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Barrel Tasting along the Wine Road (March 2-4 & 9-11, 2018) offers wine lovers the opportunity to buy wine futures. Why bother to buy wine futures? So glad you asked.

Barrel Tasting 2012 Taste the Future

Background of Barrel Tasting & Wine Futures

The Wine Road’s first Barrel Tasting was 41 years ago! Offering wine futures might not have been the goal that first year, but it made sense when tasters started asking if they could buy bottles of the barrel samples they were tasting.

The goal of Barrel Tasting is to help educate wine drinkers on the stages of a wine, and how it tastes before it is bottled. Some wines offered as futures have been in the barrel only a few months, while others have been in barrel over a year and will be bottled very soon. In some cases, wine futures are offered on recently bottled wines that receive a year or more of bottle aging before they are released.

Barrel tasting at Hanna Winery

Strategy for Buying Wine Futures

Although Barrel Tasting takes place over two weekends, with about 100 wineries participating, it is crucial to have a strategy in place before beginning your journey into barrel tasting heaven.

Here is my recommended plan of attack:

  • Review the program, which lists what wineries are participating and what barrel sample wines they are pouring.
  • Based on your wine preferences, highlight your top selections.
  • Now look at the interactive Barrel Tasting map. This step is important so you can see where your top selection wineries are located, and how far apart they are. The Wine Road covers a large portion of Sonoma County, and some visitors don’t realize how many miles it is from the southern end of Russian River Valley to the northern part of Alexander or Dry Creek Valleys.
  • Develop a realistic route, with no more than 8-10 wineries per day. Be flexible in your path and enjoy the day.

Enjoying Barrel Tasting at Ridge Winery

Strategy for Keeping Your Palate Fresh

With so many wines to try, it is important to avoid palate fatigue. Once you hit palate fatigue, all the wines you try start to taste the same and making an informed buying decision becomes difficult or impossible.

Here are some tips to avoid palate fatigue:

  • Drink plenty of water, especially after each winery.
  • Don’t finish every taste. There is a reason professional tasters use dump buckets. If you finish every wine you are poured, and visit 8 – 10 wineries a day, you are guaranteed to develop palate fatigue quickly.
  • Pack snacks or a picnic. There are so many excellent options for picnics, and make sure protein is included with your food choices.
  • Lastly, don’t chew gum, use mints, ginger chews, or eat food that is hot, spicy, or has a pungent flavor. These flavors with coat your tongue and make it difficult for you to truly taste the flavors in a wine.

Pack a picnic to help avoid palate fatigue during Barrel Tasting.

Why Buy Wine Futures?

With all this build-up about wine futures, you are probably wondering, why should I buy them? Why don’t I just wait until the wine is bottled and released? I’ll taste it then and if I still like it, that is when I’ll buy it. You can do that, but here are some considerations that might sway you to buy futures during Barrel Tasting.

Barrel Tasting at Mazzocco Winery 2017

  • How many times have you fallen in love with a wine and thought, “I’ll buy it later,” but you never got back to the winery to buy it before it sold out?
  • Wines that taste great to you during Barrel Tasting also taste great to wine competition judges, and wine writers. That means these wines may earn Best of Class awards, Gold Medals, or scores in the 90s. Once this news gets out, a wine sells out quickly.
  • When the wine’s inventory starts to dwindle, the winery may only allow its wine club members to buy it. Or, some wines are released as Wine Club Only wines, but during Barrel Tasting anyone could buy that wine as a future.
  • Most wine futures are sold at a discount, so buying futures saves you money. And, the suggested retail price can go up when released. Buying that wine during Barrel Tasting is most likely the lowest price you will see for that bottle of wine.
  • Another fun perk: some wineries have futures pick-up parties when the futures wines are released. If you can attend, you’ll get to taste the wine you purchased, which will help you determine if the wine needs a bit more bottle aging or is good to drink now.

These are just a few reasons to buy wine futures. The most important reason to buy it is because you loved it!


Trust Your Palate

If you do your homework, develop a good tasting path focused on wines you love, stay hydrated, and prevent palate fatigue, you’re good to go.

Many people tell me, “I just don’t trust my palate.” We all taste things differently, so what you taste or like in a wine won’t be the same for anyone else. You have to trust that if you like a wine during Barrel Tasting, you’ll still like it when it is bottled and delivered to your door.

If you still aren’t sure, at many of the wineries, the winemaker and cellar staff will be pouring the barrel samples. Ask them questions like, “how might this wine change once it is bottled?” or “will this wine be barrel aging much longer, and if so, how will that affect the flavors in this wine?” This is your chance to learn how wines evolve from barrel to bottle.

Assistant winemaker at Stuhlmuller pouring Cabernet Sauvignon futures


Enjoy, Taste, Buy

Barrel Tasting along the Wine Road is fun, educational, and gets you out among some of the best scenery in Northern California. Buying futures during Barrel Tasting gives you a chance to drink those wines at a later time, and relive the memory of a great weekend along the Wine Road.

Mustard and vineyard during a spring shower Barrel Tasting weekend 2017

During Barrel Tasting, all participating wineries will be selling tickets for the event. I’ll be out enjoying barrel samples and checking out the wine futures, and I hope you will be, too.

Happy Sipping!

#WRBarrelTasting2018 #AlongtheWineRoad #WineFutures @TheWineRoad

Posted by Rebecca Germolus

Rebecca Germolus, co-owner of Maximum Value Marketing, loves Sonoma County and playing along the Wine Road. Rebecca daily immerses herself in wine country by providing cost-effective marketing and writing solutions to wineries and restaurants.

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