HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


Bottle shock

Was recently in Napa/Sonoma for 5 day tasting/eating trip. Finally made it to Chateau Montelena after wanting to for many years. Word of advice, beware the bottle shock. There tasting room charges 20 dollars for 5 pours of 20-50 dollar wines and a snif of there 135 dollar estate cab. Seriously....Ohh and if you buy more then 100 dollars per person they will wave the 20 dollar fee. What happened to buy a bottle and wave the fee? What happened to reasonable tasting fees in general. Other similarly vaulted and critically acclaimed vintners dont charge as much or if they do they include a food and wine pairing or a teaching/sommelier type session.
Yes I know there are some out there that charge upwards of 50 dollars and I dont even want to get started on that topic. I just expected alot more from CM as I have enjoyed there wines in the past and communicated the pourer that day. Please let me know your opinion on CM and other tasting room issues

On a side note, we found a great italian restaurant off the healdsburg square called Scopa that was just awesome, fresh grilled squid, sardines with breadcrumbs, dungeness crab in swuid inked fettucini, exceptional and reasonable.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. For $20 I would think you would get to go a few rounds with the winemaker in the boxing ring.

    1. Unfortunately, I don't think $20 is unusual.

      1. Personally, I would only go to the Sonoma area these days for wine tastings unless you must visit certain cult Napa wineries. The $20 fee often pays for the nice tasting room facilities and the logo glasses you keep but never use. It doesn't help the wine in the glass.

        Luckily we live close enough to make day trips out of Sonoma.

        1. Last I went tasting in August, I remember hearing something about wineries no longer being allowed to offer free tastings or walk-in appointments. I suppose they could have charged you less and I don't know the details about the new regulations, but maybe someone else does?

          12 Replies
          1. re: adrienne156

            Defintely not true. Lots of wineries have free tastings and most you can just show up any time during tasting room hours.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Well, then I guess the guys at Honig (although that is Napa county) were lying to me when they said that there was a new regulation re: appointments...

              1. re: adrienne156

                I ran into a weird thing outside of Healdsburg at Acorn where apparently a local zoning ordinance required them to hold tastings by appointment only, nothing about them having to charge a fee.

                1. re: PolarBear

                  There are some new regs in certain areas , I havent paid much attention. Neighbors are complaining about the traffic and drunks on the country roads.
                  Twenty is a bit high for Sonoma , I think overall Napa higher , but we are catching up.

                2. re: adrienne156

                  Maybe some local regulation because they're off the main drag. There are lots of wineries nearby on 29 that are open without appointments.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    In the weekly local the other day there was an article about limiting individual operations to X number of events a year......weddings , concerts , wine club events etc. I know the wine tasting rooms in Healdsburg must charge a fee , by law, although most deduct on purchase. There used to be ,maybe still, state laws on dispensing free booze at events.

                    1. re: celeryroot

                      Local laws sometimes limit the number of visitors to tasting rooms to limit traffic and noise, particularly in residential areas. State law does not require tasting rooms to charge:

                      "Rule 53 defines a 'winetasting' as the presentation of samples of one or more wines, representing one or more wineries or industry labels, to a group of consumers for the purposes of acquainting the tasters with the characteristics of the wine or wines tasted. This type of tasting generally occurs at a winegrower's place of production or an off-site tasting room operated by and for the winegrower. A winery may sell or give away these samples or tastes of its wine products."


                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I believe it maybe a local Healdsburg law. The winetasting rooms are essentually wine stores in town .I think there are now about 10 within walking distance of the Plaza. They refer to them as winetasting rooms , some are 1 winery others have numerous . I suspect it has gotten a bit out of hand as it seems a new one opens every month. If you buy most deduct the tasting price from the wine cost.
                        Robert , didnt that law have some restrictions as to how many "winetastings" one could have.

                        1. re: celeryroot

                          If they sell various wineries' wines, then they probably are licensed as wine shops (type 20, off-sale beer and wine), since a winegrower liicense (type 2) allows tasting and sale only of wines produced by or for the winery. There are two exceptions I know of, the Family Wineries rooms in Dry Creek and Kenwood, in which each winery has its own little booth.

                          I believe wine shops have to charge at least a nominal fee for tastings.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I think it is Wilson that also has a couple booths .
                            Within the last 2 weeks , and I forget which winery , were told they could only have 22 events a year. The locals complained about traffic and noise.
                            I think a winery can lose their license if they allow other alcohol to be consumed on the premises. Which then leads me to believe there are numerous licenses available ...wedding and catered events by private individuals who lease the property,

                            1. re: celeryroot

                              Yes there are many restrictions and they vary by municipality. I do know that at Montelena their lisence only allows you to bring in montelena wine if you are having a party or event there. Otherwise they must supply any wines (for an event you might want a sparkling wine which they would have to provide and do not make). I know some of the Napa Valley wineries you are required to have an "appointment". This can consist of you calling them from the parking lot and arriving in "five minutes". Other wineries are allowed to cater to walkups. Only two wineries are allowed to sell food in Napa Valley, V. Satui and Domaine Chandon (both got grandfathered in before the restrictions).

                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Those "booth" facilities have a shared premise license. I've visited several healsburg tasting rooms a couple weeks ago
                              within blocks of the plaza that do not charge for tasting.

                              The newest crackdown is limiting food samples except at licensed food facility. Not even a cracker for a palate cleanser unless it's wrapped for individual servings.

              2. Scopa has become our favorite place around Healdsburg, very reasonable indeed for the quality and quantity of foods with very good service, and friendly informal ambience (which helps because the seating is very close). we brought a ten year old Barbaresco in for our meal and the server looked at the bottle carefully before bringing out exactly the right type of glasses.

                For a tasting room experience very different than Montelena, try Preston just outside Geyserville, an organic farm which sells delicious produce in front of the tasting room and top notch sourdough loaves--about six or seven good pours and I can't even recall if the fee was $5 or ten because I never leave without fewer than six ass't bottles.

                1. I think that many -- not all -- California wineries have gotten way too full of themselves. Their wine for the most part is just not all that good relative to their price point. You can get wine that's just as good if not better from Europe, Australia, South America and South Africa. Plus a lot of California wine is just plain boring. I've cut down my wine intake quite a bit and I drink more beer now. Beer has a broader flavor profile anyway and is a superior match for a lot of ethnic foods.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: chuckl

                    There are a lot of boring wines made in California, but there are also wineries making other styles.Typically those wineries are off the main tourist paths and tastings are free. I had a $9 Sonoma Pinot Noir last night that in a blind tasting could have passed for a Burgundy.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      RL -- Which $9 Sonoma Pinot???

                      As for charging for tasting, who said the Napa Valley, or anyone else, had to give their wines away to anyone who drops in?

                      Education and marketing are all well and good, but operating a tasting room costs a lot of money, though it can make a lot of money, too, if run right.

                      Many wineries' permits (in Napa County) have restrictions on the number and kind of visitors and to control the numbers of visitors, appointments are required. There are problems with tourist traffic (I know, I live here) and right now some wineries are fighting to loosen restrictions so they can become special event centers and hold weddings to make more money...frankly we might have too many wineries in close proximity and the competition amongst them in this economy is creating issues for them.

                      The next time you get stuck at one of the traffic lights in St. Helena, remember that they were put in so local traffic could get across Main St.

                      1. re: MRMoggie

                        Windy Hill 2003 at Wine Mine in Oakland.

                        For wine tasting, I avoid Napa in favor of Dry Creek, Anderson Valley, and the Santa Cruz mountains.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          "For wine tasting, I avoid Napa in favor of ...Anderson Valley, and the Santa Cruz mountains."

                          Sounds like a wise pinot fan to me... =D

                          1. re: Cary

                            That's not particularly because of pinot.

                            Clarksburg is good, too, and you can hit the taco truck on the way home.

                    2. re: chuckl

                      Many beers cost more than wine especially those aged in wood casks for an extended period of time. Most people think of Budweiser as beer and don't know of the range of flavors that great beer offers. Fortunately California has a lot of great breweries including Moonlight, North Coast and the Lost Abbey not to mention those outside of California like Ommegang and Unibroue. And don't go to Bevmo. They store their beer horribly so it tastes horrible. Most Whole Foods have the same price and go through an amazing amount of beer. It's like night and day. City Beer is expensive but have quite a few unique bottles.

                      1. re: 12172003

                        I don't know about "most people think of budweiser as beer"... certainly not around here ...

                        Our winner at a "christmas in belgium" party was Gouden Carollus Christmas. Rich, dark, chocolate, just the right amount of fruit. The party was stocked almost entirely through Whole Food, and we had plenty fine beers.

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          If you're into Belgian Christmas beers, get to The Trappist this week:


                        2. re: 12172003

                          Except for Moonlight, which doesn't bottle their beer, none of the brews you mention cost more than $20 for a 750ml bottle. Ommegang and Unibroue in particular are very reasonably priced at around $10-11 or less. The most expensive beer I've seen at Whole Foods (which I agree has a great selection at reasonable prices, particularly on 4th street), was Mayfield, which cost around $42. Most of the others are much, much less. A magnum of the excellent Anchor Christmas Ale will set you back about $15. You can also get good bottles of great Belgian beer, like Houblon La Chouffe, for well under $20. Another good place to shop for beer is Healthy Spirits on Castro

                          1. re: chuckl

                            Btw, that beer you are drinking probably cost about 10 cents to make (not including the bottle). I talked to someone at a brewpub a few years ago and beer costs were on the order of pennies/pint. Fine wine is far more expensive to produce. many producers get only 60 cases/ton of grapes. At $2K/ton that is over $2/bottle and you haven't even aged the wine yet (i.e. sat on it for a year or more). The cycle for fine beers can be as little as 2 weeks or up to 6 months for the more esoteric ones (most come in at less than a month). So while wine is probably overpriced there is a reason it costs more than beer, in the artisan ways it is produced wine is far more expensive to produce than beer.

                      2. I personally don't have any issues with wineries in Napa or Sonoma (or anywhere else for that matter) charging the general public for tastings. I enjoyed some of the wines at Montelena and most other places will waive the tasting fee if you walk out with some wine. What I did notice were a LOT of tourists (*ahem*, even industry people) getting drunk and then leaving without buying anything. And I suppose there is nothing wrong with that if they send out the "free marketing" thing, but how the hell can anyone objectively evaluate wine when you are gulping down the juice? And trust me, I wanted to, many, many times....

                        In addition, rather unfortunately for a variety of economic reasons, the Californian wine industry is in a bit of doo-doo at the moment.


                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                          I think my main issue with Montelena was that for 20 dollars, other places(Carter free if only one bottle is purchased), or Jordan (includes food pairing with jamon iberico and wonderful cheeses) offer much more for the same or less price. It is just dissapointing in general as most places in that end of the valley(calistoga) arent quite as tourist filled and my prior experiences have been of reasonable and enjoyable tastings that didnt leave me with a bad taste or feeling ripped off.

                        2. This is the way it was explained to me at a winery in Napa (I think it was Goth); wineries established before a certain year are allowed visitors without reservations. Wineries established after that year (sorry, I can't remember which year) must have a reservation policy. The impetus for this law was to keep the locals happy by limiting the number of tourists to the area. In other words, the older wineries are "grandfathered" an exception to the new law.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Harpaste

                            Any such reservation policy must be a local law.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston


                              local use permits place limits on amount of production, ability to operate a tasting room, events per year, open to general public or appt only, etc.

                            2. re: Harpaste

                              Duh to me...that should be Groth Vineyards. I believe Goth vineyards is in Eastern Germany where tastings are free if you're wearing black eye-liner and fish net stockings. Sorry for the error.

                            3. So ... this wasn't one of those wineries where you can pick up a free wine tasting coupon at the Sonoma Vistors Center, eh?

                              Don't feel too bad. To do a tasting of five teas ... and I don't mean Texas tea ... five Chinese teas would run $35 in Berkeley ... actually if it were five special teas it would be $75 ... and no fees would be waved if buying the tea