Outside of Napa, there’s a small but growing minority of winery owners who disagree with the tasting-room-as-profit model. While they may not give away their wine, they often keep their fees low and many tasting rooms will gladly waive your tasting with a bottle purchase.
(For a while, there was a trend where wineries would only comp tastings with purchases of 3, 4 or even 6 bottles. Thankfully, many wineries are jettisoning that model and are back to waiving the fee with 1-2 bottle purchases. )
Additionally, some wineries offer free tastings with Yelp! check-ins, many wine regions offer tasting passports, and tasting coupons are readily available from sites such as Wine Country This Week and my Free Tasting Room Guide.
If you’re staying in wine country, be sure to ask your hotel if they offer free tasting coupons (many do!) and ask your favorite wineries if they have coupons available for other wineries nearby.