After visiting Franciscan, I feel they are one of the establishments that have found a happy medium between the two: they may be large, established, and well-known... but they still seem to take pride in their product and their image. I had never visited this tasting room before and, to the best of my knowledge, I had never even tried any wines from Franciscan, despite seeing it on several occasions at stores and restaurants.
Currently, the average tasting fee seems to be $20-$25. This is ridiculous, for multiple reasons:
- The average salary of people has not gone up 100% in the past few years. The COLA (cost of living) adjustment hasn't gone up 100%, and in fact has gone down the past couple of years while salaries have stagnated. So how can you justify raising costs of something 100%? It's absurd. Maybe it reflects the fact that Napa caters to the rich.. and the rich are getting richer. But nobody else is.
- I understand the reason for charging a fee -- for one, it discourages people from treating Napa Valley like an open bar and just hopping from free tasting to free tasting like a total hobo, meanwhile just getting trashed and not spending a penny. I don't blame the wineries from wanting to discourage this and make sure they don't lose money by pouring free wine for everybody. However, $5 -- or $10 max -- seems quite sufficient for this purpose.
- Additionally, what is the purpose of having the tasting rooms? Ostensibly, it is not to serve as wine bars, but to serve as wine education and to allow people to try the wines to see which ones they would want to buy. For that reason, it seems to me that any tasting fee should be applicable/refundable upon purchase of bottles of wine... after all, they claim that is the purpose. So I find it really irresponsible, disrespectful, and greedy to charge a $20 and then not even allow that to be refunded or applicable to a purchase. Just as it would be disrespectful for customers to be slovenly winos and treat the valley like a sorority party, it is just as disrespectful to expect potential customers to spend such high funds when they don't have any idea whether your wines are any good. The way I see it is that if you have any faith in your product, you will realize that people will just have to buy it once they taste it.
Having said all this, many wineries do comp the tasting with purchase, but often the purchase requirement is pretty large (half a case or hundreds of dollars). There are, surprisingly, still some wineries in Napa Valley that don't charge tasting fees, though they are scarce. If I recall, Heitz Cellar and GustavoThrace (co-owned by Gustavo Brambila, who was represented in the movie "Bottleshock") are two that didn't have a tasting fee last I checked. Frank Family was another free one with pretty good wines, but I notice they recently started charging $5. I believe that's the same story at V. Sattui. As for Franciscan, they currently charge $15 tasting fee, but they are one of many wineries that are part of the Napa Neighbors program, which often means complimentary wine tasting for locals. It's a great program and it ensures that I visit those wineries first and foremost on my list -- and often end up buying their wines, so they are making out better than the people who refuse to be part of the Napa Neighbors. Still, this doesn't make me any less peeved about the excessive tasting fees, on principle alone.