- Category: Newsletter Archives
End of February ... there is some snow on the ground in Niagara, but not enough to impede anything; although my car did get stuck on an ice patch. The days are getting longer and I do not dread 5 o'clock and the darkness that rolls in claiming the end of the day. It means that spring will soon be here. Spring signifies renewal, and within that I include grapevines and the winery visiting season. My commentary today deals with tasting fees - love 'em or hate 'em, they are here to stay; I'll explain why.
As for what else follows is this week's newsletter: there are the usual wine reviews (six killer wines), plus videos, podcast links and all the other good stuff you've come to expect.
Thanks for reading.
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Musings from a Wine Soaked Mind ...
Tasting Fee Tantrum
If you are like me, you don’t pay much attention to Twitter these days. It's a cesspool for miscreants, and the always angry. A friend of mine once pointed out: arguing on Twitter is like taking part in a hot dog eating contest, win or lose, in the end, you just feel gross.
Sadly, one post caught my eye the other day. Wines of Canada wrote: "Okay, I am hearing concerns about high tasting fees along with a no refund policy with purchase. Unhappy visitors..." (see it here)
What followed was mostly people agreeing and how they will NOT be visiting wineries because of this new change in policy. Granted, these are largely British Columbia based comments; but the same could easily be coming from Ontario; as I have heard similar complaints over the past few years. Some going as far as saying that during COVID it was fine, but now that we are past the worst of it, it should go back to the old ways.
Here is my response to the tweet: "When you go to a restaurant, do they give you a free tasting of that steak you're about to order? And if you buy a dessert, do they offer you a discount on that steak?". Clearly, I think the culture of tasting rooms in this country is long overdue for a change.
The argument can be made that a winery is not a restaurant. These days you are not bellying up to the bar where you used to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, three-deep with the rest of humanity, jockeying for position to get your next tasting from some pimply faced kid pouring. Today, you might get that same pimply faced kid, but you get a table, a chair, and an explanation about what you are tasting. The level of service is rising to that of a waiter or sommelier sitting down and explaining the menu and daily specials. You're now able to sip and enjoy the view, the afternoon, the ambience - without being rushed out the door so the next tour bus can be served.
Wine tasting has come a long way from the days of people using the wine route as a “pub crawl” or “happy hour” on their way home from work - or a way to get a free buzz on a Saturday afternoon. Winemakers have always taken their product seriously - it’s time we do too. The days of Baby Duck and Entre-Lac being the pinnacle of Ontario wine are behind us. Think about what you do for a living. How many hours are you willing to put in for free: Give me a sample of your typing skills, every day. Go sell something so I can see how you’ll do - the first one is on you. Whatever you do, how often do you give away a piece of yourself just to prove your worth. Wine and wine tasting in this province has come a long way.
It's here that my editor wants me to talk about the Napa Valley; but I've always hated the comparison to Napa. It creates unreal expectations. At some point, years ago, Niagara was referred to as the Napa-of-the-North. That writer should have his or her pen taken away and their word processor drowned in the toilet - even today that comparison sticks and there are people who believe we create Napa Valley style wines. We don't. So I try to avoid putting that particular Valley in California, and Niagara, in the same sentence.
Suffice it to say, tasting fees are inevitable if Niagara is ever to be taken seriously as a world class industry, and that goes for any other serious wine region of the world; look around, Washington, Oregon, Australia, New Zealand - all charge tasting fees. If you are not charging a fee, you don't value the wine - plain and simple. What a winery does with that tasting fee afterward, is solely up to their discretion. I remember once being chased, by a server into the parking lot of Inniskillin for the tasting fee; even though we had bought a case and a half worth of wine. It left a bad taste in our mouth, but we kept the wine. You'll always keep the wine, I've never met anyone who said "because of the tasting fee we didn't buy the wine".
I will say that I do take exception with another reply made to the post: "Good, it keeps out the riff-raff". Look, the one thing we want to avoid in the wine world is elitism. Don’t scare away the people that want to learn. The more educated the public on wine the better wine gets. These days the tasting has been elevated to a restaurant-like experience; but riff-raff are always welcome - they just have to bring their wallets too.
Click on any wine name to see the full review:
Big Head 2020 Syrah, Raw ... (*****)
Flat Rock Cellars 2020 Pinot Noir, Hexa ... (**** ½)
Kacaba 2019 Syrah, Proprietor’s Block ... (****+)
Niagara College 2020 Merlot, Dean's List ... (****+)
The Non-Ontario Selection ...
Zonte’s Footstep 2021 Love Symbol Grenache ... (****+) - Australia
--- Highlighted Videos This Week ---
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