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’Tis the season to stock up on tri-county wines

By   /   Friday, November 20th, 2015  /   Comments Off on ’Tis the season to stock up on tri-county wines

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It’s the most wonderful time of year for wine sales.

Wineries I contacted in the region reported that November and December and the last quarter of the year are typically their strongest sales months as consumers stock up for holiday gatherings and select gifts.

Customers will often spend more on a bottle this time of year. Just about every winery has a seasonal event scheduled that may offer special packages or prices as well as food treats.

Don Brady, winemaker and director of operations at Robert Hall Winery in Paso Robles, said the last quarter of the year accounts for 39 percent of their direct wine sales and 32 percent of overall sales.

At Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita, 30 to 32 percent of sales typically occur in the fourth quarter, according to Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins, vice president of operations.

“At Ancient Peaks, we take an active approach to make the most of the season,” she said. “We like to inform our customers about which wines are best for holiday season enjoyment and to come up with creative special offers on those wines.”

Norm Yost, proprietor and winemaker at Flying Goat Cellars in Lompoc, said that 27 to 30 percent of wine sales typically come in the fourth quarter and that the holidays are the best time of year for selling the winery’s Goat Bubbles sparkling wines.

Flying Goat’s Black Friday event at the tasting room from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 27 will include special pricing on some wines, and older vintage pinot noirs will be available for tasting and purchase.

National retail figures tracked by the Nielsen Co. show that wine sells especially well during the holiday months.

Brian Lechner, a vice president in the company’s San Francisco office, said retail wine sales at grocery, drug, big box and liquor stores are 20 to 40 percent higher, depending on price tier, in the months of November and December compared to an average month.

One in every three bottles of sparkling wine is sold in those two months, he emailed, and the average price of a bottle of wine sold at retail in December is 10 percent higher than the average price over the entire year.

A 2014 consumer survey by Nielsen’s Harris division found that people who buy alcoholic beverages for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year are far more likely to buy wine or sparkling wine than beer or spirits.

Some tri-county wineries did not have numbers available to share, but reported that the holiday season is a bustling time.

Skylar Stuck, general manager at Halter Ranch Vineyard in Paso Robles, said the winery’s tasting room and wine club lounge are busier in November and December than in any other months of the year.

“We’re super glad that we have holidays to celebrate to bring more people in,” he said.  “We work 12 months out of the year with different events at the ranch to bring people here, but they seem to bring themselves here more of their own volition during the last two or three months of the year.”

On Dec. 5 and 6, there will be tours and sweet bites at Halter Ranch’s Christmas-decorated 1885 Victorian house. Stuck said he hopes work will be completed in time for a soft opening in December of the winery’s new tasting room overlooking the vineyards.

November and December sales numbers are not as exceptionally high in a town with year-round tourists at Lucas & Lewellen’s tasting room in Solvang, but those months are two of the best in the year along with May, according to Michael Lewellen, head of business operations.

The two holiday months account for 20 percent of annual tasting room sales, Lewellen said, and they are the best months for sparkling wines, which are at the higher end of the winery’s price points.

Katie O’Hara, marketing director at Au Bon Climat, said holiday visitors to the Santa Barbara tasting room will often buy in bigger quantities for parties and events, or will spend more looking for a special gift bottle.

“We’re able to supply that in aces since we have a couple of different labels and, because we’ve been around for so long, we have  a great selection of library wines,” O’Hara said.

Winemaker Jim Clendenen will sign bottles at Au Bon Climat’s Christmas party at the tasting room from 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 11 (reservations required). There will be holiday treats, wines on special and gift packs for sale.

Wittstrom-Higgins of Ancient Peaks said shopping for holiday gifts at the tasting room can save time, stress and, sometimes, money.

“The great thing about wine is that it is a gift you know almost everyone will love,” she said.

• Contact Tom Bronzini at [email protected]

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