How Uber is changing the way drunk people take wine tours


There is beauty in tasting wine in the land where grapes are grown, crushed and fermented. Words that are obnoxious in any other context, like “terroir” and “jammy” flow naturally into the conversation. Imaginary flavors (grilled coriander! Woody tobacco!) Seem to spring from your palate.

In Southern California, the laid-back Santa Ynez Valley is an easy place to hunker down in an unpretentious environment. As one of Santa Barbara County’s five American Wine Zones (AVAs), the Santa Ynez Valley has more than 120 wineries, many of which are family-run establishments. But somewhere between sipping subversive screw-on syrahs from Andrew Murray Vineyards, a reserve tasting at Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard, and grape varieties grown on the estate among the vines of Beckman Vineyards, the biggest consequence of wine tasting, that is to say, drinking, becomes painfully clear: the buzz of wine sets in slowly and hits hard.

On the short drive from Buellton to the tasting rooms in downtown Solvang, I poetically recount how much better wine is when you’re in a vineyard.

“I can take you to a vineyard, you know,” our driver says up front.

“Yeah, but how can we get back? “

“I’ll just wait for you in the parking lot.” We can see as many as you want.

“You are… what now?” “

Enter UberWine. The transportation industry’s favorite disruptor saw an opportunity in California and launched his service, effectively helping oenologists avoid drunk driving in vineyards at a reasonable cost.

Depending on the size of the vehicles, this works out to around $ 35 to $ 45 an hour. Tasting room fees and meals are not included, making it essentially a simple, inexpensive alternative to a traditional wine tour.

Unless you have a designated driver or pay $ 100 or more per head for an organized tour, the risk of driving back into town drunk is legitimate. While DUI stats cannot be specifically related to wine tasting, logic dictates that drinking during the day in places that don’t serve food (most are BYO picnics) and then getting behind the wheel on rural roads is a dangerous combination.

The same company that gave Seattle UberPedal recently launched UberWine in central California’s San Luis Obispo County before expanding south into Santa Barbara County. It’s great in its simplicity: you connect with an on-demand driver, decide where to go and for how long, and keep the same car and driver for the day. Depending on the size of the vehicles, this works out to around $ 35 (UberWine) to $ 45 (UberWineXL) an hour. Tasting room fees and meals are not included, making it essentially a simple, inexpensive alternative to a traditional wine tour. Kind of wine tasting EasyJet.

“The thing with Uber is that people can use it for the experience they want to have,” says Michael Amodeo of Uber’s West Coast office. “For people looking for wineries off the beaten track, having a private driver may be their only option; we wanted to make the car stay all the time. “

In the Santa Ynez Valley, UberWine is still in its infancy. Unlike the city of Santa Barbara, where Uber is thriving and UberWine is marketed as an affordable way to come and go in wine country, the Valley is a primarily agricultural area located 35 miles from the coast. Only around 20,000 residents are scattered among the quiet towns of Solvang, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Buellton and Ballard and there are only a handful of drivers in the area.

The region is also still in its infancy as a culinary destination. The former stagecoach stopover has a long history of agriculture, cattle ranching and viticulture, which dates back to 200 years ago, when Spanish missionaries planted the first vines. Wine growers began to make their mark in the 1970s and the wine world noticed cool weather pinot noir and chardonnays produced in the Santa Rita hills, followed by Rhône varietals from the warmer Santa Ynez valley. . By the 1990s, farmers were becoming respected California winemakers, but most had gone unnoticed from a tourism perspective.

For decades, the region’s highlight was Solvang, Southern California’s answer to a Danish village. Solvang does not joke about its heritage: strolling through the streets lined with traditional half-timbered architectures, you will come across a Little Mermaid fountain and windmills, pass the Hans Christian Andersen Museum and Hans Christian Andersen Park, and stroll to several bakeries that bake butter cookies and almonds kringles.

Then Next to pass. The 2004 film follows an alcoholic writer and his best friend on a weekend wine adventure in the Santa Ynez Valley, using local establishments like The Hitching Post and Los Olivos Cafe as a backdrop. The film that demonized Merlot simultaneously created a whole wine tourism industry in the valley.

On a typical tour of the area, your dining experience can be as simple as walking around Solvang or Los Olivos, diving into the tasting rooms, restaurants, and the occasional craft brewery. Then there are the more remote wineries, graceful structures nestled in rural roads amid acres of vineyards and centuries-old oaks and flanked by rolling mountain ranges.

Transport between major cities and to rural areas is limited and this space is traditionally occupied by organized tour operators. These operations have developed in tandem with the industry: where there were only three or four wine travel companies “before Next to“, there are now around thirty companies in the region.

“Unlike Napa and Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Barbara County is diverse in its wine types,” said Morgen McLaughlin, executive director of the Santa Barbara Vintners’ Association. “So at the grassroots level people feel overwhelmed by the choices; a tour that picks you up from the hotel, visits four wineries, and offers a picnic is a good option. “

For now, UberWine’s footprint is too small to impact other businesses. In fact, it’s barely on the radar of tourists who come here.

In some cases, like the 15-year-old Stagecoach Wine Tours, the guides are trained sommeliers and have long relationships with local wineries, so you might find yourself served wine by the winemaker or visiting wineries that are not open to the public. general Public. With UberWine, the route is up to you and there is no guarantee that your driver will be a true wine expert, or even that they will have lived in the area for very long. (Ours was a recent transplant in the area.)

Of course, where there is Uber, there is controversy, and there is already low rumble within the community.

“Existing businesses are concerned that Uber will gain an unfair advantage,” says McLaughlin, whose association includes several local wine tourists. “A travel agency has to have really intensive insurance and its drivers have to have certain licenses.”

But, for now, UberWine’s footprint is too small to impact other businesses. In fact, it’s barely on the radar of tourists who come here.

“Our typical visitor to Solvang comes in multigenerational groups,” says Tracy Farhad, executive director of the Solvang Visitors and Convention Bureau. “These are the grandparents, parents, children, visiting family, aged 35 to 65.” In this context, the tour of the vineyards is not a spontaneous activity which lends itself to application on demand.

Still, the more food-oriented young travelers discover the area, the more chance UberWine has to shine, especially among last-minute planners or cost-conscious types. In an effort to reach a wider audience, Uber has partnered with the upcoming Santa Barbara Vintners Harvest Festival and is considering partnerships with local wineries to offer discounts on wine purchases, which is already happening in San Luis. Obispo.

And the way Uber always seems to show up in the right place at the right time, it may have inadvertently intervened during a pivotal period in the Santa Ynez Valley, during which younger and more avid travelers. technology are coming. As interest in wine continues to grow, the region’s restaurants are moving beyond family-friendly comfort food (pea soup and Danish pancakes!) lots in an industrial park, attracting an audience looking for serious wines in an unpretentious setting (read: no bachelorette party). Meanwhile, pending legislation in Santa Barbara County could allow wineries and tasting rooms to serve limited dishes for wine pairings and winegrowers’ dinners, which will likely attract a new wave of researchers. culinary experience.

Even the severe drought that has plagued California for years is changing the industry. Until recently, the vineyards had higher than normal yields; and while numbers in the Santa Ynez Valley are down this year, stressed vines create more concentrated, sweeter fruit. For the future, new vineyards are planting vines with sustainable “dry cultivation” techniques that rely on natural rainwater, a practice already longstanding in European wine regions.

Sustainable vinification? Drink in a metal shed? UberWine: Welcome to California’s New Wine Country.


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