If it’s free….then it must be worthless!

Let’s face it, the Texas wine business is still having a lot of trouble finding its way along.

One classic example of this that comes to mind is the way many Texas wineries conduct themselves at public pourings. The question to charge for sampling, or not , still plagues the state wide pouring circuit.

If you’ve ever felt that your life was lacking friendship, then let me recommend that you open a winery!

As soon as the magic liquid starts to fill the bottles you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and friendship that appears out of nowhere! Every civic group, charity, promoter, and distributor is suddenly a long lost relative trying to convince you that you need the “exposure” that only they can offer, and you should be glad to supply your product in their pouring environment at little or no charge!

Many folks in the public realm (on the receiving end of the table) have begun to expect the local wineries to simply gush with samplings without a fee for the service. And, there are, indeed, certain environments where that is appropriate, such as charitable events, or small private events. The larger events are something all together different, however. One 750ml bottle will supply 25 reasonably sized samples. In larger crowds, say in the 2-3 thousand and up, it doesn’t take a whole lot imagination to figure out that any respective winery could go broke trying to fuel that kind of gratis volume!

So, many of the wineries have adopted a small uniform charge of around one dollar per one ounce sample to cover the cost of product and the related expenses.

Sound simple enough? Well this where things get a little muddy! A sizeable number of the wineries are owned and operated by independent business persons (and or farmers). If you know anything about either of those two personality types you would also understand that, as a group, they couldn’t decide (with any unformity) on when they should leave a burning building! And this is clearly evidenced when you consider how they conduct themselves at public pourings We just attended a popular Texas event that included a number of Texas wineries as well as the craft beer bunch. The event has historically been a for fee sampling ($1) event. Two of the attending wineries decided that they would give their product away for sampling and hope to make some bottle sales and some BTG sales (by-the-glass). First of all, it’s highly questionable, in a non-wine centered event whether that tact actually generates any sales, or just serves to throw product at a generally disinterested large crowd of non-wine drinkers. Additionally, many wineries try to justify this dubious practice by serving tiny “thimble” sized (usually around a quarter ounce) portions, as if it might actually be possible to taste a product by only hitting the front of the pallet. A tact that may work for the addle minded, sugary, sweet wines, but is useless for the more complex dry wines.

Well then….. what’s wrong with that, you might say? The issue is this, if there are other wineries at the event that are charging, then the free pouring wineries (who we have heard affectionately called “scabs”) foster conflicts at everyone else’s table. Try serving a disgruntled line of customers, say a couple of thousand long, and see how your day goes!

A significant number of Texas wineries are, in fact, shoestring operations that depend on every dime of income just to stay alive. That would include covering the cost of statewide travel expense, the cost of motels, and food. The small sampling fees are not the income center for any of these worthwhile wineries, but do serve the vital function of deferring the cost of operation.

There are two groups (with widely divergent interests) involved in this process of elevating the Texas wine business from its embryonic stage to maturity. One group is the wineries themselves, and the other is the consumer.

The wineries simply must act in unison to preserve all aspects of the business. This would include fostering the fundamental respect in the market for the value of the product as well as preserving a chance for the fledgling wineries to stay alive long enough to make a difference. The other group is the consumers themselves. I think it’s safe to say that we all want a thriving Texas wine business. And realistically this is the age of the $1.40 pack of chewing gum. Is it really such an affront to pay $1.00 for for a sizable sample of a product that is the result of hundreds of hours of loving devotion, the very life of the wine winemaker and the vineyard workers? Or consider the fee schedule of any of the Dallas wine bars, say for a blend like Gerard’s Artistry, at $18 an ounce. Ever tried getting a free sample at Cork Wine Bar, or Cru? You won’t get one.

To the wineries that show up at the fee based sampling events and then insist on undermining the event for everyone else by dumping their product as free samples, I would ask them what purpose they think they might be serving? It certainly isn’t the promotion of the Texas wine business and the level of respect it is due, or helping to assure the diversity of industry.

You can only assume that they are hell bent, in an all out race to the bottom. If that’s where they have determined that they want to be…… don’t expect everyone else in the business to want to follow them.

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