The Coastal Wine Trail is a worthy player in the expanding U.S. boutique winery industry, but exorbitant pricing prevents it from enjoying its full potential.
The trail consists of nine vineyards between Watch Hill, Rhode Island and Truro, Mass. On a recent day trip to Newport from my home on Cape Cod, my college friend Dee and I came upon two vineyards on the return home on Rt. 138 through Middletown and Portsmouth, R.I.
It was wine-o'clock at the time. Dee said she had never experienced a wine tasting so we drove a few feet off the busy roadway to taste the wines of Newport Vineyards. When the hostess told us the tasting "fee" would be $12 with the opportunity to keep the wine glass with vineyard logo, we passed. I had never heard of such a fee in all my years of regular visits to the long-established and world-class Finger Lakes wine trail in central New York state.
I used to live within a 30 minute drive of the lakes and witnessed explosive growth of award-winning vintages and unique presentations along the trail. Every one of the wineries sits atop rolling hills that rise from the water which stretches north and south for miles. Seneca Lake is 30 miles long and is the setting for 59 wineries alone.
Aside from the lure of magnificent scenery, the Finger Lakes Wine Trail is accessible to all. There are price points for every budget, and the tasting experience mirrors the targeted market.
You can have a raucous and fun time chanting the cheeky Hazlit Vineyard's Red Cat call--"Red Cat! Red Cat! It's an aphrodisiac! Red Cat! Red Cat! It will get you in the sack." Sorry to say, this is reportedly the best-selling wine in all of New York State.
On the other end of the spectrum, for the sky-high price of $8 you can enjoy a VIP tasting in the barrel room with extended explanation of wine-making methods at the esteemed Konstantin Frank Winery.
But overall, tastings in the Finger Lakes cost from $2 to $5 and the charge is often applied toward the purchase of bottled wines on the way out.
That is the point of a wine tasting after all. Since wine holds such subjective flavor, we want to take a sip before committing to a purchase, much like we spritz cologne at the department store.
Back to the Coastal Trail. After letting the hostess know that $12 per person for what would amount to a single glass of wine before the purchase of a bottle was unacceptable, we left to try the next spot on the map-- the Greenvale Vineyards located on the shores of the Sakonnet River. The detour off the four-lane road was welcomed and magnificent as we left behind commuting traffic and got ever closer to the water amidst towering old oaks and maples. For its wooded setting, the approach reminded me of the wine trail in Western Virginia more than the Finger Lakes.
But the fun was dashed when we learned tastings at Greenvale were also $12 per person. This time I would bite the bullet. This was to be Dee's first wine tasting, and for me, it would be the last on the Coastal Trail. We sampled the eight wines available for tasting which, combined, hardly added up to a 5 ounce pour. In other words, our scant "glass" of wine cost $12.
I would not add to my injury by purchasing a bottle of the wine on my way home and that is sad, because a purchase is the purpose of the tasting in the first place. My favorite of the group cost $28 per bottle. That's a special occasion price for average quality wine and it would have put me back $52 for two small glasses and one bottle of wine.
I'm not immune to the reality of the cost of wine production. Every piece of the process requires a lot of capital--the grapes, the stainless steel vats, the oak barrels, the bottles and the corks, and of course the premium New England acreage.
If others feel as I do-- that the cost of the tasting precludes the purchase of a bottle or two, then the wines will never sell. And if the wines don't sell, the tastings will have to support the operation by themselves. That is unsustainable.
I love wine tastings and I'm happy to pay a reasonable cost to enjoy them. The Coastal Wine Trail is a missed opportunity. There is critical mass in New England and these vineyards should be packed on a sunny late afternoon in October. Until they adopt pricing people can afford, I fear the numbers of people and sales, will suffer.