LOS OLIVOS, CALIF. --—The man did not seem to be a serious student of wine. Disheveled, unshaven and reeking of booze, he demanded a glass, rested his head on the tasting-room counter and loudly moaned. Knocking over a "wet floor" sign and lurching into displays, he stumbled into eight wineries in one afternoon last week, and six refused him service.
It was a decent outcome for the undercover deputy from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department, who had gone to the lengths of gargling with Jack Daniels and spritzing it on his clothes. He didn't issue any citations, but his sting operation was part of a broad effort to address a growing concern in the wine industry.
"It's a pervasive problem," said Craig Root, a tasting-room consultant based in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena. "The limo crowd appears to have great demographics on the surface, but some of them tend to -- and there's no polite way to put this -- they tend to just get juiced."
The latest buzz in the industry comes from the Temecula Valley, where 21 winery owners have imposed stiff new rules requiring that transportation companies police the hordes of customers they bring to the valley on a typical weekend.
Before the rules took effect in November, the scene was becoming increasingly raucous, officials said. Bachelorette parties and birthday celebrations would devolve into loud, obnoxious group binges.
"People would show up in costumes," said Tomi Arbogast, director of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Assn. "It was a telltale sign their mission was a little different."
Throwing up in the shrubbery, shouting, singing, flinging off garments -- these are not signs of exuberance over the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau.
"Things like that happen in Vegas," Arbogast said. "We don't want them happening here."
The Temecula growers were not the first to aim the grapes of wrath at companies driving drunks to their doorsteps.
In Napa County, a number of wineries have simply put out signs announcing: "No limos." Unfortunately, the signs have a tendency to disappear, said Michael Korson, an investigator for the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
The owners "assume they're taken by people who don't agree with the concept," said Korson, whose five-county area contains about 900 of the state's 1,200 wineries.
Some tasting rooms in the Napa area now require reservations and charge as much as $50 for a few sips of their choice vintages and a plate of artisan cheese. Most California wineries charge about $10 for a "flight" of five or six wines, and a few still offer free tastings.
"Those higher prices are going to eliminate the party crowd," said Veronica Barclay, a wine marketing consultant in Napa County, "unless they're dripping with money."
In the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, wineries have banded together to hand out yellow warning cards and red expulsion cards for customer infractions.
The no-nos, listed beside check boxes on a form given to limousine and bus companies, include "excessive profanity, littering, intoxication, theft, public urination" and, in a nod to the infinite variety of bad behavior, "other." A red card bans the offending tour group from any of the 50 or so participating wineries.
Under the new Temecula Valley rules, drivers must keep clearly intoxicated passengers in their limos or buses and leave immediately with any passengers who have been disruptive. Violations can result in companies being barred.
"It's really worked well," said Arbogast, the winegrowers association director. She cited one bus driver who made "zero attempt" to keep his plastered passengers from dumping beer on passersby and making degrading comments to women in a winery parking lot. Rather than face exile, the company agreed to send only its top drivers to wine country.
As part of the Responsible Partners program, drivers must also "highly discourage" passengers who want to down liquor or beer as they cruise.