Sashes and plastic tiaras, genitalia-shaped party favors, and, of course, obligatory male strippers. Bachelorette parties, those post-lib iterations of traditional stag nights, have already given us so much.
A rite of female bonding throughout much of the Western world, fueled by alcohol and high spirits, bachelorette parties have also become a million-dollar industry. According to a 2017 survey, at least 50 percent of partiers typically spend between $250 and $1,000 on a bachelorette. While a booze-fueled night in NYC or Vegas reigns supreme, a growing subset of women is instead opting for wine-tasting parties, which promise a new elegance as well as a financial boost to welcoming vineyards.
The trend is not confined to traditional wine regions like the Napa Valley or the North Fork of Long Island, New York. Bachelorette wine-tasting packages have sprung up across the country, from Minnesota to Texas, where a seemingly inhospitable climate has birthed one of the country’s most rapidly expanding wine-growing areas.
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“Bachelorette Wine Tours have experienced more growth in the past three years than any other part of our business,” says Daniel Andrew, owner of Boston’s City Wine Tours. “They are a central part of what we do.”
Linda Jeffreys of Tastings and Tours echoes this sentiment. “Combined, we run about 3000 people a year for our tours, and I would estimate that at least 80 percent are now bachelorette parties,” she says. And a rep for Pennsylvania-based tour operator Girls Night Out told us via email, “We used to do mostly evening bachelorette parties. There’d be a couple wine tours here and there, but now I’ve had as many as 11 tours on the same day.”
This Must be the Place
So how did wine tastings, formerly a niche pastime of the wealthy and Paul Giamatti, become the new default for bachelorette parties countrywide?
For Danielle, 36, a NYC-based producer, it all came down to practicality. “We felt it would be enough of a getaway that it would feel like a mini-vacation, but wasn’t so far away that people couldn’t come,” she says. She admits that in her 20s a wine tasting party wouldn’t have been a top choice. “At that time we were doing big party buses,” she says. Now in her mid-30s, she felt a tasting would be an appealing way of doing something festive, but with “more age-appropriate” vibes. With first-time brides waiting longer to get married, her choice could be representative of a larger movement toward higher-end (or seemingly higher-end) bachelorette outings.
“Budget was a big factor,” adds Marisa, 40, of a recent bachelorette she attended at St. Helena Winery in California. “But we still wanted to feel we were keeping it fancy.” Some vineyards offer free or discounted tastings, and a package — which can run from $60 to $250 per person for the basics — is still a bargain.
Not everyone is thrilled to see the caravans of inebriated women pull up.
Janet, a long time resident of the North Fork and a food service industry veteran, laments the influx to her formerly sleepy area. “It’s really become more pronounced in the last few years, especially with social media,” she says. “I’ll go to wineries for a drink with friends and eight out of 10 times there will be a bachelorette party there.” She says that restaurants and vineyards are wary of turning away parties, since they’re a reliable source of income, but several have begun to rethink their policy.
The backlash is nothing new. As far back as 2007, wineries have played around with banning bachelorette parties, and many in Napa adopted a “no limos” policy.
Janet says that, for locals, bachelorette party are very much a love-hate relationship. “Packs of 20 drunk women will feign interest in wine but spend most of their time on their phones,” she says.
Clearly the internet has played a vital role in the popularity of wine tasting bachelorettes. Social media is saturated with planning ideas and packages. Enterprising Etsy makers market wine-themed bachelorette party novelty tanks emblazoned with logos like, “You can’t sip with us” and “Vino before vows.”
This digital wave represents a tidal shift from just a decade or so ago when wineries primarily advertised in bridal magazines or with formal planners. “We’ve found that the Internet offers enough outlets for this kind of thing, and believe printed media is not a reliable or viable option anymore,” says one bachelorette party planner, echoing other industry experts we spoke with.
As such, wedding planning is more democratized but also more siloed. Those planning their own fetes are likely to follow models within their own circles on social media, thus proliferating a seemingly endless stream of party limos to willing winery hosts.
Let’s Stay Together
Now wineries face a challenge. How do they court bachelorette dollars while managing blowback from both locals and long-time, far-flung wine enthusiasts? Those who pilgrimage to a revered wine growing region may resent ending up in the background of a raucous stranger’s selfie while attempting to quietly contemplate a nice pinot noir.
It’s a balancing act that will likely continue for some time, as millennials’ love of wine continues to surpass even that of their boomer parents (most of whom probably didn’t have bachelorette parties).
Ultimately, you don’t need to have a sommelier’s palate to want to visit a vineyard. But bringing a private party to any public space requires perspective. If you’re planning to visit a winery with your crew, might I suggest snapping up a few bottles instead of nonstop Instagram posts? A picture may be worth a thousand likes, but investing in local industry is priceless.