No final numbers yet but estimates reveal about 20,000 people came to the Wine Road Barrel Tasting, an event that had people sipping two weekends running in March, the ritual that still conjures up images of mustard fields, swanky limos and yes, big honkin’ buses.
Beth Costa, chief poobah of the event, said while ticket sales continue to stream in from wineries in Dry Creek, Russian River and Alexander valleys, she can tell us a thing or two from tracking online advance sales.
“People came from 47 states,” she said. ”Within California, 6000 tickets sold in advance, of those 2000 were from San Francisco and the Bay Area, 1500 were from Sonoma County, with the balance, 2500 from other parts of California. We don’t track at the door sales as far as where those folks are from. I would certainly assume most are local or San Francisco … It’s impressive in this economy that people traveled from all over the country for this event. This really speaks to the quality of Sonoma County wines, our organization and the value associated with buying ‘futures’.”
The so-called ‘futures’ refers to wine sold before it’s bottled, often at discounted prices. Barrel tasting provides a sneak preview of this young wine that’s in the process of aging and won’t be available for another year or two.
Costa said the sneak preview played well to the curious, with a noticeable uptick in the age range 25 to 35, the off spring of the baby boomers coined “millennials” by wine industry analysts.
“That’s just a societal change,” Costa said. “This younger generation is interested in quality food and wine. They’re interested in ‘green’ and bio-dynamic vineyards. They appreciate the opportunity to meet the winemaker or vineyard manager.”
This year there was less generational sniping about this demographic – this living, breathing, drinking demographic that can be overindulgent and rambunctious when pairing beer with wine.
“There were fewer complaints this year than last,” Costa said. “As for complaints, they weren’t to the degree that it was an issue. With 20,000-plus people sampling food, wine and visiting with friends, visiting with friends, etc., there are bound to be some who do not act responsibly, but for the most part peer pressure takes care of that … The problems tend to start with groups that rent buses or limos and think it’s a good idea to pack some beer along for the day, or to maybe begin their tour with gin fizzes on the bus prior to arrival.”
Costa said, for the most part, the caravans carting zealous sippers are turned away in the parking lot. “The party mentality is the minority, not the majority,” she said. “The Wine Road will continue to send a clear message that Barrel Tasting is an educational experience and wineries are opening their cellars to introduce their wines to new customers and to sell wine.”
The wineries, Costa said, deserve plenty of credit for setting themselves up with volunteers and parking staff that practiced tough-love tasting, unfazed by turning buses away. “For our part, we do our best to ban full-size buses and discourage large groups, which can be overwhelming to the wineries,” Costa said. “Fifty people walking in the door at once are hard to serve and it’s hard to talk above the noise level of a large group.”
When can we expect final numbers and a full accounting of the 32 annual event? Who knows? Did Costa mention it’s tough getting 100-plus wineries to report back right away? Say, this is Sonoma County after all, a laid back place where the day begins and ends with a latte.