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.