Wednesday, February 08, 2006

III Nacional Congress for Wine Tourism in Spain





By Emilio Saez van Eerd, Madrid

Today the Aliter Business School starts the III Nacional Congress for Wine Tourism in Madrid. Wine tourism, after the “sun-beach-tourism”, is considered to be the second most interesting form of tourism in Spain. A few years ago wine tourism sounded like a new hype, bu things are getting kore serious now. In countries like Italy 15% of the yearly sales of many wineries is generated by tourist visits. The Spanish wineries, however, do not really seem to believe in the idea. Some simply refuse to see the potential for their business and prefer to ignore the item. And others think they already practice wine tourism, but in reality they only serve wine to visitors. “A winery you can visit does not necessarely practice wine tourism”, says Jose Fernando Sanchez Bódalo, president of Acevin, the association of Spanish wine towns, and maire of Alcazar de San Juan in the province of Ciudad Real. “How should these wineries focus their activities”?, he asks himself.

Acevin, an authority in this field, started not that long ago, in 1992. The sector of wine tourism did not exist back then. Some areas like the D.O. from Jerez and Rioja had some form of organized tastings and visits. But they were all individual activities. One of the goals of Acevin was to organize and create a special sector for wine tourism at a national level. You could say that this III congress is he result of many years of misionnary labour. At this moment 40 towns from 13 political regions (comunidades) and 22 provinces in 22 denomination of origin participate in the Acevin program. The main goal: “organize the wine sector as a motor for other activities”. This means a development of tourism in general (especially in regions that tourist normally do not visit. Development of the local economy, labour, education, protection of the environment etc...

The question is how must the Spanish wineries link the touristic destinations to their wines. Normally the ones who already have found some way of wine tourism are the wineries that initiate wine tourism by investing large sums of money. The tend to look for the best quality in everything. Five star hotels and Michelin star restaurants etc.. But the ocasional activities of individual wineries sometimes forget the aspect of authenticity, the cultural aspects of their environment. The profile of a wine tourist in Europe is not only wine, but also culture. Off course a wine tourist looks for a winery he can visit, a wine he can taste and buy, but after a few visits to several wineries, the next winery doesn´t really add new information. The focus must change to something more cultural like visit to a town, a monument or a museum. That´s obvious, you might think, but many wineries are just doing the oposite.

Service often does not exist in the vocabulary of the wineries who pretend to open their doors for visits. But don´t try to como 5 minuts before lunch time (14:00), because the person that should recieve you with great enthousiasm, just might close the door in front of your nose. If you´re lucky he tells you that you can come back in 2 hours. So much for hispitalty and flexible opening hours. And what about quality of information. Everything in Spanish, and no real explanation of the activities in the winery. Tastings without any skilled personal. The focus on sales is that obvious, that a visitor feels almost obliged to buy a wine, and therefore the deception grows.

What a wine tourist wants is flexible hours, quality of information, and expects professional companies. But how does the wine tourist organize his trips. Is there an agency for enoturism we can call, or a web site we can visit? Not yet!

But if wine tourism is the second most intersting form of tourism in Spain, why does it last that long to receive the first signals of web sites and agencies offering their specialized services in our e-mail boxes? One of the keywords according to Jose Fernando Sanchez Bódalo in wine tourism is self organisation. Tourists who want to visit a winery will prefer to organize themselves. That means web sites where you can select your region, wineries that have the posibilities guide you through the winery, preferably in your own language, where you can taste the wines, and where you can have a meal at the winery or at least somewhere near. Maybe the site can even lead you to some hotels in the neighbourhood and indicate a next possible visit for the next day. Off course the web site should be able to guide you also to the all the museums, monuments and local events. One of the events is “the day of wine” (día del vino) invented by Vinoselección, Spain´s biggest wine club since 1973. The idea is not new. About 15 years ago in Italy the idea resulted in a wine touristic event with more than 1.000.000 tourists visiting wineries in one day. All the wineries that participate open their doors in a weekend day and organize a continuous tasting for tourists who drive several routes from winery to winery.

Carlo Gilamberti, owner of Vinoselección, embraced the idea and developped it for Spain. He explains that wine tourism may sound like something new, but Vinoselección practices wine tourism since 15 years. Not as a winery but as a club that promotes the culture of wine through tastings and visits to wineries in Spain. He also publishes his own magazine “Sobremesa” one of the oldest and most widely spread gastronomic magazines in Spain among professionals in the sector. “The word wine tourism or “enotourism” (“enoturismo” in Spanish) is that new that only in 2002 the first company registered the name www.enotursimo.com as a domain in internet. Off course the origin of the company is from Rioja, Spains most famous wine region”.

Where Acevin creates the structure of wine tourism in Spain at a business level, Vinoselección really creates a demand for wine tourism. Where Acevin asks the audience what type of business a winery could develop, Vinoselección already invests heavely in ideas and experiments and reaches the consumer through events “The day of Wine” and also the “Wine Train” (El Tren de Vino). This is a real old train that goes form Madrid to Ribera del Duero. Carlo Gilamberti explains that he really wanted to create something unique, 12 hours long (from 9:00 tot 21:00) of wine. In the morning you recieve information in the train, drive through a landscape of vineyards to Valladolid. From there the participants go to a winery, see the bodega, enter the vineyards and taste the wines. After one day your mind has been brainwashed. The first day, Vinoselección invited many reporters, which really helped the wine train to gain prestige among wine enthousiasts. The maire of Valdepeñas liked the idea and signed up to the wine train. Now Valdepeñas, a small town of 32.000 inhabitants is one of the most important and well known wine cities in Spain. Several wineries and organisations like Grupo Yllera (Labyrint Winery), Peralada (Wine Resort, Spa & Golf), Freixenet, Gonzalez Byass, Pago del Vicario, Bodegas Domecq, Lavinia (Saturdays of tastings) and Reserva & Cata (wine courses) showed there tourism experiences. These and some of the wineries of last years congress like Matarromero, Dinastia Vivanco complete the best practices. From my personal experiences I would like to add Castiblanque (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla), Can Bonastre (Penedès), Bodegas Real (Valdepeñas), many wineries in Jerez, Finca Luzon in Jumilla and Los Aljibes (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla) who have created their own departments of wine tourism. They are convinced that a nice looking wine tasting room is not enough anymore. Someone has to fill that room!

I agree to Carlo Gilamberti who´s wine train is symbolic for Spain´s tourism sector. The only way to wine tourism is investment and original ideas, combined with a supporting environment, like gastronomy, hotels, museums and interesting towns. He and some wineries have initiated something that could be defined as the “national wine train”. Many wineries who jumped onto it over the last years managed to increase the speed up this train. Within no time there´s no stopping to the national wine train. I recommend to those who have decided to wait, to jump now! Get your free ticket to wine tourism in Spain.

For more information about the activities of Emilio Saez van Eerd in the field of wine tourism in Spain, please visit International Wine School Alicante

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