experiences

Wine Tasting for Free in Napa Valley

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I’ve written before about wine club membership being the equivalent of elite status. But the savings of being a wine club member were really hammered home on my most recent trip to Napa. The last several years I’ve mostly gone to wineries where someone in the party was a wine club member. So I somehow missed out on the fact that tasting fees were creeping up to $40+ per person at many Napa wineries!

GrGich Hills Estate Wine Club Membership

My dad and I had planned to branch out and try some new wineries that had been recommended, but when I looked into it, they all required advance reservations and came with a fee of $50. Yikes! So instead we went with my favorites, and didn’t spend a penny on tasting fees.

Our first stop was at Grgich Hills Estate. I’m no longer a wine club member, but they often include a free tasting for two if you print out the email newsletter or bring in a tab from a previous wine club shipment. We shared a reserve tasting ($30) but could have both done the regular tasting ($20) for free if we’d wanted.

The next stop was at my beloved Freemark Abbey. As a wine club member you not only get free tickets to their incredible wine release parties and free tastings, but you can also schedule a seated Cabernet Reserve Tasting for up to 4 people and have the fee waived. Although at only $30 per person, it’s still a good deal.

Freemark Abbey Cab Comparison April

We had a blast — we were the only ones in the club tasting room and had the full attention of both employees. It was a great way to sample four different cabernets from 2009 and 2010 and compare vintages as well as growing regions. They also take you off the menu, bringing over other wines they you think might enjoy trying.

Romeo Calistoga Outdoor TastingThey recommended we check out Romeo, a new winery in downtown Calistoga which offered outdoor tastings and amazing brick oven pizza. The tasting room had only been open for a few weeks and the oven wasn’t in operation yet, but the wine was great — which was the most important thing. My dad joined the wine club (your choice of 6 bottles twice a year) and our $20 tasting fees were waived.

I was starting to feel tired, so we decided to stop at only one more winery before heading to the Andaz Napa. And my choice for that is usually Mumm! They have a terrific outdoor patio and with my membership up to 4 people can each get a flight of sparkling wines which are priced $18-20 each.

And they have a separate line for wine club members, so even when you show up on a crowded afternoon, the wait to be seated is almost non existent. Dad and I picked different flights so we can taste a wider variety and our server Paul, also stopped by with complimentary pours of the pricey Santana Brut.

Mumm Napa Tasting Patio

Mumm Sparkling Wine flights patio

Over the course of the afternoon we had $170 worth of wine tasting fees waived which is a pretty big savings. That said, the savings is relative. Wine club membership isn’t cheap. It varies by winery whether you have to buy a case all at once or receive quarterly or bi annual shipments, but you’re probably looking a minimum investment of $250 a year per winery and usually more.

If you’ll only be visiting the winery one time a year or less, it’s not worth it for any reason other than the wine. If you will be there a couple of times a year then it can not only wind up saving you a lot of money with waived tasting fees and discounts on wine purchases,  but it can also give you access to special experiences as well!

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3 Comments

  1. Brad

    April 15, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    I think the only real connection between the wine club and elite status is that they both try to convince you that you haven’t paid for the perks. As a Sonoma resident (and frequent traveler), I’ve found that many wines can be found at wine shops and groceries throughout the valleys (as well as online) at a cheaper price than at the winery. Therefore, the only real benefit of a wine club membership is to access to any “exclusive or limited production” wines they may only sell to members. Even if you don’t live in the area, many good retailers in CA ship to your state and offer free shipping on case quantities sometimes as well. Glad you enjoyed your trip to the area. 🙂

  2. Jasmine

    April 16, 2014 at 3:14 am

    Last year we spent a day each in Dry Creek, Russian River, and Napa. We only paid for 4 out of 20 tastings. How? We are considered “industry” because we are servers in New York. Not only that, we received VIP tastings at quite a few of the wineries. We did not go to the mainstream, “party” wineries. We stayed mainly off the beaten track, and visited smaller family run places. It was a blast!

  3. Tiff

    April 16, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Vincent Arroyo in Calistoga have tastings by appointment only. If your party is 4 people or less they are complimentary. A lot of times it’s no problem to call the day-of to schedule a tasting.

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