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Thirsty groups leave bitter taste

Local wineries are backing a bill amendment through parliament that would mean cellar door establishments could start charging for wine tastings.

A hearing took place last week at which the Justice Select Committee heard from submitters on the Sale and Supply of Alcohol [Cellar Door Tasting] Amendment Bill.

The bill was first pulled from a member ballot in 2022, and has harvested unwavering support from industry experts and the majority of Members of Parliament.

In her submission supporting the bill, the marketing manager for Wairarapa Wine Region Rebekah Glover said that small businesses were being taken advantage of by not being able to charge for their time and wine.

Referring to her time working for the previous owners of Martinborough vineyard On Giants’ Shoulders, she said groups would often turn up for a tasting – which would take up to an hour – and leave without purchasing any wine.

Under the current act, winery cellar doors may not charge visitors for wine samples served.

This is because they operate under an off-license issued for the alcohol purchased to be consumed off the licensed premises.

Although it is not defined in the act, a sample is limited to a maximum of 40 millilitres, which equates to at least 18 samples per standard bottle of wine.

In her submission, Glover said this meant that while she worked at On Giants’ Shoulders, she served groups who only turned up with the sole intention of participating in a free tasting.

“Cellar doors like On Giants’ Shoulders are not a place where people should show up intoxicated to drink more,” Glover said.

“They are created for small businesses who are serious about their wine and want to share with wine lovers.”

She commented on the first solo tasting she hosted, where a “group of men dressed up as superheroes turned up”.

“They had no interest in the wine, with the exception of one who had come before with his partner and knew there would be no charge for the tasting,” Glover said.

“A complete waste of time and money, all because we could not charge.”

She said that charging for tastings would not put off customers who were visiting the winery with a genuine interest in the wine.

On Giants’ Shoulders general manager Sarah Bartlett said that there were enough venues in the region to cater to all types of groups.

“I do think it’s really important to say that there has to be room for both of these things,” Bartlett said.

“But this bill is looking to protect the smaller producers who have their little cellar door, and are often just owner-operators.

“Then they can charge for those tastings in order to cover their costs.”

She urged that while the bill would protect these smaller businesses, it wouldn’t mean Wairarapa – a popular destination for large group outings like stag and hens do’s – wouldn’t be able to cater for all.

“It’s fantastic that we have all these groups coming through,” Bartlett said.

“It just means they may not come to these smaller, boutique producers if they’re going to be charged.

“Which is fine, because those places will get more wine-focused groups coming through who want that experience.”

In the hearing held earlier this month, Vanessa Paton spoke on behalf of Martinborough family-owned winery Ata Rangi and told the select committee that she had seen tasting sessions evolve over time to informative, educational sessions.

“We give a lot of knowledge and time to people because wine tourism has boomed, especially in Martinborough,” Paton said.

“It means our staff have to be knowledgeable and know how to manage it all, and it’s great we have people interested in the story behind it, rather than just consuming.”

To adjust, Paton said Ata Rangi had switched to booked tastings only, but that amending the bill would further support the business’ goal of focusing on winemaking.

“We don’t want an on-license, because we don’t want to be a restaurant,” Paton said.

“We want to be known for the premium wines that we make.”

The bill amendment also seeks to simplify the licensing process for wineries, as it states that often businesses with both a dining service and a cellar door are forced to create a separate legal entity in order to apply for an off license.

The Justice Select Committee is due to report back to the House on March 29, when any proposed amendments and comments from the committee will become public.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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