While the first of two Wine Road Barrel-Tasting weekends was fun for thousands of wine lovers, the event was not without problem revelers.
Twice on Saturday, limo buses were escorted out of wineries by CHP officers because the groups had drunk too much, according to executive director Beth Costa.
"Two wineries called to let us know they needed help," Costa said, noting that arrangements had been made in advance to pay for three officers to be on call. "I called the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and they let the drivers know the groups had too much to drink and they needed to gather up the tasters and leave the wineries."
Costa would not disclose the names of the wineries, but said one was in Alexander Valley and the other in Dry Creek Valley.
"The drivers had no problem when they gathered up the groups to leave," Costa said. "I think the tasters realized they were inappropriate when someone called them on it."
Several vintners noticed a dramatic shift in the age of tasters last weekend, with a surge of young people particularly on Saturday. At Healdsburg's Armida Winery, the age group was 21 to 30, with the majority in the 21 to 25 range, according to co-vintner Bruce Cousins. He said the influx of tasters there was daunting — 1,000, compared to 500 to 600 last year.
He lost business because serious wine buyers didn't have the patience for the traffic, he added.
"People think &‘Oh my God,' and they turn around and keep going. So they (the young crowd) kind of scare business away," he said. "In the past I've said .<TH>.<TH>. these tasters are our future customers and we need to take care of them and service them. But there's just too many of them. You just can't do it."
Costa said that last Saturday's incidents won't prompt any changes.
"We've reiterated to our wineries that they should notify us if there's a problem," she said. "We don't want them to be in an awkward situation. That's what we have the CHP for."
There are 144 wineries participating in the event and about 70 welcome limos and buses, Costa said.
Ridge Vineyards in Healdsburg falls into that category, but it is proactive when it comes to excessive drinking.
Sandy Johnson of Ridge noticed the upswing of youthful visitors on Saturday and said the staff refused to serve a few of them.
"It seemed like a lot of younger people on that day, more than in the past," she said. "There were lots of buses, lots of limos, but there was no juicy stuff (here). No one likes an altercation."
Organizers of the Wine Road budgeted $6,000 for three additional CHP officers to help patrol Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River valleys during the event to deal with these kinds of problems, Costa said.
"We want the event to be safe for everyone and people need to taste responsibly," she said. "It's not insulting to use a dump bucket and wineries need to educate tasters about dumping excess wine."
Armida's Cousins knows the value of dump buckets during barrel tasting. He said he had to cut off a few young tasters Saturday who had over-indulged. He also said he spotted some tipsy tasters carrying some suspicious-looking glassware.