While I visited Champagne last weekend, the Reims Management School was hosting a Fête de la Recherche (and it always sounded like they were telling me to do research “Faites de la recherche!”). One of the first research projects they presented was a study of wine tourism in the region. Keenly aware of my interest in oenotourism, my host Melanie Tarlant signed me up to attend.
Steve Charters presents at RMS
Steve Charters, Aurélien Rouquet, and S. Jolly from the RMS presented two studies. One surveyed 28 producteurs recoltants about their thoughts on offering oenotourisme in an effort to determine what was being done already and what people would be willing to do. The other study focused on surveying tourists who actively participated in oenotouristic activities.
I’ve asked the RMS to send me a bit of detail about the studies as methodology seems of vital importance on this issue. But in the meanwhile, I can already talk a bit about the big points they brought up.
Quick ideas that I found interesting:
The majority of Champagne is sold domestically
Champagne producers that export successfully are less likely to be interested in tourism
Champagne producers farther to the south are more likely to be interested in tourism
Some producers fear they might have more to lose than to gain
Many wineries value product tasting more than overall experience
Some disorganized personal conclusions on my part:
Champagne’s touristic activity isn’t as developed as I would have thought. There’s a lot of cool visits to do, but tourism is largely dominated by the negociant houses especially close to Reims.
If it already sells, why do tourism?
Personally, I love the touristic side of the vineyard. It’s fun to meet consumers. And I think it adds value to the wine as people learn about where wine comes from and develop a closer relationship with their producers.
But most businesses are going to look at the short term and ask how much money do I make and how much do I spend developing wine tourism?
So it makes sense that wine producers who already sell their wine successfully at high prices tend to lack the motivation to look into tourism. This turns out to be a bit ironic since the ones who sell their bubbly most easily tend to be located closer to cities and villages with high touristic appeal. For example, many of the more notorious growers are often located closer to Reims and Epernay which receive more tourists.
Similarly, I’d expect wine producers around Hautvillers to lack motivation to explore oenotourisme, because Hautvillers already has so many tourists. The village houses the Abbey where Dom Perignon made the first Champagne blends and so there’s a steady flow of traffic consuming local wines at the bars, restaurants, and cafes. So strangely, they don’t need to do tours. Tourists will go and drink their wine after doing a tour of the abbey. Or at least that’s the impression I got.
It’s pretty fair to generalize and say that growers located in the south (farther from Reims and often more dependent on Pinot) have to fight a little harder to sell their Champagne, and that might explain their motivation to explore wine tourism. Even though they’re farther from the cities that draw the most tourists, they’re willing to fight for it because they need to find innovative ways for people to discover their wines.
Still a lot of improvements to be made
The study found that growers tended to be split into three groups, with some very skeptical producers, some that saw potential, and some who were already eagerly advancing their touristic activity.
Charters specifically cited Champagne Charlier as a leading light in the field of vineyard and winery tours. That said, the online presentation of their offer looks roughly equivalent to my own vineyard’s (if a little less developed, dare I say). And I’ve only been at this for a bit over a year. So there’s still a lot to be done up there.
Should tourism be controlled as closely as production
However, after getting a feel for Champagne’s dual interprofessions (the negociants and growers have separate interprofessional groups), I imagine you can’t make tooo many waves. Growers expressed a general concern about the overall quality of tours preserving the luxury/prestige image of the Champagne region. And this makes sense.
Consumers think very highly of Champagne already. A poorly executed visit could lower a consumer’s image of the region very easily. Should oenotouristic activity for a carefully protected denomination/brand like Champagne be controlled as closely as the production? A very good question. While I would find it laughable for the Cabardes ODG to interfere in the way I run my business, I sort of understand if some Champagne growers think tourism should be developed with certain minimum standards in their region.
But denominations are often promoted as a way to define terroir. It’s all about the product. This notion I’m expressing exposes the political notion of denominations like the AOPs which I’d argue are created to protect growers and help them promote their wines as a group. The beautiful language about terroir goes hand in hand with the political elements. But the political elements are primary (in my mind). So even though tourism doesn’t strictly affect the quality of the wine being produced or how representative it is of the terroir, there is an argument for setting minimum reception standards. But where do we draw a line and say no more bureaucracy past this point? Hmmmm…
How it applies to the Languedoc
First of all, I think it’s really encouraging that the Languedoc isn’t sooo far behind in this realm. French wine tourism, on the whole, is still not as good as it should be. The Languedoc still has a chance to actually surge ahead of almost every other wine region. We’re still in this!
Additionally, we probably don’t have the same handicap of high tourism areas already selling their wines well. A lot of beach tourism doesn’t really come to the region for big red wines (partially explaining the shift to rosés at vineyards nearer the coast). Also, areas with great tourism like Carcassonne and Limoux are not yet world-renowned so we have a vested interest in greeting people well and changing their perception of our wines. As a result, we really have no excuse!
Furthermore, I think negociants in the Languedoc region could take a much more active role in tourism. As seen in Champagne, well-executed tourism increases the perceived value of the product (even when the perceived value is already high). Negociants are perfectly situated to reap the rewards of this kind of activity and don’t face the same sort of constraints as producers/growers. It’s interesting to see the dynamic between cooperatives and negociants, a subject that I’ll speak about more later, affects tourism as much as it affects production.
Oenotourism is the other big subject Robert Joseph tackled. The presentation was similar to the one Vitisphere reported on in October. And it definitely falls in line with some of the wine tourism concepts I wrote about earlier this year. The gist of the presentation is that we have to change a lot of things in the wine tourism business. But really it’s a big sprawling topic so you might want to look through the slides embedded below:
Here are some random observations I’d like to make:
There are people who want to visit vineyards even though they’re not obsessed with wine. Wine tourism is supposed to be entertainment. I agree with all of this and talk about it a lot (most recently in the conclusion of my five minute story at the EWBC). Visiting a winery should not be a task. It should be fun and entertaining. It can also be educational and informative, but those are all secondary to the entertainment. And then he does a semantic analysis of trip advisor reviews (again, I’m getting deja vu here as I just did this type of analysis with the O’Vineyards tripadvisor reviews this year)
Although he also argues that wineries should have pools and movie theaters and daycares and all kinds of peripheral activities. I think this is smart, but it’s also important to note that not every winery will do all of this. It’s up to each winemaker to figure out how to intelligently expand their tourism offer without overstretching themselves or falling into a job they don’t actually want to do.
Slide 17 is hilarious/tragic… 99% of Napa wine producers find tourism to be financially viable while 60% of Florentines do not find it financially viable even though the average shopping cart size is actually smaller in Napa (according to this study). Is this because there are far more visitors at a time in Napa? Or are Italians/Europeans/Mediterraneans just predisposed to being unhappy about our tourism activity? ;D
The question of merchandise is also raised. Here too I wholeheartedly agree with Robert. My parents and I really make a lot of sacrifices to create delicious, unique, life-altering wines and we sometimes make pennies per bottle. On the other hand, I can buy glassware, corkscrews and hoodies with our logo or Carcassonne written on them and sell those at 400% markup. It’s absurd, but I make more money selling a bar of soap with my logo (ordered online) than on the bottle of wine that I spent three years on. And this is a point of contention. Some people say that a winemaker exists to sell wine, not to sell soap. I’m not sure, but I think a winemaker exists to make wine. If I have to sell soap to subsidize my wine sales, then I will sell soap. It’s what I have to do to make wine. And I don’t want to imagine a world where I’m not making wine. So sell soap.
I don’t really have a well organized mailing list (which is terrible of me. it’s one of the things I need to change in 2012) or any wine club (something I might change). This was a big topic and I am ashamed at the end of it. :-/
Then he also talked about the R&D potential of visitors at the vineyard. Why not ask your visitors to try new blends and see if they like it. Test out ideas on your tourists because they are your final market. This sparked some controversy in the talks afterwards as many winemakers find it unthinkable that you would make a wine to cater to the public (essentially to the lowest common denominator the way record labels pick singles to go on the radio). At this extreme, you end up with bland, inoffensive wines that nobody hates (and nobody loves) that can appeal to all markets. But that is an extreme. If you actually have a steady flow of tourists, you can draw information from them and choose to use it or ignore it the same way you would use an oenologist or winemaking consultant. Furthermore, I’d argue that my tourists are not the same as a random sample from the global population. People who visit my vineyard tend to be a little like me, weird sense of humor, interested in learning, like a large range of different wine styles, and so on. Taking their opinions into count is not the same as trying to cater to everybody.
Sorry this post is so rambly. Hard act to follow.
I’ll be quiet for a little bit as I’m headed to Brescia Italy for the European Wine Bloggers Conference. The whole conference is themed around storytelling this year and I have the great privilege of moderating a session of storytellers.
These short stories will be a great way to learn about some of the very interesting people who attend the conference and normally don’t have a chance to share their story. Should be a lot of fun. And a welcome break from decuvage!
Don't forget to pack the wine!
Now I have to pack my bags. What to pack?
Drawing inspiration from this Sud de France poster, I’m bringing a whole leg of ham and seventeen different kinds of cheeses.
No not really… typically, I pack a pair of jeans, two shirts, and a case of wine, as usual. I won’t be winning any fashion contests, but I won’t run out of wine either. Plus I have to bring extra wine in case we get invited to one of Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga parties.
top rated things to do in the languedoc roussillon on trip advisor 2011
TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel review site. Anybody with the Internet can log in and review attractions, accommodation, restaurants and so on. A lot of hotels and B&B places study their tripadvisor reviews religiously because your rating on this site can make or break a business.
How did we get listed
A very friendly Irishman took our winery tour in 2010 and he had a really good time. After the wine tasting, he told us that he would give us a really good TripAdvisor review, and I had no idea what he was talking about. On June 15, 2010 (just 14 months ago) this friendly Irishman posted a review of O’Vineyards on the site. We had no engagement with TripAdvisor at all. No cost. We just kept operating our tours as we always did and suddenly we got this cool feedback on a review site that, at a glance, seemed like a pretty big deal.
A couple of months later, I was nearing the end of a tour when somebody mentioned that this was as awesome as promised on TripAdvisor. Now that was interesting! So we started asking everybody how they found out about us. Today, one year later, we see that TripAdvisor is one of our best sources of clients. They’re ahead of the Office of Tourism and tied with all the local B&Bs, cottage rentals, and hotels that we work with (combined). That’s an outstanding statistic!
And it’s a self-enforcing feedback loop. The clients we get from TripAdvisor tend to know exactly what to expect because of the level of detail in the reviews. That means they are easier to please because they have realistic and informed expectations. And then they go back and review us on TripAdvisor, further adding to the detail available on the site and increasing our rating. So in just one year, we’ve become the number one attraction in the entire Languedoc Roussillon!
Additionally, the feedback we receive from the site has not been empty praise. By listening to people’s reviews, we actually learned what people like most about our tours (and by deduction what parts people didn’t really care about). We were able to shift our efforts to emphasize the elements that people like most. I’ll write about this more in the future, but it’s basically the subject of my who visits vineyards post.
I think it’s a travesty that I’m one of the only vineyards listed on TripAdvisor.
One of my guests this year (coincidentally, somebody who found us through TripAdvisor) suggested that I start getting vineyards and domaines onto TA and helping them use the site. So that’s our next big step. After harvest, I’m going to see how many Languedoc Roussillon vineyards we can get on the site. With something like 3000 wineries in the region, I’ve got my work cut out for me!
I just had a spectacular hike to the Chateaux de Lastours last night where we had a picnic and watched the sunset. One of my buddies at ESC Dijon’s wine commerce program stayed at the B&B this week with his girlfriend. And Gabriella Opaz came up from Barcelona too. Everybody asked me how they could spend their last night in town so I suggested a picnic in the Chateaux de Lastours.
Lastours is a tiny village north of Carcassonne and it used to be the headquarters for the Lords of Cabaret, the guys who give their name to the Cabardes. Lastours was the center of their feifdom and all the surrounding lands were farmed in the name of these lords. They built these fortifications on the high ground above Lastours and the ruins still stand today. And they’re open to the public. So if you want to see a castle that isn’t crawling with tourists, check out Lastours after hours. We walked up and were the only people there. We sat down and had a lovely picnic with some sandwiches and O’Vineyards wine. If you do this, don’t litter! You have to be very tidy or else you’ll ruin this historic site.
Lastours is about 25 minutes north of Carcassonne so you’ll need a car, but it’s totally worth it if you like nature, breathtaking views, and castle ruins. There are lots of stairs too and it’s sadly not accessible to wheelchairs.
Additionally, we went at sunset but you have to be very careful and bring flashlights if you do this. The path down is rather treacherous in the dark and there aren’t always handrails so be safe.
This is an index of an ongoing series of posts about what people can do in and around Carcassonne. Millions of people visit the medieval citadel (the Cité de Carcassonne) each year, but what should they do after walking those gorgeous castle ramparts?
I obviously recommend visiting my winery at O’Vineyards. We offer a full tour of the winery, and our unique history (we’re first generation winemakers) means that we can talk to you like normal human beings about the sometimes scary or pretentious subjects of winemaking and wine tasting.
But I also want to offer a full list of possible activities because there’s a lot to do in and around Carcassonne other than visiting me!
Things to do around Carcassonne
Walking distance from Cité de Carcassonne
Drink good wine
Eat good food
Visit castle ruins and historic sites
Walk, Hike, or Cycle
Walking Distance from Cité
This is a list of activities I’ve written about that are walking distance from the medieval castle of Carcassonne. This may overlap significantly with the other categories on this page, but it was a very popular question so I have to talk about it separately.
Carcassonne is beautiful wine country and you don’t have to know a lot about wine to appreciate the rich flavors of the local producers. The greater Carcassonne area touches five major wine classifications:
There are many other ruins scattered around Carcassonne.
And some places aren’t even ruined yet:
I’ll write about the various cave visits like the Gouffre Geant de Cabrespine and the Grotte de Limousis.
Carcassonne for walkers, hikers, & cyclists
I’ll start listing ideas for walkers, hikers & cyclists.
Things to do in the downtown area of Carcassonne known as the Ville Basse. Things like local markets, the Place Carnot, the Canal, and the river.
So YouTube (which is owned by Google) has a tool that lets you make movies out of your Google searches. It’s pretty primitive, but it’s a fun way to spend a few minutes. errrr.. scratch that, 35 minutes. Damn it. Now I have to go back to work.
Oh well, here is the story of a person trying to research cool wine related stuff near Carcassonne. And only getting one result over and over. No, I’m not referring to trip advisor. It’s O’Vineyards. The best indie wine estate to visit near Carcassonne.
Search terms used are:
“wine tasting around carcassonne”
“meet a winemaker near carcassonne”
“visit a winery near carcassonne”
“best wines cite de carcassonne”
“make wine around carcassonne”
“vineyard holiday in carcassonne”
If there’s a message to take away from this video, it’s that people aren’t maximizing SEO about wine tourism yet in the Languedoc. The post that turned up in most of these searches was written last Sunday. Gites and Chambres search engine optimization is locked down, but there are tons of wine keywords that are still up for grabs. Especially in English. And Carcassonne is a good example because it receives millions of anglophone tourists every year. And the word on the street is that some of them drink wine.
Hey everybody!! My Flip UltraHD came in the mail. I’m really excited. This camera is gorgeous.
I celebrated by traveling to Carcassonne and shooting everything I could including this pensive pigeon.
I will do a lot of random picture posts to share the vineyard and the region with you. Hopefully they won’t all be Nouveau art-films about pigeons considering barred windows.
The back of the castle
Could he be any Frencher?
Gargoyles and crucifix
How to find us
Domaine O’Vineyards is just a few kilometres north of Carcassonne. GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910
Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou until the D118 (the last straight road) and the Dyneff gas station on the roundabout.
Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which goes up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire.
At the last juction, bear left at the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.