It was one of the shortest meetings on record, ending just over 20 minutes after it was called to order on Monday night. There was very little in the way of new business – the single item on the agenda, the receipt of a report on a community poll regarding potential increases in taxes for city services, was delayed until the April 2 meeting.
But there was news. In the public comments on non-agenda items, two downtown business merchants asked the City Council to initiate a review of the Barrel Tasting weekend, which took place the first two weekends of this month.
Ann Marie Montecuollo of was the first to speak, opening her remarks with grim, “This is something that I never expected to say…”
“The event has produced a culture of incredible drunkenness in town," she said. “My fear is that something tragic is going to happen.” She recounted a general atmosphere of inebriation, especially among people in the 20s, that was disturbing to merchants and other town visitors.
Barrel Tasting is one of three large annual events sponsored by , an association of wineries and lodgings in the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys. Participants purchase passes to a number of participating wineries and are issued a wrist band and wine glass, and are able to sample developing wine from barrel in order to buy “futures.” There were over 100 wineries participating this year, though a number of Wine Road member wineries do not take part.
“The glasses they carry to go from one tasting room to another are supposed to be empty,” recalled Montecuollo. "They are not empty. They are being filled with beer in some cases.”
“The kids are out of control, what can you say," add Sue Sacks of , the second merchant to speak. “There are horror stories everywhere. Store owners have to clean up vomit.”
But neither speaker seemed to be calling for the end of Barrel Tasting or other similar events. “We think you should try to fix this before it gets worse,” said Montecuollo. “This is a serious problem and it needs your attention.”
“We don’t want to shut it down,” echoed Sacks, “because it’s good business for everyone. It’s just not smart business.”
Both merchants expressed concern for the safety of participants, and wondered too about legal responsibility for injury or damage should things get out of hand.
Sacks suggested a “task force of tasting rooms, hotels, retailers and the Wine Road just to rethink this.”
While the Brown Act forbids the city from considering issues or taking action on any requests during the public comment period, Mayor Gary Plass agreed after the meeting that “It’s time to have a dialog.”
Beth Costa, the executive director of the Wine Road, was out of the office last week and unable to respond to a Patch request for a post mortem on the event. Earlier today she messaged that “At this point I don’t think Barrel Tasting would be very timely,” but it is expected she will discuss the issue when she returns to work tomorrow.
The reason for the short meeting was the absence of two of the five council members. Both Jim Wood and Stephen Babb were unable to attend, leaving only Susan Jones, Tom Chambers and Gary Plass at the dais. The short-staffed council decided to table the poll report until all members could be present.