There has been plenty of talk this summer about wine tour companies bringing rowdy patrons to Okanagan wineries.
Some wineries have gone so far as to limit the number of tours or people per tour at any one time. Others have outright banned bachelor and bachelorette parties.
One local tour operator believes the changing wine tour landscape is a result of too many rogue operators who play loose with the rules. Debbie Dupasquier bought Distinctly Kelowna Tours in 2011, and she has noticed a huge surge in the number of companies over the last seven years.
“Unfortunately a lot of them don’t have their proper licensing and insurance, and some of them are just giving the industry a bad name by letting people drink in the vehicles and bringing drunk groups to the wineries,” Dupasquier said.
“So some of the newer wineries that don’t know the history of the original tour companies, like Blind Tiger being new, are just kind of set up with some of these new companies bringing in these rowdy groups. They’re making this blanket rule that they aren’t going to welcome tour companies or are very limiting in the number of guests who can be brought to the wineries.
“Fortunately we have a really good reputation, and a lot of the wineries know us.”
Dupasquier and seven of her competitors recently joined forces to create the Thompson Okanagan Tour Operators Association in an effort to make themselves stand out from the pack.
“We’re trying to encourage all the wineries, hotels, visitor centres and municipalities to eventually only work with the tour companies that are part of this association,” Dupasquier said. “Because we’re making sure that everybody that’s a member has their passenger transportation licence, all their drivers have their class four (licence), they’re abiding by all the rules of the law, have insurance, are professional and have a good reputation.”
Distinctly Kelowna Tours continues to accept bachelorette parties, although Dupasquier said she sends out a policy to the group before it takes the tour. Dupasquier said the bachelorette party members who go on her tours “are interested in wine touring and purchase wine.”
Dupasquier noted Quails’ Gate Estate Winery in West Kelowna does not accept bachelorette groups, including those who are on an official wine tour.
“Some of the wineries have put some limits on, saying you can’t bring more than six guests or you can’t bring more than eight or they can only have one tour company at a time,” Dupasquier said. “So yeah, it has impacted us for sure, but fortunately there’s so many wineries available that we’re able to work around it.”
Lake Country’s Gray Monk Estate Winery, which is under new ownership, implemented a policy this year in which wine tour group members are charged a nonrefundable entry fee of $5. Individuals who visit the tasting room have that fee refunded if they purchase a bottle of wine.
Gray Monk works with five or so licensed wine tour companies, including Distinctly Kelowna, and all it asks is they book in advance.
“The more processes we put in place, it can help manage the growth, because it has absolutely become a very, very popular activity,” Gray Monk estate manager Patricia Leslie said. “We always hope that we’re building relationships with guests who continue to purchase the wine, but we understand that sometimes people are travelling from far away and they just want to do the tasting as an activity.
“So there are all types for sure, but I would always recommend to anyone booking a wine tour to make sure that the company is licensed properly just for their own safety as well.”
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