So it appears that the annual Wine Road Barrel Tasting in Sonoma may be uncorking a little too much rowdiness for the town in the center of it all! Healdsburg merchants are complaining that younger imbibers are getting carried away, transforming the event into a “frat party,” and even a “beer blaster.”
“There’s incredible drunkenness,” Anne Marie Montecuollo, owner of a fine jewelry store, told the City Council Monday.
On back-to-back weekends the first part of this month, merchants said they witnessed participants stagger from one tasting room to another, hanging on benches and even getting sick from too much alcohol.
“The kids are out of control, what can you say,” added Sue Sacks, owner of Options Gallery, a gift, clothing and jewelry store.
Besides a generational gap between the younger, generally more intoxicated crowds and the more mature, discriminating wine drinkers, there also is an element of concern that the Barrel Tasting is one more thing that’s transforming Healdsburg — and not for the better. The merchants say they don’t want to put an end to Barrel Tasting, which just marked its 34th year and drew an estimated 20,000 people to more than 140 wineries, mostly in the Healdsburg area.
“I think we can fix it, regulate it, before it gets out of hand,” said Sacks, who said other merchants share her sentiments, but “are reluctant to get up and tell everybody.”
The two-weekend affair provides a chance for ticket buyers to try unfinished wines still in the barrel, in most cases months before they’re bottled and even longer before they are released. Most wineries also sell “futures,” allowing tasters to stake a claim to wines they can pick up later, often at discounted prices. Criticizing an event that brings people and business to the epicenter of Wine Country is a delicate topic for merchants who don’t want to seem like prohibitionists, or too rigid.
I wasn’t there, so I can’t speak on a first-hand basis, however I CAN speak from the experience of serving alcohol to people for the majority of my life.
It always seems like the customer is the first person to be blamed in these situations. I’m actually surprised that there weren’t MORE problems with what is essentially a “$40 all-you-can-drink wine tasting” and a crowd of 20,000 people! I, myself, had problems with drunken wine tasting crowds of 20 (and most were over 40 years of age).
Cutting someone off from alcohol is extremely difficult, but that’s what I’m guessing needs to happen a little more at the next Wine Road Barrel Tasting. I also think that if they look a little deeper, they’ll find that it isn’t just the younger drinks that are causing the problems…
When all is said and done, the event sounds like a blast! I think I’ll try and get myself there next year…although I may have to leave my “wine helmet” at home.