At the risk of sounding like an old-timer lamenting past golden days (wait – I AM an old-timer, I’ve been in the wine industry for over 30 years now), in my humble opinion the Wine Road Barrel Tasting event has gone seriously wrong. It’s a lot like when you have an annual house party, where it starts out small and fun and gets bigger every year, until there’s some drunk guy you don’t know passed out in your favorite chair and people are drinking fifths of vodka on your roof. Seriously.

Back in the day, Barrel Tasting was held on one weekend by a handful of wineries and it was free. Free, as in, “bring your own glass and we will share some delicious barrel samples with you, you can meet our winemaker and you can buy futures.” It was fun and educational. People really wanted to know about the wines and the winery and they usually bought a LOT of wine.

These days, Barrel Tasting takes place over two weekends and tickets cost anywhere from $10 for designated drivers to $60 for the weekend. It has turned into what I call “Wine Spring Break.” And they are not buying a lot of wine. Winery staffers are becoming so overwhelmed by the wine-glugging masses that they cannot effectively sell wine. It’s more of trying to just keep up, keep wine in the glasses and cutting off the drunks, which is always uncomfortable and can lead to bad Yelp and Tripadvisor reviews.

Here’s an excerpt from The Santa Rosa Press Democrat on Saturday, March 5, 2016 – “Rebecca Pearcy of Austin, Texas, arrived in Healdsburg Saturday morning prepared for a long day on the Wine Road.?The native of England and owner of a nanny service wasn’t going to let a little thing like a powerful winter storm put a damper on her 30th birthday celebration in Wine Country. She was armed with a big bottle of water, a powerful thirst for Sonoma County wines, and perhaps most importantly, a designated driver. We’re going to get wasted!” said Pearcy after she and friends posed on the huge Adirondack chair outside the Holdredge Wines tasting room on Front Street.”

This “we’re going to get wasted” mentality is pervasive and very difficult to deal with. Even though the Wine Road clearly states that buses are not allowed at these events, buses regularly show up and belch their drunken contents of wine-glugging masses, overwhelming already overburdened winery staff. Last year, a group of young men actually tore the urinal off the wall at Trione Winery during this event.

I’ll be blunt – this sucks. Yes, it’s great for the local economy, but the wineries, restaurants and lodgings all have to deal with the drunks at the end of the day, not to mention those without designated drivers careening down our winding country roads. It’s dangerous.

I’m not alone in my views here. This year, over 30% of the wineries in the Wine Road Association are not participating in this event and I predict that number will only go up.