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  • Tasting Fee

Hunter Valley Tasting Fees

A tasting fee has been a widely discussed and often controversial topic for many years in the Hunter Valley. There are a few places around the world where tasting fees are common (the US for one) however traditionally in The Hunter Valley as well as many historical wine regions around the world such as Europe,  a tasting fees are not common. Now however, especially due to number restrictions due to Covid-19, Hunter Valley Wine Tours usually include a tasting fee.


So why do cellar doors charge tasting fee?

Well, there are a few reasons, as far as I can tell.



1. People Are Not Buying

Tasting FeeEnough people come into their cellar door to taste wine with no intention of buying any. In which case, staff put in the time, effort and expense to present their wines only to have done it all for nothing. Wine costs money, as do the wages of cellar door staff. People forget that it is a business at the end of the day.


Charging for tastings in this case is certainly justified. Particularly with party groups whose objective is to simply go from cellar door to cellar door, drinking as much as they can and buy almost nothing. 


So what are their options?


At a lot of places in the Hunter Valley, a $5 tasting fee has been advertised for many years however most of the time not enforced. This is because it’s enough to discourage anyone just after a free drink. And even then, the $5 fee was redeemable upon any purchases.


But in my experience, all the groups I have taken to the The Hunter Valley (well, at least 99% of them) have not been in this category. They all have, for the most part, had an interest in wine and genuinely interested in buying wine if they find ones they like. Saying that, we don’t really do party tours. We promote and offer Hunter Valley wine tasting tours.  Our tours usually only include 2 vineyards, as we include other activities to make the day more diverse and interesting. So for anyone interested in buying wine, limiting the vineyards to 2 means sales tend to be better than if we were to take a group to 4 or 5 as the majority of our guests wouldn’t but wine from every stop.


There are a couple of places whose location means they get a lot of foot traffic and so perhaps receive more visitors who are less interested in wine however, when in Rome… It’s also justifies tasting fees in this case. Or at least, advertise it and go by a case by case bases. You can quickly tell who’s just there for a free drink.


2. The Wine Isn’t Selling

Tasting FeeEven people genuinely interested in buying wine are not buying. Why? Well it’s usually because they don’t like the wine,  the wine is of poor quality or the wine is simply over priced.


As a tour operator, we soon work out which vineyards are able to sell wine and which are not. And it’s fairly consistent. And we quickly work out who simply can’t produce good wine. At least wine that people want to buy. So we stop taking our guests there. As at the end of the day, we want our guests to enjoy their day so if we find that vineyards are not producing wines they enjoy, then we’d prefer to take them somewhere where they will enjoy them. 


If you wine can’t be sold, it won’t be sold. So the only way to make money or at least, recoup tasting costs is to charge for tastings. This is a sore point for tour operators and wine tasters alike. If you bring a horse to water and the water is polluted, of course it won’t drink. So why charge the horse to drink polluted water? Instead, you should provide better water. Ok, that’s enough about horses and water.


In Summary


It looks like tasting fees are here to stay in the Hunter Valley, which in many cases is disappointing. However there are still a number of cellar doors that don’t charge and they are doing very well (Gemelli Estate for one!). And they should be supported as much as possible. In my view, they are the purists, have wonderful wine, a passion for their product, happy to give their visitors their time to share their product and they always sell well on my tours. Visit them with us by booking here.

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