Fresh off the Vine
By James Knight
So, why don't we get a better deal on wine purchased at the winery? It's a naive question, but it's springtime and we're awash in freshness, so let's ask it. After all, if the wine is made, bottled and sold in the very same place, sometimes a few yards from the vineyard, and if we truck ourselves there, pay the freight to take it away, and markup is 100 percent after they sell the bottle to Greedo's Liquor & Spirits Distributors for $16—why am I paying $32?
The answer is as simple and as complicated as why tomatoes cost more at the farmers market. One reason given is that wineries can't "undercut" their distributors, although he who weeps for liquor distributors—who have near monopolies in some states—is truly too sensitive for this cruel world. A better reason is that small, family wineries rely on direct sales to stay in business. OK, what about the biggies owned by beer behemoths who are slinging hundreds of thousands of cases at wholesalers across the nation? Onsite sales are probably funding the operation of the selfsame retail destination. And around we go again.
I thought I'd found the mother lode when I misread a recent advertisement for SuncÚ Winery: 50 percent off for Sonoma County residents. The fine print, they told me, described a holiday promotion on certain wines when patrons donated a toy for tots. What SuncÚ does have are bargain bins that are rotated every month—a reason to stop by regularly. Right now, the best value is a toothsome and tannic 2004 Russian River Valley Merlot for $14. SuncÚ is a casual, locals-friendly spot with a farmstead location just west of Santa Rosa, bocce ball court and picnic tables.
Napa wineries that participate in the Napa Neighbors program offer complimentary tasting for residents, and wine discounts up to a truly neighborly 30 percent. In Sonoma County, an unofficial program is sometimes in effect. Shooting the breeze on a slow afternoon often leads to a waived fee, and for those in the wine-food matrix, a 30 percent discount. Don't assume this, of course; just ask about the fee while reaching purposefully for wallet, because every dollar the tasting room brings in is a reason your new friend has a job.
The truth is, a better deal can often be found at a discounter a few miles further down the road, like Santa Rosa's Bottle Barn. With prices $5 and less than suggested retail, it's hard get excited about that waived tasting fee with purchase under the circumstances.
One afternoon shortly after a regional wine event, I was lined up to check out at Traverso's, the landmark deli that carries a great selection, moderately priced with a sprinkling of bargains, when I was nearly elbowed by a guy who frenziedly dove away from the counter back to the shelves. Unfazed, I could see the out-of-towner was merely in a state of distraction, jealously clutching his rare, precious flasks of Flowers and Radio-Coteau with sweaty palms. I guess if there's any relief for resident wine fans, it's this: We're not him.
SuncÚ Winery, 1839 Olivet Road, Santa Rosa. 707.526.9463. Bottle Bard, 3331 Industrial Drive, Ste. A, Santa Rosa. 707.528.1161.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.