Whining About Winery Policies

Jim Luff
Posted on May 18, 2011
Why do wineries turn so many limousines away? Wineries are getting stricter and more formal with their limousine access policies. Chauffeurs now need to do some planning ahead.
Winery tasting rooms are increasingly stiffening their policies about guests arriving by limousine. The increasing rules and regulations have escalated throughout California from making an advance reservation to not even being allowed to park in the parking lot of the winery.
According to Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, California produces 90% of all wine distributed in the U.S. In fact, if California was a country, it would be the fourth largest producing wine country worldwide. Not surprisingly, there are numerous wineries from the southern tip of California to the northern Oregon border. This offers an abundance of sampling opportunities for Californians but not without adhering to the rules.
Ben Lunt, tasting room manager at Tobin James Winery in Paso Robles, Calif., said the reason they created rules for guests arriving by limousine pertains to customer service. Tobin James has a rule that you must make an appointment if your party is larger than eight, whether you arrive by limousine or any other method. Lunt says this is to make sure there is adequate space for the group, and make sure there is space for other guests as well. Appointments are not given after 3 p.m., and Lunt says this is due to the fact that wine tasting groups tend to be intoxicated after visiting local wineries all day and can become disruptive to others. However, Tobin James is extremely friendly to limousines, offering a special parking area near the front door just for limousines, buses and vans. Chauffeurs and drivers are treated well.
In Temecula, Calif., Ponte Family Estate Winery has some of the harshest policies in California. Visitors arriving by limousine are only allowed to arrive between the small window of 10 a.m. and Noon with an appointment. Visitors must have a preprinted “permit” just to enter the parking lot. Chauffeurs are greeted by an employee of the winery at the entrance where the policy states, “No permit, no admission,” marketing manager Elizabeth Liemandt says. Drivers must drop off and immediately leave the property until their guests are ready to depart.
This does not sit well with San Diego based operators Geoff Levine (Limo Kings Limousine) and Jason Ware (Royal Fleet). 
When interviewed, Liemandt wanted to make it clear that Ponte’s official position is, “(We) are not trying to make this process more difficult for professional drivers, and the limo request process is the same whether it is a limo company or a guest calling to make a reservation. Since instituting the policy in 2006, we have worked diligently to communicate this policy to professional drivers frequenting Temecula. In addition to posting the policy on our website, guests (or drivers) who call to make a restaurant or tour reservation are informed of our policy. We have also published multiple articles in our member newsletter educating them on the policy.” Liemandt was quite candid: “There are many other wineries in the area to choose from.”
Liemandt also cited the need to forecast guest levels for proper staffing as one of the reasons for advanced reservations. Ponte sets the bar even higher by verifying the operator’s license status. If an operator lacks a proper license or it is suspended, the reservation request is denied “in the interest of guest safety.” Wow, really? It is hard to imagine that a winery would fancy themselves as “limo police,” but again, as Liemandt stated, operators have other choices in wineries to visit.
Leslie Walczak, tasting room manager at Eberle Winery in Paso Robles, also requires advance reservations and meets every vehicle on arrival. Guests must arrive before 3 p.m. and are checked at the door as they come in for IDs, which I suspect is really a ploy to detect intoxication as anyone that doesn’t pass muster with Walczak is sent back to the vehicle. Walczak is a no-nonsense tasting room manager that will boot a vehicle out of the parking lot if a single can of beer comes out of the vehicle. However, limos are also welcome in the parking lot here and drivers are even treated to food while they wait for their guests.
The bottom line is that communicating with wineries in advance of showing up can go a long way in building a relationship. Showing up with a large group unannounced obviously can leave you or your driver looking bad. Even if a client says they have made a reservation, you should at least pick up the phone and confirm the reservation and ask what the policies are to comply. If the policies don’t work for you, refuse to go to that winery. It is clear, just as if you were at someone’s house, you must follow the house rules.

-- Jim Luff, LCT contributing editor

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Jim Luff Contributing Editor
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