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Wine-Tasting: A Frugal Hobby or Not?

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For Valentine's Day this past weekend my wife and I headed down to wine country - Paso Robles to be exact. Because we have a friend named Justin we found Justin Vineyards a natural place to start. We got there and they asked if we were Passport members. We asked what that was and it seems that 15 vineyards (known as the Far Out Wineries) got together to offer tastings all weekend long for $25 per person with the proceeds going to cancer support the Paso Robles chapter of the Wellness Community (which made $16,960.27 last year). It was a fortunate coincidence that we hadn't planned on as a tasting typically ranges from $5-10 per person.

I keep going back and forth when I think about whether wine tasting is a frugal hobby. On one hand $12.50 a day per person to taste wine (often with great cheeses) in beautiful landscapes that look like they are out of Tuscany is fairly frugal. On the other hand, there is a powerful urge to buy at the wine-tasting. We went Paso Robles fully prepared to restock our wine-reserves, but ended up with a few extra bottles. At an average price of $20 to $25 it does add up. I would perhaps wine-tasting in the "gateway hobby" class. It seems like it may be cheap fun, but before you know it, it can get out of hand.

In evaluating anything financially, it's important to understand the value for a dollar spent. That's where wine-tasting really starts to shine for me. I'm generally a very reserved person, almost never one to initiate a conversation. Perhaps it's a little bit of the wine, but it just seems that people are more friendly during wine tastings. Here are a couple of examples...

  • We spent time at Poalillo Vineyards talking with the wine-maker, now in his 70s. He had a picture of him and his wife from the 1950s that looked like it was out of a Brando film. When someone when to take a picture of it, he stopped her and showed her how to take it from the side so the flash wouldn't produce a glare - "I was a professional photographer for 30 years..." he said. It wasn't said in a bragging way, just a matter of fact like it wasn't anything unusual.
  • While at the same winery, I ran into a couple of Steelers fans who just came back from the Super Bowl. We talked about the Steelers, the Patriots. My wife found comfort in her Italian roots enjoying Dean Martin and talking with the employee of the vineyard.
  • We had a great conversation with Pipestone Vineyards who make their wines "sustainably and organically", plowed with horses on a certified wildlife habitat. Solar-power provides them with all the power they need most year. Sadly my wife liked the one wine of theirs that wasn't grown on the property. I liked a couple of the others, but we couldn't agree on a bottle. Instead, I'll ask you to give them a visit if you are in the area.
  • We talked with the young couple who owns Minassian-Young Vineyards... and go to school 200 miles away in Berkeley five days a week. We had the opportunity to play with their two dogs. My wife and I came away thinking that they are either extremely leveraged or they inherited the winery from a parent.
  • While on the topic of Berkeley, we met a film professor from there. He had the cutest golden retriever we ever did see. The whole winery (including us) stopped to worship this dog. Of course, we had to talk with him about where he got his dog (since we are searching for a dog ourselves) and it turns out that it bred very locally to where we live.

By the end of the day, I realized that wine tasting isn't just about the wine. It's not about the pairing of wine with cheese, chocolate, or even a live band. It's not just about the scenery or having a picnic with someone you love. It is about all of that, but it more. It's about the 20 minutes where you and some total strangers interact almost like you were old friends. It's about the people... and I find that there is great value in that.

Last updated on August 1, 2011.

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13 Responses to “Wine-Tasting: A Frugal Hobby or Not?”

  1. Wine tasting is like many other hobbies in that it can be frugal or expensive depending on how you do it.

    For example running can be very frugal if you just run on your local trail with running shoes you bought on sale and wear old gym clothes. It can be expensive though if you enter a 5k every weekend, buy a GPS enabled personal training device and other gadgets, and purchase special running clothes.

  2. Definitely a gateway hobby! I love wine tastings and I have a tendency to be a bit of a collector. I have a healthy cellar and did not buy any wine in 2008 as part of my plan for getting my finances under control. It’s been tough!

    You are absolutely right about it being about more than the wine. It’s a whole experience with mostly wonderful people. I envy you your ability to head down to wine country for the weekend! The Texas Wine Trail is just not the same!

  3. mfd says:

    My fiance and I attend several of the Niagara wine festivals. We tend to stay over night in the region. The entire weekend costs us about $400 and is well worth it. Each time we do it I go through the same thing and have to resist the urge to buy cases of my favorite wines.

  4. The meeting with strangers and seeing beautiful landscapes sounds great. Definitely a break from the typical.

    But one question: do you actually drink the wine or not? Because, not to sound like a lush, one of the things I enjoy about wine is getting that little bit of a buzz. Without it, it’s not so great for me.

  5. Lazy Man says:

    I didn’t see on person spit out the wine in two days. However, as you can imagine going to that many wineries, there were some tastings where people only took a half sip to get the taste and empty the rest of the glass (basically another mouthful) into the disposal pot.

  6. Josh says:

    I believe it’s Berkeley with 3 Es

  7. Lazy Man says:

    Thanks, my spell checker doesn’t get proper nouns as you might imagine.

  8. I agree with Tight Fisted Miser, wine tasting can be frugal or expensive – that all depends on you. Personally, I’m not a big wine aficionado, so I would find it wasteful to spend the money just to taste wine. However, based on the benefits you mention, I’d say it’s probably worth it. Plus, having a program where you can travel to the different vineyards as a package seems as though it makes the experience more affordable.

    I refer back to something a lot of us pf bloggers talk about, frugal isn’t about being cheap and giving up the pleasures in life. It’s about making smart financial decisions for yourself. If you like wine tastings, then there’s nothing wrong with spending a little money to do so. However, to be considered frugal, that means you may have to spend less in another area.

  9. May I suggest whisky tasting as an alternative. You can get a bunch of bottles for a couple of hundred.
    Others do the same but get different kinds. You get together and make blind tests, etc. Big difference between paying $50 for a 15 yo single malt that lasts for months or years and a $20 bottle of wine that lasts … a day or two?

  10. Lazy Man says:

    I’m not a big fan of whiskey so the enjoyment isn’t there in the final result.

    I haven’t really seen any whiskey tastings that involve the scenery of rolling green hills and sunshine. I also imagine it’s not like meeting a new group of people every 20 minutes.

    We have frugal wine alternatives, so we can stretch a bottle for a couple of weeks. It’s not like you go out to great steakhouse every night… sometimes you have to cook at home.

  11. Su Prieta says:

    Another frugal way to enjoy wine tasting is to have wine tasting parties. I’m on the East Coast so we don’t have wineries with landscapes as beautiful as California, although we do have quite a few in this area i Virginia. But, obviously in the winter time, it is not convenient to go winery-hopping.

    Some friends of mine and I started a wine group about three years ago. And, although activity gets low in the summer, throughout the winter months we meet once a month and bring a themed wine to the host’s house (there’s a different host each month). That way, we only spend between $10 and $25 a month, we still get to taste great wines and we get to see friends, acquaintenances and strangers as there are always new people at the parties every month.

    Just another frugal way to enjoy wine and social gathering.

  12. kosmo @ The Casual Observer says:

    “We have frugal wine alternatives, so we can stretch a bottle for a couple of weeks.”

    If you want to be really frugal, you could stretch a box of wine for a month :)

  13. @Lazy Man – They have them in Scotland ;-) … which is more like rolling hills and bloody cold. BTW, bike riding in the bay area shares many of these qualities.
    As for wine I’m quite partial to the $1.97 Oakleaf available at walmart.

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