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US winery tasting room trends revealed in new survey

An era of rising prices for winery tastings in the US may give way to more flexible approaches, says Silicon Valley Bank, which also found Napa Valley has the highest average fees and that appointment-only visits are becoming more common.

Silicon Valley Bank’s (SVB) wine division, now part of First Citizens Bank, recently highlighted winery tasting room trends in its direct-to-consumer report.

A ‘standard’ winery tasting in Napa County averaged $81, compared to $38 in Sonoma County and $32 in Oregon, it found, based on 332 winery responses. 

It also said the average retail price at Napa County wineries rose above $100-a-bottle in 2022, to $107.79. Plus, more US wineries were offering by-appointment tastings, and winery club memberships have continued rising.

What next for tasting room fees?

Whilst tasting prices vary widely, and some Napa wineries offer options well below the average cited above, the report said the US industry ‘has been on a long period of driving tasting fees higher, while adding extravagant experiences’. 

Tasting room purchases in several key regions, including Napa, Sonoma and Oregon, have risen strongly in US dollar terms in the past decade, which is ‘a clear mark of success’, the report said.

It questioned whether fees would continue rising, however, adding, ‘A few wineries have stopped charging fees altogether, which may signal the end of the tasting fee arms race.’

Rob McMillan, founder of SVB’s wine division, told Decanter, ‘Back in the 1960s, wineries did not charge for tastings. Wineries were production facilities with walk-in sampling bars, not a point of sale.’ 

He said things changed when direct cellar door sales became more important to wineries. Higher bottle prices, reflecting investment in vineyards and winemaking, also contributed to higher tasting fees from the 1990s onwards, he said. 

‘Over the past 15 years, the purpose of the tasting room evolved from “selling what is in the bottle” to selling an experience,’ he added. ‘Today you are buying both the wine and enjoying yourself while sampling.’ 

Looking ahead, slowing wine industry growth in the US may herald new strategies, he believes.

We are about to see the purpose of tasting fees evolve once again. In the next five years some wineries might reduce or even not charge a fee. Others could improve their experience and hold or increase fees.’ 

He suggested wineries could use a ‘surge pricing model’, where reservations cost more at peak times ‘and less in slower periods’.  

Rise in by-appointment tastings

One key trend of the report was the apparent increase in by-appointment tastings at wineries.

Only 27% of US wineries surveyed offered purely walk-in tastings in 2022, compared to 56% in a similar survey in 2019, it said.

Around 29% of respondents offered only pre-booked tastings last year, and 43% did a combination of the two.

Visits to wine country in California and Oregon dropped in 2022, said the SVB survey, but it said this was likely a short-term ‘echo’ from the Covid era. ‘In 2024, we’re betting tasting room traffic returns.’

Around 25% of respondents were based in Napa County, with nearly 16% in Oregon and just over 15% in Sonoma County.

Almost half of the total respondents produced fewer than 5,000 cases per year, said SVB’s wine division report, which is now part of First Citizens Bank following the collapse of SVB earlier this year.


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