If it has been a year or two since you visited any of the Grand Valley's wineries, dear readers, you may be in for a surprise.

Going, going but not quite gone are the days when you could belly up to the tasting room bar and get free servings of wine.

Now, many wineries are charging for those once-free samples.

At the January 2018 VinCo, the annual conference/workshop presented by the Colorado Association for Viticulture & Enology, about a third of the Grand Valley wineries present answered in the affirmative when asked about charging a tasting room fee.

Many of the others, maybe even most of the others, are either considering a fee or in the process of switching to one.

No North Fork Valley winery as of yet charges a tasting fee.

Generally, the fees are about $5 and include two to five .5-ounce samples. The fee typically is credited toward the purchase of a bottle of wine.

"We started charging about a year ago when we realized how much it's costing us to give away wine," said Nancy Janes, co-owner of Whitewater Hill Winery on 32 Road. "Not just the wine but the unseen costs, like extra staffing for busy days and even the corks and bottles we go through."

More than one winery alluded to how a busy tasting room scene feels like a day at Colorado Mountain Winefest, when crowds can feel out of hand.

But even there, you are paying to enjoy the atmosphere.

Although Carlson Winery (451 35 Road) doesn't charge a tasting fee, winery owner Garrett Portra said he plans to have one at the winery's new downtown Grand Junction tasting room.

"We've been having record years here at the tasting room and I hate to break something that's not broken," Portra said. "Had the fees started from scratch, I probably would have one, but I didn't want to alienate folks and be the new guy who suddenly starts charging a fee."

He also noted that despite the record sales years the total amount of wine poured as samples in the tasting room hasn't changed.

"Some things in our business will change" when the downtown location opens later this spring at 545 Main St., Portra said.

Wineries have tasting rooms for marketing reasons, pure and simple.

In addition to familiar wines, wineries want customers to try the latest releases and, hopefully, buy them.

Servers usually are trained to talk about vineyard and winemaking techniques and able to suggest what to look for in the individual wines.

Often, in the Grand Valley and North Fork Valley wineries, you'll find the winemaker behind the bar serving wines.

A study by Michigan State University found about 70 percent of U.S. wineries charge a tasting fee. According to the report, some wineries contend "a free tasting can encourage wine sales, and others feel ... charging a fee shows the consumer that the wine is of high quality and can't be given away for free."

Linda Brauns of the newly opened Restoration Winery, 3594 E1/2 Road, agreed.

"I see no point in giving away our wine," she said. "Our wines are special and we want people to realize that."

An article last March in the online California travel guide Wine Country Getaways showed tasting room fees in Napa Valley ranged from $10–$100, depending on the level of experience offered (meals, tours, exclusive tastings, etc.). The average cost was $29.

The earliest I remember the topic being raised locally was about 10 years ago when I found Naomi Smith, then with Grande River Winery, fuming after a bus load of bridal shower attendees overwhelmed her tasting room and her staff.

"They stand around for hours, drinking our wines for free and talking to each other and not paying the least attention to our staff," she said. It's basically free for them "and there's no room for our regular customers."

The complaints about large groups showing up unannounced and taking over a tasting rooms certainly aren't new.

However, you now are more likely to see signs such as the one outside DeBeque Canyon Winery in Palisade asking large groups (eight or more) to make reservations prior to arriving.

"You've got a pretty big investment in your tasting room and you want the visitor to get the most out of the experience," said winery co-owner Davey Price. "We have thought about (charging a fee), especially on a busy Saturday afternoon when I have 15 bikers walk in and want to command the room.

"But no, so far we haven't. I still have mixed feeling about them and I think it's a bit off-putting to some people."

In lieu of a fee, DeBeque Canyon offers four samples for free and then charges $1 for each additional sample.

Price stated that "it's a rare occasion" when visitors make it past the four free samples.

All of the wineries I spoke with said that except for some initial surprise, their customers accepted paying the fee.

Many tourists with wine-tourism experience are familiar with paying a fee and often are surprised when wineries don't charge.

The Michigan State study also found there is no apparent impact on wine sales whether a winery charges or not for a tasting.

And since that $5 goes toward your bottle price, both the visitor and the winery are winners.

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