September 12, 2007

Local Wineries React to Large Visiting Groups

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Far above Cayuga’s waters, on a weekend afternoon in the fall, a busload of people await to embark on an afternoon full of wine tastings at a number of the Finger Lakes region’s wineries. The scene is the first on a typical wine tour, an activity that has become commonplace as the Finger Lakes region is the second largest wine-producing region in the country, behind Napa Valley in California.
What often occurs at most wine-tastings, however, would make some wine connoisseurs turn their heads. Often times, visitors show little regard for wine tasting etiquette. They ignore the aroma or palate of the Merlot or Chardonnay in their hand while downing the beverage exclusively for its alcoholic content.
In response to the influx of large group wine tours, wineries throughout the Finger Lake Region have made clear attempts within recent months to manage large groups who sometimes make the wineries’ small tasting rooms resemble a Collegetown bar.
In June 2007, more than 50 wineries in the Finger Lakes Region formed the Safe Group Wine Tours Initiative, a coalition that aims to reduce the unruly behavior of large tour groups. The Initiative has established a system that employs the use of yellow and red cards. Yellow cards are given as a warning to a group exhibiting inappropriate behavior, suggesting that the group control itself before visiting the next winery. Red cards result from further unruliness and deny the group access to the remaining wineries on the tour.
According to Barbara Stamp of Lakewood Vineyards, joining the coalition was a direct result of numerous instances where large groups of tasters would arrive unannounced. In some cases, tasters were already intoxicated after having visited other vineyards earlier in the day, Stamp said.
“We are really trying to protect the people who have clearly had too much to drink and stop them before they can drink anymore,” Stamp said.
Barbara Learn, who works at the White Springs Winery, believes that joining the Safe Group Wine Tours program is the best way to manage big groups who have the potential to get rowdy. Since White Springs has joined the coalition, she stated, it has been quite effective in maintaining what she considers to be a respectable atmosphere.
In addition to the Initiative’s warning and dismissal policy, Learn acknowledged that limousine and bus drivers have also made an effort to placate the behavior of large groups of tasters. Often times, Learn explained, visitors purchase bottles of wine at each stop on the tour, which are then consumed during the transportation between vineyards.
However, Learn acknowledged that recently “limousine drivers have been prohibiting drinking in the cars and on the buses, which definitely helps.”
Moreover, many wineries now charge a small fee for tasting in an attempt to discourage visitors who are coming with the sole intent of drinking wine for free. The majority of wineries in the region also require large groups to make reservations prior to their visit.
Jessica Simon ’10 worked at Raphael Vineyards, which is situated on the North Fork of Long Island, another region known for its abundance of wineries.
“We usually encounter large groups of people who are coming from New York City, often on vacation. There aren’t many bars in the area, so they are coming for the day with the sole intention of getting drunk,” Simon said.
In response to the crowds, Raphael Vineyards was forced to enact an appointment-only policy for Saturday tastings.