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Sonoma wine tasting rooms on the rise

The average price of a wine tasting in Sonoma County is up 44%, according to a new study on Sonoma wine tasting room prices before and after the lockdown.

On March 19, 2020, before the lockdown, the average price of an entry-level, Sonoma wine tasting was $25.75. But since the lockdown ended on June 15, 2021, the average price of an entry-level wine tasting in Sonoma County has crept up to $37.

Tasting room prices were up the most in Healdsburg (+74%), followed by Santa Rosa wineries (+70%), City of Sonoma wine tasting rooms (+33%), wineries in Glen Ellen (+14%) and Sebastopol wineries (+20%). In Geyserville – which is the furthest city from San Francisco and the East Bay – wine tasting prices were actually down (-12%).

Wine tasting prices are moderate, so the actual increases are nominal and probably more a result of increased labor, material and transportation costs. Nevertheless, before the lockdown, the price of an entry-level wine tasting ranged from $10 to $125 with most Sonoma wineries (44%) charging $15 to $20. Currently, the average price of a wine tasting ranges from $10 to $175, with most Sonoma wineries (32%) charging $25 to $30.

Pandemic Impacts Price and Protocol

To adhere to social distancing mandates and manage staffing requirements against visitor demand, 85% of Sonoma wine tasting rooms now promote their wine tastings as appointment only. In fact, the largest share of Sonoma County wine tasting rooms that still accommodate walk-ins – post lockdown – are in Glen Ellen, with 7 out of 17 (44%) of tasting rooms welcoming guests without reservations, and in the City of Sonoma, with 11 out of 37 (30%) courting walk-ins.

Only 5% of the Geyserville wine tasting rooms we surveyed currently accept walk-ins. In Sebastopol, 11% of Healdsburg wine tasting rooms accept guests without reservations. And in Santa Rosa, only 20% tasting rooms promote themselves as accommodating walk-in guests. In reality, no one wants to turn away a customer, and many wineries will make last minute accommodations. But they certainly aren’t promoting themselves that way, at least not online.

For small Sonoma wineries – many of which have no retail distribution and rely on their wine tasting rooms to acquire wine club members – the lockdown was an existential crisis. To stay afloat, many Sonoma wineries were forced to pivot to ecommerce and Zoom enabled virtual wine tastings almost overnight.

The report also has average pricing by city, market and local wine tasting room profiles, histograms, bar charts and maps. Sonoma Gazette readers can download the Sonoma Wine Tasting Report for free.

Inflation in the wine business has a durability that is unique to the hospitality sector. Unlike restaurants and hotels, which can change their prices easily, winemaking costs are frontloaded. Because of the aging process, wines made this year won’t be sold for years in the future. So regardless of what happens with future prices, current labor and transportation costs are carried forward as part of the cost of goods sold.

To preserve public health and offset the risk of overloading hospitals as a result of the pandemic, on March 19, 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed a stay-at-home order that lasted 453 days and came to be known as the “lockdown.” During that period, California travel and tourism spending dropped 53% from $144.8B in 2019 to $68.4B in 2020, according to Visit California, a nonprofit that promotes Golden State tourism. The lockdown mandate was lifted on June 15, 2021.

Eric Schwartzman is Editor of the Sonoma Wine Tasting Blog.

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