Lessons from Temecula

In Temecula, we learned the difference between a winery and a tasting room. Temecula is filled with tasting rooms, but we couldn’t find a single winery even though people were making wine everywhere. Let me explain.

Temecula is one of California’s B-list wine regions. It’s not Napa or Sonoma or Paso Robles … it’s Temecula (pronounced like Dracula). It’s filled with too-nice tasting rooms and too-expensive wine, but it seems to thrive … on the tasting room trade. For whatever reason, wine tasting has become the baby-boomer’s bar crawl. They head from winery to winery discussing aromas and flavors and paying whatever price the tasting room asks to sip 1-ounce pours and grow steadily more intoxicated over the course of an afternoon. Maybe they buy a bottle or two. The quality of wine doesn’t actually matter — these customers just want to try new stuff, feel sophisticated, and get a little drunk. It’s too bad that the tasting room demand is so great, because it makes finding good wine very difficult.

When the incentives skew towards the tasting room, the goal of the “winery” is no longer to make good wine, it’s to have a profitable tasting room. One spot advertised 5 tastes for $15. A winery we went to charged $10 for 6 tastes. These prices are insane for the stingy pours and low quality of wine. But the tasting rooms are amazing — huge Chateau-style buildings costing millions of dollars to construct. The investment of the business goes towards eye-catching tasting rooms instead of going towards quality wine production. Oddly, it’s more expensive to taste wine in Temecula than in Sonoma or Napa, and that doesn’t make any sense at all … until you look at the prices of Temecula wine, which are insane.

I don’t think anybody actually buys Temecula wine by the bottle (they’re expensive and mediocre), so the tasting room operators need to jack up the retail price of the wines to justify these higher tasting fees … which is where the money seems to be. Still theorizing, I think they need to inflate the price of their wines to make them seem premium even though they’re largely mediocre. They’re dealing with largely uneducated customers (I think) that judge wine based on price alone (and Robert Parker score, probably). Readers of this blog know that good wine can be found for $5 a bottle in California, but at Frangipani Estate Winery, we were served a flawed wine priced at $30 a bottle. It was a brick-colored Cab from 2007. It was brick-colored because it was as oxidized as a 20-year-old wine. It tasted like Sherry. There’s no reason for this wine to retail for $30. And there’s no reason to allow a potential customer to taste it — it shouldn’t be for sale.

We’re not fans of Temecula, but let’s let the baby-boomers have it so that maybe we can save Sonoma from the same fate.

It looks like a real winery...
It looks like a real winery...

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