Wine tourism in France is currently experiencing considerable growth. It is now trendy to spend the weekend discovering wineries in contact with its owners or wine guides. This particular form of agri-tourism makes it possible to value even more one of the greatest French products; an important part of our heritage and culture: wine. However, this is perhaps the aspect of wine that France has the least control over compared to other countries. Indeed, those who can be called the “new world” of wine were able to grasp very quickly the opportunity represented by wine tourism. As early as the 1970s, these vineyards began to professionalize and systematize their offer. In France, the first wine routes were established in 1937! But the touristic offer has not really developed or professionalized around the vineyards until much later.
How is French wine tourism organized?
First of all, it is clear that French wine tourism began as 100% rural tourism. With the wine roads, the first enthusiasts began to visit off-the-beaten-path vineyards for a holiday in the countryside. The division of the appellations carried out by INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) motivated wine enthusiasts to visit them all, and to discover their specificities. Each terroir is special and it is up to the winemakers to pass on their passion and knowledge to the visitors. Burgundy was the first wine region to have its wine route. This may seem logical given the importance and reputation of this wine-growing region.
However, it was in Bordeaux that the activity took its first breath. Indeed, the commercial and financial power of Bordeaux’s chateaux has made their mark. With an internationally present name and considerable resources, they are the first to constitute a real offer of leisure. Rinding a horse through the vineyards, 5 senses tours, food and wine pairings, etc. French wine tourism was built around this kind of activity. More recently, wine routes have been replaced by labels: vineyards and discoveries, vineyards with signatures … Tourist offices that once made contact between amateurs and vineyards are supplanted by online platforms such as Wine Tour Booking, Oenotourisme.com, Winalist …
In terms of content, French wine tourism is today characterized by its didactic and cultural aspect. Winemakers and guides are often there to transmit knowledge and passion. The emphasis is often on the notion of terroir; very important in the structure of the wine sector in France. This often leaves room for beautiful exchanges between passionate winemakers and curious tourists.
The recent professionalization of this sector shows new trends. In particular, the reception of companies in the vineyards, which come for seminars or team building. The workshops offered to them are very dynamic: cooking courses, master class, creating your own wine… So more and more companies are letting themselves be tempted by these formulas. Finally, a very high-end niche attracts a growing clientele. Some properties offer extremely exclusive offers: helicopter flight, 5-star stay, spa or private tours and tastings with the cellar master. This high-end wine tourism mainly targets a foreign clientele who still have a bit of trouble finding their way into our vineyards.
What about the wine tourism of our American neighbors?
In the new world of wine (USA, Chile, Argentina, Australia, Canada, etc.), the United States is the standard bearer of modern wine tourism. The history of the American vineyard is very recent. It dates back to shortly after the colonization of the continent by the Europeans, who brought viticulture with them. California, which is the first vineyard in the USA, began later, at the end of the 18th century. It has strengthened with the waves of European immigration, and the gold rush of the 20th century.
Thus, this vineyard did not have a lot of history to sell, only a few family sagas are still repeated. The Americans have also freed themselves from the notion of terroir as we know it. Indeed, they prefer to highlight the grape variety present in the wine as a selling point. All this forced them to develop a wine tourism very different from ours. First of all, it is necessary to say that the American Estates understood much more quickly than we did the commercial manna that this activity represented. In addition to the turnover it represents, it increases the sales of live wines and allows a very high customer loyalty. Especially since communication and a company’s showcase have a dramatic influence on sales across the Atlantic.
In the Napa Valley, they took a strong decision, wine tourism will be inseparable from wine production. Thus, from the beginning of the winegrowing facilities, the vineyard was thought to be visited. Everything is bigger and more open, to allow tourists to feel the atmosphere of the region. Moreover, most of the buildings in the region are very contemporary; thought to be part of the natural landscape.
In addition, the goal is different there. The primary objective of the vineyards is to provide an experience for their visitors. These will then live the brand. There are many shows, exceptional tours and art exhibitions; tasting is also omnipresent. The goal is for the vineyards to create an experience that will for long remain engraved in the memory of the visitors. And for good reason, the structure of American wine tourism forces the Estates to always be on top! In fact, most of these vineyards are visited on tours, where tourists will be brought to visit 4, 5 wineries in the same day. It is therefore essential for them to offer the best possible experience.
Multiple wine tourisms ?
As you can appreciate, you don’t spend the same day visiting a vineyard on both sides of the ocean. If one is more cultural, the other is more experimental. However, we see a mixture of genres that is quite well seen over the years. The European sector is becoming more professional, offers are expanding and diversified. Moreover, the principles of American modernity are beginning to emerge up to the oldest bastions of our soil. For example, the city of wine, a symbol of French wine tourism, displays a bold architecture. If its form evokes of course the wine, the interior offers a very well-thought visit. In a circuit that starts in the cellar and ends with an amazing panoramic view, you will discover the history of wine since antiquity. Very universal, this structure is the image of the future of wine consumption, and therefore of wine tourism: globalized.