If you don't live in a winegrowing region, you may not be familiar with the term "cellar sale." Of course, as my colleague Alex Ponting pointed out, the name is pretty self-explanatory. He's right, but those of us who do live in Wine Country really enjoy them, so I thought I would go ahead and blog about the phenomenon.
The regular tasting room experience varies a bit from winery to winery, but a lot of it has become fairly standardized. There is likely a short list of wines that are included on the daily tasting list, a fee from about $5 to $10 is likely to be charged to taste through the list, the tasting fee is likely waived with the purchase of a bottle (or more) and so on. By contrast, cellar sales vary significantly from place to place. What they have in common is excellent pricing on wines that the producer has decided to move out. The decision can be based on many factors, such as a vintage on hand being superseded by a newer vintage in distribution, a limited edition wine perhaps sold only through the tasting room and now down to just a small amount left, or even an experimental wine that never went into full production and release. They also have in common that advertising is limited and local, you get to taste the wines before you buy, and it is strictly a carry-away sale — no shipping arrangements are offered.
The first such sale Marty and I attended was years ago at Kendall Jackson's tasting room on Fulton Road near Santa Rosa, CA. "Tasting room" understates the opulence of this impressive facility that also hosts Sonoma County's annual Heirloom Tomato Festival. For the cellar sale, the tasting room just inside the main entrance was operating as usual with oenophiles lined up at the marble bar enjoying the daily flights. Meanwhile, we had read the Cellar Sale announcement in the local Santa Rosa Press Democrat, so we bypassed the tasting bar. A banquet room in the back was set up with long tables around the outside draped with white tablecloths. Open bottles lined the tables and friendly KJ hospitality staffers were waiting behind them. At the door, we picked up wine glasses and we were given a list of wines available — more than 40 of them — and a stubby little golf pencil to mark how many cases we wanted of each. As with some other cellar sales, that one was "by the case" only. We went around the room, tasting various wines that would fit well with what we already had in the cellar at home. Since some of the choices were a bit older than current release vintages, we took into account how fast we might go through a case and how well the wine was holding up to its age. Prices were on the list, also, most hovering in the range of wholesale — about half the usual retail price.
We marked our list, then went out the back door to the tent set up on tasting room patio. In the tent, pallets of wine stood everywhere and more KJ staffers were available to help. We paid for our order of four or five cases, the cashier gave the list to an attendant with a dolly to round it up, and Marty went to bring the car around. In minutes, we were outside the door of the tent and loading our purchases into the car. An enjoyable and efficient cellar trip — and no tasting fee!...