Are Wineries Neglecting an Important Message?
Midwest wineries generate a lot of revenue through tasting room sales. This business model serves the industry well. Wineries earn a decent margin for their quality local wines and customers receive a genuine tasting room and winery experience.
However, the nature of Midwest wineries presents an inherent risk: The majority of regional wineries cannot be accessed without an automobile. As a result, the vast majority of Midwest winery tasting room visitors are coming and going in their own cars.
No one needs another lecture on drinking and driving, but public safety concerns and the potential liability of alcohol related incidents are too big to ignore, which is what some regional wineries appear to be doing.
Recently, I visited the websites of five large Midwest wineries looking for information about responsible alcohol use. All the Midwest winery websites I visited have significant tasting room sales which involves plenty of on premise wine tasting. To my surprise, none of the winery websites contained any message about drinking and driving or responsible drinking.
Despite the apparent silence of Midwestern wineries, public opinion regarding drunk driving has become more conservative over the past several decades. According to a November 2012 Rasmussen Report study, 46% of respondents say drunken driving penalties are not stiff enough and 39% say penalties are currently adequate.
Just this week, The National Transportation Safety Board released numerous recommendations aimed at reducing drunken driving in the United States. The one recommendation that grabbed the most attention is a proposal to cut the current blood-alcohol-content level threshold nearly in half, from .08 to .05 percent blood alcohol content.
(Ironically, public opinions regarding marijuana use are becoming more tolerant. According to recent CBS Poll, nearly half of respondents think pot should be legal. Driving stoned is as bad as driving drunk, but police cannot administer roadside urine tests, yet.)
For good reason, drunk driving is now a class 1 or class A misdemeanor in all Midwestern states. In Illinois, where I live, a drunk driving conviction results in a minimum one year suspension of driving privileges, a $500 fine and 100 hours of community service. In many professions, a DUI can result in termination and now some professional designations can be automatically revoked for DUI’s.
If drunk driving prevention is such a priority, why don’t Midwest wineries do more to promote designated driver programs? Some wineries do provide free soft drinks to designated drivers but seldom does one see any public notice of this important incentive to have a non-drinker do the driving.
To promote responsible drinking, free wine tastings should become a thing of the past. From both a business or public perception standpoint, there is no longer any logical rationale for free wine tastings. Giving away any product diminishes its value and attracts customers interested in “freebies.”
As wine trails grow and become more popular, it is incumbent on Midwest wineries to promote responsible drinking. Recently, I witnessed a police car sitting directly outside one of the Midwest’s largest wineries. While this practice smacks of police intimidation, there are doubtlessly wine trail area residents who are justifiably concerned about winery customers who might be drinking and driving.
Midwest wineries should explore anti drunk driving programs that are working in other areas. Since 1996, a designated driver service called “Cruise Control” has been operating in Windsor, Ontario. According to the Cruise Control website, “when a customer has been out for the evening consuming alcohol and considers him/herself to be over the legal limit they can call Cruise Control. A car with two uniformed drivers is radio dispatched to the location in 20 minutes or less. One driver will go with the customer and drive the customer’s vehicle home while the Cruise Control vehicle will follow.” The cost of Cruise Control is generally $5-$7 more than a comparable cab ride.
Wineries with concert facilities need to be especially diligent. Outdoor event patrons can sneak alcohol into events if not properly monitored. Paying security personnel to walk the crowd during concerts and outdoor events is a good policy. Having security personnel provides reassurance to guests that winery events are safe and not a place for rowdy behavior. Most concert venues and professional sports teams now check ticket holder’s bags as they enter venues, so your guests will not be offended.
After visiting hundreds of Midwest winery tasting rooms and events over the past ten years, I have only seen a few overserved people. The vast majority of winery visitors are responsible and law-abiding. However, it only takes one newsworthy incident to turn public opinion negative. If your winery does not have a visible, public policy regarding responsible drinking, please consider adding one now.
Good points, Mark. I’d love to hear what other wineries are doing for their DD programs. We can offer free pop and water but is that enough of an incentive?
Mark, I agree with your article about responsible wine drinking and drinking and driving do not mix and promoting the DD. in Ohio all of the tastings in wineries are required by law to charge for the tastings. There are no FREE tastings in our state. Hanging a DD can never be promoted enough to keep everyone safe and to ensure the customers safe repeat business.
Thanks, it’s good to hear that Ohio has sensible regulations to help wineries and promote public safety. Some wineries deduct the tasting free from purchases which makes sense too.
I’ve always thought it would be helpful if a winery or bar had a prominent display with the phone number of a local taxi or limo service – perhaps with a discount if the winery can come to an arrangement with the carrier.
Good idea, however some Midwest wineries are beyond cab or limo range.
While visiting the Hermann Wine Trail last summer, the wineries sponsored a shuttle service that came to every winery fairly often. (Every 30 minutes or so, if I recall correctly.) Shuttles going back to central location gives winery patrons the option of calling for a ride if they don’t feel like driving is a good idea.
Mark, in Kansas wine tastings are mandated as free only. That being said, we do have the right to limit the samples given to any person, or to refuse to give samples to anyone who appears to already be intoxicated. We limit our tastings to an average of 3 and no more than 5. That is giving a half ounce to at most an ounce pour.
There are no taxi’s in our rural area, but we are very careful with the samples we give and to who. Fortunately wine trails in our state involve time and driving that don’t lend themselves to overindulging.
When we have weddings on the weekends, we do caution the people holding the wedding to be careful about anyone drinking too much and driving. We have security posted at every event, and have rarely ever had any problems.
The key seems to be the ability to limit and to refuse to give the samples. Kansas is very strict on drinking and driving. One thing in our favor is that premium wines are rarely what someone out to simply get drunk is going to use. We do have the odd person who will say they want five samples and then they will go out the door and come back in expecting five more. We nicely refuse. It is easy to tell the people who think they will get a free “buzz” from sampling wines, and the ones who are genuinely there to try and buy. It is our policy to limit the samples to control the amount any one person consumes in the course of tasting the wines. I think most wineries are aware of their customers and use good judgement in sampling wines out to them.
Thanks for your constructive ideas. Having a state law that requires free tastings creates a predicament, but knowing how to say “no” nicely appears to make all the difference. You say it’s easy to tell people who are looking for a free drink. Can you give an example?