(NOTE: This article was originally published in Fine Wine & Liquor Magazine, Dec. 2012 and Jan. 2013 in both English and Chinese)
Wine tourism has been increasing steadily around the world for the past decade. Tourists who are interested in visiting new wine regions are spending millions to taste different wines and enjoy a wine vacation experience. For example, in California in 2012 more than 20 million tourists visited wineries and spent $2.1 billion on wine and related activities.
Defining Wine Tourism
But what is the definition of wine tourism? According to Don Getz it is “travel related to the appeal of wineries and wine country.” Today wine tourists can be found in most every major wine region including France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Australia, Hungary, Austria, Greece, Croatia, South Africa, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, the USA, China, and Japan.
Motivations of Wine Tourists
Wine tourists around the world are motivated by several different factors, and some of these vary by country. For example in parts of Europe and Asia, consumers will often visit a wine region not only to taste wine, but because of the health benefits of wine consumption in moderation. Tourists in the US and Australia may go winetasting with a group of friends because it is a fun activity.
At the same time, there are smaller segments of wine consumers who are motivated to visit wine regions because of the architecture or art in the wineries, to see nature and participate in eco-tourism, for food and wine matching, or for cultural or romantic reasons. A motivation that research shows is common to the majority of wine tourists, however, is the desire to taste new wines, learn about them, and see how the wine is made.
The 12 Best Practices of Global Wine Tourism
The most successful wine regions have adopted some best practices which enable them to provide tourists with memorable experiences that keep them coming back time after time – and bringing their friends and relatives. So what are these best practices?
#1 – Wine Roads – Any wine region that wants to be taken seriously has taken the time to develop maps which list their wineries and provide information on hours of operation, website, phone numbers, and directions. In addition, the wine maps may also include local restaurants, hotels, and other tourist sites. The maps are provided free on the web and in brochure format, and are very helpful for tourists planning a trip.
#2 – Wine Community Partnerships – Successful wine regions work in partnership with local hotels, restaurants, airports and transportation companies to make sure that tourists have a way to find them. Often they hire an Executive Director of Wine Tourism and Marketing for the region that is responsible for developing these community partnerships and tours. A good example is in the Hunter Valley of Australia where they pick-up visitors at the Sydney airport and transport them 2 hours to the valley where they spend 4 days visiting wineries, including hotel and meals. The wineries of Hunter Valley work together with local tour operators to create this beneficial partnership.
#3 – Special Wine Events and Festivals - Many wine regions host special events and festivals, but the most innovative regions think “out of the box” in developing unique events. For example, in Lodi, California they have an annual “Wine and Crane Festival,” and at Melton Wine Estate in New Zealand they host a “Cabaret & Wine Show” with comedians and singers.
#4 – Experiential Wine Programs - Related to special events is the new practice of offering wine tourists unique experiential programs. For example, in Napa and Sonoma valleys of California, it has become common for visitors to participate in wine blending seminars where they mix together different types of wine to create their own customized bottle – such as a Bordeaux blend with merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and malbec. Next they design their own wine label and get to take the wine home with them. Another example of an experiential program is “Dog Walks in the Vineyard,” like that offered by Martha Clare Winery in New York.
#5 – Link Wine to Regional Tourism - Smart wine regions make sure to link to other local tourism sites. This is a win-win strategy for everyone involved because the more activities that can be advertised, the more likely the region will attract greater numbers of tourists. For example, tourists visiting Beijing for the first time always want to see the Great Wall and the Forbidden Palace, but now many also want to taste the local wine and visit famous wineries such as Chateau Changyu and Jinshanling.
#6 – Unique Partnerships - Linking up with different types of partners, rather than just the usual marriages of food, wine, music, and art, is another best practice of successful wine regions. For example the wineries in Okanagan Valley of Canada have joined forces with the many golf courses in the area to provide experiences that include both golf and winetasting, such as their “Chip & Sip” experience. Likewise, the Sonoma Mission Inn Spa in California has teamed up with local wineries to offer afternoon wine-tastings for visitors who have spent the day at the spa enjoying such wine-related treatment as a Chardonnay Scrub and massage.
#7 – Wine Villages - Some wine regions have committed the time and resources to create a “wine village.” This is a town in the wine region that is designed specifically around the theme of wine. There are generally multiple winetasting rooms within walking distance that tourists can visit. Restaurants in the village cater to the wine tourist and provide food that matches local wines. Hotels offer rooms and packages designed around a wine theme. In some cases, these wine villages are quite old and have been known as a wine center for generations, such as Chateauneuf du Pape in the Rhone Valley of France or the mountaintop wine village of Montalcino in the Brunello region of Italy.
However, other regions have created their wine villages from scratch. Examples include the town of Healdsburg, California in Sonoma County where they have expanded from 5 winery tasting rooms to over 20 in the past five years. They also have many hotel and restaurants that cater to wine tourists. Another example is the town of Grapevine, Texas outside of Dallas. Not only does the name of the town proclaim their linkage to wine, but they have more than 12 wine tasting rooms and many wine-related tourist experiences, plus souvenirs advertising Texas Wine.
#8 – Focus on Art & Architecture - Some wineries attract visitors by adding art galleries, sculpture gardens or other unique art-related items. For example, both Bodegas O Fournier Winery outside of Mendoza, Argentina and the Hess Collection Winery in Napa Valley, have famous art collections that visitors can see while tasting wine. Other wineries use architecture to attract crowds, such as Vina Mar Winery in Casablanca Valley, Chile with its beautiful Moorish-influenced building, and the impressive Chateau Changyu Moser XV in the Ningxia wine region of China (featured photo above).
#9 – Food & Wine Matching - Another best practice is targeting tourists who enjoy the culinary aspects of wine tourism. Generally this is implemented by a wine region organizing special food and wine tours or events. A good example is the Wine & Paella Event held every spring in Baja, Mexico where the local wineries match their wines to many different types of paella rice dishes. Another case is the Wine & Food Showcase celebrated every autumn in Sonoma County where the local restaurants pair up with wineries to showcase their food and wine pairings. There are also many food and wine tours offered in the various wine regions of France and Italy throughout the year to attract tourists.
#10 – “Green” or Ecotourism Focus - For wine tourists who seek organic and biodynamic wines, or those who enjoy begin around nature and in the outdoors, a newer best practice is an emphasis on “green” or ecotourism aspects of wine. For example, some wineries offer special tours and educational programs on how they craft organic and biodynamic wines. Parducci Winery in Mendocino County of California is the first carbon neutral winery in the US, and they provide special tours of the vineyards to describe their environmental practices. Likewise, Banfi Winery, in Montalcino, Italy, that has the distinction of being the first winery in the world to achieve environmental certification in ISO14001 and SA8000, also offers tours and explanations of their special “green” practices. Also, Saturna Island Winery in Canada responds to ecotourists by encouraging them to taste wine and then go boating around the island in search of whales.
#11 – Unique Wine Tours - Another cutting edge practice is offering very unique tours for winery visitors. These are usually targeted at the more adventurous wine consumer or for those who have already visited a specific wine region and are looking for something different. An example is “wine & kayaking” as offered by Chatham Winery in Virginia, or a “river-rafting and wine tasting” as offered by Southern Oregon Wineries working in partnership with a local tour company. Other examples include 4-wheel jeep drives through Steinbeck Vineyards in Paso Robles, California, or wine and hiking tours.
#12 – Social Media for Wine Tourism - Finally many wineries and regions are catching onto the benefits of using social media to attract wine tourists. This includes making sure those tourists who use their mobile phones and the Internet to seek information on which winery to visit can easily locate the winery. They do this by ensuring GPS directions are correct, that they are easily found in search engines, and that they have a website that is also designed for mobile phone users. Several wine regions have gone so for as to develop “apps” that can be downloaded onto a mobile phone to provide winery information, maps, and even coupons and tasting fee discounts. Finally, savvy wineries have set up Facebook fan pages and work with other sites, such as Trip Advisor, to make sure they can interact with wine tourists.
In conclusion, as wine tourism continues to increase about the world in popularity, and wine regions recognize the positive economic benefits derived from wine tourists, the adoption of these twelve best practices will spread to even more countries.