Are Tasting Room Hours to Blame?
A great big thank you to all my guest bloggers who shared their insightful and witty stories of life here at Dry Creek Vineyard! As I've said so many times before, a company is only as good as its people. And in our case, we are blessed with the best in the business. Thanks guys. Watch for more Wilma stand-ins as I head out of town again next week.
I always hate to leave this time of year as spring has finally sprung in the Dry Creek Valley. The vines are lush and green, shoots have pushed and very soon we will be in bloom which is always a tenuous time with rain still possible. Warmer weather also means people are finally coming out of hibernation and the tourist season is beginning to pick up. Thank God. It's been a long slow winter. Probably one of the worst I've seen, tasting room wise.
While we enjoy healthy distribution of our wines nationally, many local wineries depend heavily on foot traffic and tasting room sales. It has become a significant cash stream that is far more profitable than selling through distributors. But along with the increased importance of the tourism dollar, is a new Brew Ha Ha that is emerging on the subject of tasting room hours.
Historically, tasting rooms have offered wine sampling between the hours of 10:00 and 4:30. Some stay open until 5:00. Rarely did a winery stay open later, unless there was a special party or event that required after hours staffing. But these days, wineries are doing anything and everything possible to keep people on the premises. Special events and wine-related activities designed to enhance the customer's experience are the name of the game. We've gone from low key tasting room experiences that gave customers a chance to sample before they buy, to highly orchestrated entertainment venues where customers drink wine, socialize with friends, and enjoy the wine country experience for as long as possible. Seems fun, right? Here's the rub.
It's dangerous. And, it's just a matter of time before something sad and unexpected occurs that will impact all of us in the Dry Creek Valley. What I'm talking about is an accident. Dry Creek Road and the surrounding country lanes were simply not designed for parking mass quantities of cars. Nor are there traffic lights or cross walks to facilitate the safe crossing of the highway. Yet, nearly every weekend I'm amazed at the number of cars parked along the side of Dry Creek Road (which has an average speed limit of 50 mph) as people hang out at wineries open after hours.
Apparently, this potential problem has captured the attention of our County Board of Supervisors. An April 11 article in our local paper, The Press Democrat, suggests that the Sonoma County Planning Commission and Permit and Resources Management Department will be recommending a limitation to all wineries' tasting room hours.
Personally, I'm torn by the situation. For me it's not so much the hours a winery stays open, it's the amount of alcohol consumed and the dangerous parking that exists for those wineries that have inadequate parking. Just last week, my 17 year old daughter complained that she had to slam on her brakes to avoid hitting precariously parked cars and their jovial wine drinking owners along the side of the road. I have three concerns here: 1) You have relatively inexperienced drivers as well as old people, distracted people, hungry people or just plain old stressed out or rushed people, sharing the road with 2) Cars that are unsafely parked along a certain stretch of a major highway 3) Owned by nice people who have been out wine tasting and are casually meandering their way back to their unsafely parked cars. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is just trying to get somewhere safely and on time.
I definitely don't think regulation of tasting room hours is the solution. However, enforcement of existing laws is. So if the problem is limited to a few bad apples (or grapes!), then let's address that and not inhibit the individual vintner's ability to make a living by limiting their hours of operation. Isn't the problem really just parking enforcement and overconsumption by a select few?
It's like telling a restaurant that they can't be open past a certain time because a patron of theirs didn't follow the law...
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