My thoughts on Wine Road Barrel Tasting. Tell us yours and win tickets.

This weekend (this Friday actually at select wineries) kicks of the first of two weekends of Wine Road Barrel Tasting.

19,000 advance tickets have been sold (a new record), so clearly the event is growing in popularity. If for some reason you didn’t purchase (shame on you) or would like tickets for a second weekend, at the end of the article you can read how to very easily win a pair! (Jump ahead if you are impatient.)

Barrel Tasting Explained

I will provide a short overview here. For more detail, you can read my previous article Barrel Tasting Insights – What am I Tasting & Do I Get Splinters? What should I buy?

More and more  wineries and consumers are warming to the idea of Barrel Tasting.

This is basically the concept of buying futures. How far in future can vary, but most wineries are tasting stuff that will be bottled this year and in your hands no later than fall. The consumer’s reward: – big discount, ranging from 20-40% plus. The winery’s benefit – cash flow. Cash is king, and I know small wineries who work on such a tight budget they sometimes are counting pennies to be able to bottle or label, and this become a key part of generating capital. Others have completely integrated it into their business model and have a large following.

What Barrel Tasting Isn’t

A drunk-fest. Each year the Wine Road has made progress towards this goal. Wineries and serious consumers alike are fed up with drunks rolling off a bus after pounding drinks, acting like idiots and worse. This has decreased dramatically over the years – the welcome is worn thin. These people aren’t buying wine generally, and are not a loss. Expect less than warm welcomes at more venues, and being denied service. If that’s your goal, go to Happy Hour. I will spot you a drink. Unfortunately these people aren’t likely reading a wine blog but just putting the widespread sentiment out there.

My Two Cents on Barrel Tasting

Whether you are interested in saving money via futures, or just a fun educational weekend tasting, Barrel Tasting is an excellent weekend to taste, learn and explore. You don’t even have to Barrel Taste if don’t want to. All wineries are pouring finished wine, some new releases. For $30 at the door for two days, its a great opportunity. I encourage those new to wine to try a few barrel samples, but remember, as the detailed article explains, this is unfinished wine. Try 1-2 and then perhaps focus your experience on learning and tasting regular wines.

For those a bit more exposed to tasting wine, try barrel samples. Where you can, compare them to the currently bottled finished wine, if offered. (Not always possible.) This is an excellent way to see how much a wine can change.

Again its important to remember, even if going to be bottled shortly, wines, especially reds will be bottled aged for 3-12+ months before release, and will continue to evolve. I watched consumers struggle with this at a recently blending seminar, when they were frustrated they couldn’t blend 3 varietals from barrel to compare to the finished wine that had a year in bottle. It won’t.

If you aren’t very experienced with futures, buying something that will not be bottled by summer maybe risky. The wine could change a lot.

If its a wine release you have had over multiple years, like it, buy it regularly, and the barrel sample tastes good, this is probably a good investment, saving money for a wine you’ll buy anyway.

The future I always buy is a varietal (grape) not common here (a surprise I know), I have loved the last 3 releases, and the winery aggressively discounts the future, 5% over industry. Unless the vintage had some significant  change, this is a no brainer repeat for me. It also assures me I get sufficient quantity of a wine I really like, before it sells out.

Ok, How Do I Win Tickets Already?

EASY! And thanks for sticking through. There are TWO ways to win – read carefully, you can do BOTH!

Answer any of these:

1. Tell us what you like about Barrel Tasting. Do you buy futures ever? Why or Why Not? We will draw 2 pairs of tickets from answers.

2. Subscribe to Simple Hedonisms via Email. Receive new articles one time a day (max, usually less) so you never miss one. All email is secure and never used or shared. We will draw a winner from all subscribers. If you can not attend, we will send a Wine Road cookbook or alternate item.  NOTE! you must confirm your subscription to be eligible – you will receive a confirmation email immediately, you must open and click. Unconfirmed subscribers are not eligible.

Drawing is 330 pm Thursday!

Come Back for Our Regular Sales Incentives Article

As we do for all Wine Road events, Simple Hedonisms will run an article highlighting special sales of finished wines, as a supplement to Barrel Tasting. This is very handy to print out, and stock up, saving a few extra dollars to boot. Watch for it!


Cheers and thank you for reading Simple Hedonisms Wine Blog ! We are delighted and honored by continued growth – February was another record month with over 6700 readers and 250,000 hits!

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33 Responses to “My thoughts on Wine Road Barrel Tasting. Tell us yours and win tickets.”

  • I LOVE Barrel Tasting, it’s a chance to get together with friends, who have varied experience with wine. We can go out together, learn about wine, buy some, enjoy good food and music. My husband doesn’t feel left out just because he doesn’t drink wine, because the wineries have welcomed the DD with a non alcoholic drinks and food. I personally don’t buy futures, for the very reason you mentioned in this blog, I’m not experienced enough, I know it. But I do buy bottles ready to drink.

  • Steven:

    I attended the Wine Road Barrel Tasting last year and discovered a lot of wineries that I had not visited before. A lot of the tastings are in the production areas, so that also makes it interesting. You also get to meet some of the winemakers and owners and that is also a treat. Some of the wineries even have food for pairing but mainly the focus is on the developing wine. I have not yet bought futures because I generally do not buy wine by the case.

    • William Allen:

      thanks Steven! Futures are generally in larger quantities but some wineries will do less than a case, should ask.

  • Sheila Sanchez:

    Barrel tasting has become an annual event for my friends and I. In fact, we collectively have several wine club memberships as a result of Wine Road events. With membership parties, we manage to get to our favorite spots multiple times throughout the year, but we always look forward to this weekend and even have visitors come especially for barrel tasting; last year, friends from Oregon and this year a repeat visitor from Minnesota. It’s a great way to show off our little piece of Heaven (and, at Armida, Hell)! Sadly, I missed the pre-sale, so I’m definitely hoping for a little luck of the draw :)

  • Traci Dominguez:

    I have never been barrel tasting so I am very excited to experience this. My first wineroad event was Winter Wineland and tasted a few reds from the barrels then and met the winemakers who are fantastic people! I’m not sure about buying futures just yet but am not completely against it.

  • Toni Miller:

    Did you say what you love about Barrel Tasting?? Yeah, that’s what I thought! The beauty of the Dry Creek and Russian River appelations, the fabulous wines! The fun of meeting new friends with like interests, ready to just enjoy fine wine and celebrate what the barrel brings!
    No I don’t buy futures, but I do buy wine and enjoy it often. Never miss Barrel tasting!

    • William Allen:

      Hi Toni, thanks for sharing. I can speak safely for the wineries when I say they are delighted that you buy wine! Buying futures isn’t for everyone, but its always a great education!

  • Myla Holmes:

    I HATE Barrel Tasting! (Not an entry in the “what I like about it” ticket drawing, obviously. Just providing an alternate perspective since you asked.)

    In my opinion, it IS still a drunk-fest. It may not be quite as bad as it was before they raised the price, but it’s still a drunk-fest. Ask any participating winery about the afternoon crowd. It’s really best to stay off the roads in northwestern Sonoma county on Barrel Tasting weekends.

    I agree it’s really difficult to know what wines in the barrel will develop into with more time, filtering & bottling. Unless you’ve had the wines from a particular winery and/or winemaker from barrel to bottle across multiple vintages, it’s hard to predict. Tasting finished wines is a good suggestion, but many wineries only pour their lower-end offerings in the tasting room during this event….for good reason.

    I’ve experienced this event from both sides of the tasting bar, and given the choice, I would be out of town for the weekend(s).

    • William Allen:

      Hi Myla. Thanks for responding, all inputs are welcome. Any of the bracelet tasting events can become a drunk fest, and I have seen intoxicated people at others as well. Its my personal observation Barrel Tasting gets better each year.
      I don’t disagree with your comment on barrel tasting, which is why I did point out; find out when it will be released, many of these are very close to bottling and basically done, save bottle aging. Having experience with previous vintages is good too.
      Yes, some wineries pour less wine, but having been in direct dialog with many this week, many are also pouring new releases and many other treats, I don’t feel that applies generally to all.
      I don’t know if one needs to leave town, I’d just avoid downtown Healdsburg from 2-5 pm. :) The Wine Road is a big region and I save my afternoons for remote locals, as I would other bracelet events anyway.

  • Kristina O:

    I haven’t missed Barrel Tasting in years. I started going when I was a student at SSU. I got so hooked on the event that I decided to invite my cousins and make a weekend out of it. We use it as a bonding weekend to try fabulous new wines and taste old favorites. I love Barrel Tasting because it brings wine lovers together for one reason. You run into people you haven’t seen in years and people from all over the world. I always come away with new stories, great memories, and a great new wine collection. I never leave a winery empty-handed and often come home with cases. I have also purchased futures and especially love going back when they are ready to try my favorites again!

    • William Allen:

      Hi Kristina, thanks for the great reply and enthusiasm. On behalf of the Wine Road and the wineries thanks for your support!

  • jarichmond:

    Barrel Tasting has become one of the big events that I look forward to each year. I get together with a group of friends and try to head to places that are a little more out of the way and away from the crowds and have found several wineries that I now count among my favorites in Sonoma. What I really enjoy is when the winemakers are actually out for the barrel tasting and can talk us through their philosophies for making wines, because I tend to geek out about the details.

    We usually end up purchasing at least a couple of futures each year and splitting up the orders amongst several people. This way, we can spread the risk of the futures out a bit but still support the wineries.

    I also love the barrel tasting because my wedding anniversary happens to fall right around the second weekend, so it’s quickly becoming an annual tradition for us as a way to celebrate. Yay for the Wine Road!

  • Gala Grant:

    I’m really happy to hear they are working on the overly drunk people. I used to LOVE Barrel Tasting in the past but didn’t go last year because of that. I usually buy futures from at least 3-5 wineries, since I buy a lot of wine during the year and the deals are great. I would be so excited to win tickets this year so I can see the changes, but also because I went back to school this year and can’t afford to go otherwise.

  • Nikkol Baldwin:

    I’m not quite as fond of the crowd at Barrel Tasting as I once was, but I’ll share this…this is my 9th year and I still enjoy the pungent and flavorful barrel samples from all my favorite wineries on the Wine Road. I have purchased futures several times now, after spending the first 5 years too afraid to do so.
    Many wineries require a case minimum purchase, but there are still lots that are now asking that you purchase only 6 bottles. We typically go in with friends and end up with a couple bottles each. I like to put half of them away, as invariably a few get opened LONG before they’re supposed to be!
    It has become a drunk fest at some wineries, I agree with that, but I’ve learned what wineries to stay away from. The ones that are more centrally located get more crowded as do the ones that have really fun activities listed on the brochure. Quiet, seemingly “boring” wineries are most fun at Barrel Tasting. Big commercial names do get crowded and sometimes are not fun, but if you’ve never been, it’s certainly an experience not only to behold, but to partake in.
    I also advise you purchase some “wine wipes”, as this event makes your teeth purple, whether you drink a little or a lot! And bring your cameras!!!

  • Tom Arnold:

    What I like most about Barrel Tasting weekend is trying to talk the tasting room people into opening up something special to taste and buy. Most wineries do not open up their best bottles for the Wine Road events so it is a fun challenge to try for something better. I do not buy futures. I do not have the patience to wait for my wine to mature.

  • Leonora Leacock:

    Barrel tasting is more than wine tasting; it’s educational! I feel that a wine enthusiast is really interested in the whole process of wine making, not just the end results. I enjoy talking to the winemakers about their wine. At a barrel tasting, the wines may be more raw or “green” and not as smooth as the final outcome. The winemaker can explain to you what flavors will be more or less dominant as it ages. I enjoy barrel verticals which a winery may have a few different vintages of the same wine, by using the thief. All in all, it’s a fun social event in beautiful Sonoma!

  • Larry:

    I have attended Barrel Tasting weekends in previous years. The event offers added impetus for me to drive up to Sonoma in a nice time of the year (when weather cooperates) and I agree that often you’ll find a winemaker eager to impart interesting background or locations / information that aren’t available on a ‘regular’ weekend. Concentrating on lesser known, smaller producers increases the homey, non-commercial experience. I have yet to find an unfinished wine that excites my palate enough to take the plunge on a future, but I’m sure it will happen. Nevertheless I do find that I drive home with a lighter wallet and a heavier trunk from already released vintages.

  • Kristen Koo:

    Barrel tasting weekend is a must for anyone who wants to learn more about wine. Having the winemakers around to ask questions is awesome. My friends and I have been attending this event for years and always have a great time. This year we have been saving up our questions and have a list of things we want to learn this weekend. I have bought futures every year and while sometimes it is a gamble it usually pays off. If you like a winery’s wine, take the risk and buy some futures. My friends and I will split cases so we can buy at a variety of places. Usually if you stay away from the highly commercial or gimmicky wineries you can avoid the drunker people. With so many wineries participating, there are tons of quality wineries off the beaten path to discover! Overall it’s always a great weekend and fun times. Can’t wait til tomorrow.

  • Katie:

    Barrel Tasting, like the other great event weekends are the perfect time (and excuse!) to explore new wineries that you might not normally have checked out. It’s exciting to look at the list of wineries, grab a map and plan the perfect route–I try to commit myself to only going to places I’ve never visited before–though I admit, it’s hard to resist some favorites! I love it that the wineries get so into it and are often putting their best feet forward from a hospitality standpoint, knowing that this is a time when they can gain a lot of new, loyal customers with not only their wines, but with the experience and personality provide–so the wineries and the wine tasters both win. It’s also a great time to visit wineries that are typically only available by appointment. There’s a lot of pressure when you make an appointment to visit a winery that may be too much for someone not that able to commit to large purchases. So event weekends like barrel tasting let you in, pressure-free. From a wine education standpoint, it’s also interesting to compare barrel samples to current vintages—it’s a great insight to the winemaking process and helps one appreciate and understand all that goes in to producing that 750 mililiters of magic. Last but not least, barrel tasting is kind of a party, but in a good way. Sure, there are the drunks who make complete asses out of themselves, but I’ve noticed a slight change over the last few years of people happy to be part of the party for the sake of enjoying each others company and shared love of exploring wine. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

  • Katie:

    Oh, i forgot to answer part of the question. I don’t typically buy futures, though I’ve been tempted. But I do try to buy current releases, it’s important to support our local businesses.

  • Elaine:

    I love being able to barrel taste wines and begin to predict what they will become. I have not yet bought futures because I’ve usually spent too much money getting to the events to have enough left over to buy a case. I usually buy single current release bottles from many different wineries while attending Wine Road type events and then have to figure out how to get it home.

  • Joicy:

    I am a new student of wine, and attended the event last year. I didn’t buy a future, but it was great fun to see the behind-the-scenes and learn more about all the decisions that go into producing what I’ll end up drinking. It also offers more of a celebratory festive atmosphere than a standard weekend. Sure there were some bussed in staggerers, but my serious interest in the winemaking process only allowed me to stand out more against all the “give me a red” crowd.

  • […] While barrel samples and futures are the main focus of the Wine Road Barrel Tasting, as discussed earlier this week; but its also a great time for Wineries to introduce new releases, and offer sales to visitors to […]

  • Gidget:

    Barrel Tasting has become our annual family event. We just got back from the first weekend of tasting. I was pleasantly surprised to not see the bus loads of college students spilling out onto the parking lot in anticipation of getting even more drunk. We came with a group of 19 people. All had such a relaxed time enjoying the taste of each new wine. Yes, we do buy futures. Between all of us we purchased 11-13 cases in total. Each year we try new wineries on our list. Most of us have joined wine clubs due to this event. We ensured that each car had a DDS to ensure all of us as well as the residents in the community were safe with us out on the roads. We didn’t realize that most places didn’t have food as they did last year so plan accordingly. Only one wish…that they would have a little something special for the hard working Designated Drivers. Many places only had water. We will be there again next year.

  • Jason Klafter:

    Barel tasting is the main wine tasting event my wife and I attend. We have been going for about 5 years now. Each year it gets better and better and I love all the things I have learned and still learning. Our group has evolved to about 12-15 so we had stuck to the bigger wineries. Last weekend was an absolute awesome time. We found some smaller wineries that would accommodate our group and finally made my first “future” purchase. Money has been tight over the past few years so buying a future case of one wine had never been really option. Like many, we would buy a bottle or two from different places. I’m so excited to have gone to Old World and they allowed a future mixed case which was perfect for my wife and I, as she is not a big red drinker. So I order a mix and can’t wait to pick it up when it’s ready. For our group, This year was had the most amount of futures that were ordered. I believed in all we ordered 12-15 cases of futures and took home close to another 7 between us all!!!!

    Can’t wait to go next weekend with a small group of 4!!! Finally going to hit up all the wineries we haven’t been able to go to.

  • I truly enjoy barrel tasting. I know some people complain about the drunks, but it is alcohol being served usually without food. It will happen. This will be my 3rd year. I must tell you my first experience was at the age 47. This was my first event. I had really just been exposed to wine tasting at this late stage in my life. I was so intrigued to learn how the wine is made and how it tastes in the barrel vs once it’s bottled. The wineries are so amazingly beautiful. I fell in love with this event. I look forward to this and invite all my friends now to come. Most definitely I have bought futures and wine that is available now. I have learned so much and my taste is still developing so I am so excited to see what my pallet likes this year! I am going this weekend and we even bought an old convertible car to drive around in and truly enjoy the beauty God has bestowed on this area! It’s a true event now in our house!

  • This is only my 2nd year barrel-tasting, though having grown up in Marin, I’ve been going to Napa and Sonoma for decades, leaning heavily towards Sonoma in the last 6 years or so. I consider myself an amateur oenophile, I love wine and the whole process involved – the soil/terroir, the climate’s and winemaker’s influences, the marketing etc, basically from sun and soil to bottle and glass. Last year I thought it would just be a fun thing to do, and it was. This year though, it was more of an educational experience, mainly because I approached it that way and since that’s what I was seeking, that’s what I got. But it was also definitely fun too. My wife and I went Sat and Sun, but on Sunday we were joined by 2 friends from the City. Saturday we planned a route from Souverain in Cloverdale down through Geyserville to Windsor. Starlite and Sausal were our 2 favorite wineries for Saturday, though we only made it to 6 that day and only made it to Sausal just before 4pm. I should add that we only drink reds, though once in a while we might try a viognier, sauterne or rosé, but only just to taste. Sunday we concentrated on Russian River Valley, starting out at Freestone and working our way thru Forestville to Santa Rosa. Our winners for Sunday were Hook & Ladder, and Woodenhead, though again, we were only able to make it to 5 that day. I’m sure we missed other winners on both days. There just isn’t enough time to make it to all the wineries, so you just go back next year to the ones you missed this year. I don’t buy futures yet because I feel like I need to learn more about wines that are matured and ready to drink first. I also rarely buy cases or even 1/2 cases. But once I feel more knowledgeable about wines, and have a bigger bank account (in grad school right now), and a wine cellar, I’m sure I will. Another fun aspect is the planning of the route you want to take – Russian River? Alexander Valley? Dry Creek? Carneros? etc They’re all great and different. And by planning for several wineries on a route, you maximize your time, which also encourages you to visit off-the-beaten path wineries that you may never had considered before. 3 of our 4 winners for the weekend were wineries I’d never been to, nor tasted before, and that’s pretty cool! One thing I would encourage Wine Road, the wineries, and the barrel-tasters themselves is to have munchies ready while you’re wine-tasting. Water is not enough to neutralize your palate in between the wines. And you’re tasting bright, young wines that haven’t settled yet and so are a bit chaotic and unstructured compared to fully matured bottled wines. We agreed that next year, we would each carry a baggie of cheese and salami slices and crackers. We tasted a Cab at one restaurant, went and had lunch, then went back to try that cab again. TOTALLY different when we went back. Our palates were just wined out the first time. So food is really great in between wines, at least every few tastes or so. One of the best parts about the event though, are the wineries that let you taste their bottled wines as well as their barrels. If you take the normal pricing of a wine tasting on any other day into account, and compare that to the pre-purchased tickets at $20 each, or even the $30 at-the-door tickets, it’s a SCREAMIN deal, even if you can’t go all 3 days it’s still an amazing deal! We’ll be back next year, with munchy baggies in pocket, a rented cabin nearby, and try and get Friday off work to go ALL 3 DAYS ! ! !

  • JodyT:

    My friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Sonoma for our first Barrel Tasting event. We went Sunday, which while wet at times, allowed us to set our own pace and traffic/crowds were light. About halfway through the day, we turned to each other and said: next year – the entire weekend! Like others, the plan will be to pack picnic lunches to enjoy at onsite at the wineries. With one exception, we were warmly welcomed at all the wineries we went to and had the opportunity to talk with everyone from owners, winemakers, staff, etc. Tasting out of the barrel and then comparing to finished product was a great learning adventure. I only saw a couple of folks later in the afternoon who looked like they swallowed much more than they spit, but overall (IMO) I didn’t sense that was an issue at the wineries we visited. While I didn’t buy any futures, I purchased bottles at over half the places we visited. Delicious wines, people passionate about their calling, a sense of discovery: this is why I love visiting and supporting with my $$$ the smaller wineries we are so lucky to have here.

  • […] notes on the blog post and Wine Road Facebook page were ecstatic and mirrored what wineries reported. Many great comments […]

  • Thanks, William, for asking what folks want and sharing the wisdom!

    We don’t want to be too promotional or anything about our artisan wines & stuff on this forum – folks can see for themselves if they choose (as the winemaker, I sure hope they do). :)

    We really wanted to share 3 key things that folks may want to know before the weekend. Hope some or all of this info may help some folks come enjoy 3 of the 18 days a year we open to the public:

    1) We do Future’s differently (and we hope, affordably, so everyone can have some fun!) Our minimum is only 6 bottles and we do “mix & match,” so you can get up to 4 wines at a great price. Sure, any winery would love the Gates, Rockefellers & Buffetts to come buy a whole barrel or something, but that’s not very realistic, so let’s host some fun real people can participate in without feeling overextended.

    2) DD’s get the LOVE at our place! They deserve all our gratitude for keeping it fun and safe. Full selection of beverages in our DD cooler, two DD food pairings and more. We also have spit cups for ANYBODY and appreciate your mention of that earlier. 😉

    3) We proudly pour our Double Gold 2001 SF Chronicle Competition winning wine at the door to welcome everyone coming over. Ticket holders deserve a great tasting! We also pour nothing but the best and highest price point Reserve wines in our VIP room for a fully refundable $10 upgrade fee, so everyone can try the top of the line, and lots of selections (7+ varietals and many verticals for comparisons on how our Barrel samples will turn out) plus a special food pairing.

    Thanks again for all you do to help folks maximize their wine country experiences!

    Julie, Douglas and the whole Windsor Oaks gang…doing it 1 to 10 barrels handcrafted at a time! Share the love……..

  • […] year, I wrote two articles with dozens of people posting their positive comments on this event, and many who wrote to me as well. Generally, other […]

  • Spot on with this write-up, I actually think this web
    site needs far more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read through more, thanks for the info!

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