2×1=200

It’s sobering when you stop and think that two people visiting Napa Valley for a day of wine tasting can rack up a bill of $200 if they visit four wineries @ $25 a tasting. Honestly, that’s ridiculous.

I found an interesting piece in the Chronicle this weekend that was frustrating for my wife and I as we contemplated our place in it. It visits the idea that Napa Valley caters to those who can afford it, and if you want a personal experience, like a ‘private VIP artisan cheese and wine experience’, it’s going to cost you.

One of the wineries profiled by Stacey Finz in her article was Darioush. The idea that they ‘cater to people who spend 500 to 700 a night for a room’ wasn’t always a signature of the winery. There’s a different Darioush that I remember.

A few years ago, as you piloted your car down the dirt road littered with construction equipment, you pulled up on what was the Darioush winery tasting room, a double-wide trailer. It had a nice paint scheme and lots of vegetation that hid it’s cheap siding. Upon entering you were greeted with warm smiles, and CAD drawings of the glorious winery building soon to be. A small group of customers gathered around the six foot long wood counter, or ‘tasting bar’, munching on a couple small dishes filled with pistachios, while sampling the current flight of wine. The staff was friendly and, most importantly, passionate about the wines they were pouring. Obviously they weren’t relying on the grandeur of the building to woo you into making a purchase. It was always about the wine, and providing you with an enjoyable experience.

Sometimes you were treated by Bernard, the then president of Darioush, to a little extra taste of something special; a sample of his own salad dressing, maybe a sip of the desert wine that wasn’t being served, sometimes even a barrel sample of a soon to be released varietal. He was so passionate about the project and personally interested in the modest amount of visitors that came in, he was willing to take time out of his busy day to talk to you. Slowly, more people started showing up, as word of mouth spread between wine lovers. There was good wine and personal attention for you at Darioush, all included in the small tasting fee. It felt like a Napa Valley that once was.

Things have changed, and now Darioush is just like any other well known winery in the area, catering to the large tour bus visitors, offering wine and cheese sit downs for $65 a person. It’s still a friendly staff, but one that no longer has time to provide much personal attention or small perks unless you’re willing to pay for it. The now president of Darioush, Dan de Polo, remarks toward the end of the article that “It’s the golden age to be a wine enthusiast.”

Is it really? Have I missed something? Spending a ridiculous amount of money to sip wine in crowded tasting rooms while receiving drone like attention is not my idea of a golden age. The golden age of Napa already happened, and some saw it briefly again inside a double-wide trailor.