Who visits vineyards?

Alexa, Thank you for your TripAdvisor review!

“Lynsey’s Hen Do” by Alexa_waugh
5 of 5 stars. Reviewed May 21, 2014 NEW
I booked this wine tour for my sister’s Hen Party and I cannot recommend it enough. We arrived to a beautiful welcome, followed by a brilliant tour of the vine yard and the winery. It was very informative and Joe was excellent with the group of women asking lots of questions… and drinking quicker than he could fill the glasses! After sitting outside with a glass of wine, we went in for lunch and the food was incredible. the wine was free flowing and the dining experience was relaxed. Joe and Liz joined us for drinks and we couldn’t have had a better time. the only disappointment was having to leave the few bottles of wine we purchased because we couldn’t carry them in hand luggage. I cannot express how highly i recommend the tour. If you are looking for info on wine, to drink lots of wine, to see the workings of a small business, taste amazing food and drink more wine… then i throughly recommend you book this tour. Plus you can stay there too so no excuse for having to drive!

Happy St Patrick’s Day to you all! How do you like our O’Chasan  dressed in green and ready to go!

At O’Vineyards, St Patrick’s day will be celebrated ALL WEEK! ….. Good excuse to have more green … or white … O’Chasan! Cheers! 

 

From TripAdvisor Senior Reviewer Grant Hughes who visited us with his wife Fiona. Thank you Grant!

“An unexpected surprise, but what a great evening!”

TripAvisor 5 of 5 stars. Reviewed July 22, 2013

“We are spending a few days near Carcasson in France and we got a little frustrated with driving into town, so we did a search of local places to eat……we found this just a mile or so from where we are staying and thought it was just a restaurant!!!
When we arrived we were greeted by a nice American chap(Joe) – our first surprise as when we called to book we spoke to a French lady (liz).
We were then introduced to the other 4 couples (surprise 2) and given a superb crisp white wine to try.
Then Joe gave us all a tour of his vines and his winery and told us all about how he makes his wonderful wines. More tastings ……. Moving on to some out of this world reds (OMG is a good name for it!).
Then we all sat down to a lovely meal (prepared by Liz, who had obviously spent hours in the kitchen and prepared all sorts of interesting and tasty things for us all to eat) the wine and the conversation flowed and we met a crowd of interesting and friendly people.
This was more like a dinner party for friends than a meal out and we had a fantastic time and, even though we are not particular wine buffs, we appreciated the very fine wines that our host gave us, which he obviously was very proud of and rightly so.
This family obviously love their work and have a passion for their art! If you like wine you should try all of them! You can buy them through Naked wines on the Internet . Look for ‘Domaine O’vineyards’
Then we sat on the terrace in the warm evening looking over the vineyards and ‘sampling’ more delicious wines with cheeses and a hand made desert! More conversation and laughter…….
We finally bade everyone goodbye at around midnight and back to the b+b.
The wines were so pure and unadulterated……. No hang over this morning (surprise no …. I lost count after about the third bottle!)
I thoroughly recommend this as a ‘ must do’ if you are in the area. One of the best holiday decisions we have ever made!
Thank you Joe and Liz for a wonderful dinner party, great wine, great company and great food!”

 

I like to serve dishes, French or fusion, that our World Visitors can discover and appreciate. Travelers from Japan love sea food but I knew enough not to feed them shrimp tempura. I treated them to a Liz’s bouillabaisse.

Here is the receipe:
As for all my ingredients, the fish need to be very fresh! Then add onions, carrots, tomatoes and potatoes, salt and pepper.
I use the carrots for the color and the potatoes to thicken the broth and give it more of a “bisk” look and taste.
Sauté the fish before in a little amount of colza oil.
Sauté oinions, carrots, tomatoes and potatoes.
Put all ingredients together in a steamer and cook for 10 minutes.
Remove the bones, keeping only the meat of the fish.
blend fish and vegetables with some fresh dill. Serve hot. You can add on top a grilled toast covered with ementhal or gruyère cheese. or a grilled garlic toast!

This article compares research findings about wine tourism in Champagne and the Languedoc.  If you’re looking for a vineyard to visit in Champagne, I suggest Tarlant who organized my entire trip there.  If you’re looking for a vineyard to visit in the Languedoc, I suggest mine because I want to meet you. :D

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, MW, RMS

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.

 

 

Tonton Marcel, a French and German guide to agritourism, dropped by O’Vineyards toward the end of harvest.  They’re on the lookout for the  unpretentious, country relation of Mr. and Mrs. Smith who also runs accommodations on the farm. :D

Photos they took while here

 

Tonton Marcel separates the wheat from the chaff

I think this is a guide that needed to exist.  One of the big problems with agritourism is that you’re never sure if you’re getting a cool, modern farm experience or a cheap little cot in a hayloft with a farmer who seems to dislike visitors.  This second group is often a historical artifact resulting from the way farmers used to make a little spare cash.

There was a time when your horses got tired and you’d ask one of the locals if there were any pensions before the next big town.  A place where you could tie up your horses and shut your eyes until morning.  Those places still exist.  A lot of farms and vineyards run their chambres d’hotes or gites in a similar manner.  You show up, get the key, and then they’ll avoid you at all cost for the rest of your stay.  The room is located on a farm, but otherwise you’re as separated from the farm experience as possible.  These places also tend to be a little run down.  A little rusticity can be charming, but people also expect a certain level of comfort.

Modern agritourism, especially in wine, can result in massive investments like four star hotels with a view on the vines.  Every comfort imaginable.  But then these accommodations can go a bit too far and you forget you’re even staying at a farm.

Tonton Marcel seems to seek out the special sweetspot between authenticity and modernity.  They’re looking for operators like my family.  We actually make wine and we’re winemakers before we’re hoteliers.  But at the same time, we understand that you should show your guests a bit of hospitality and we’re savvy enough to include them in the winemaking process when we can. Guests at O’Vineyards will almost definitely remember the winemakers as they look back fondly on their stay.

So the guide finds farms like mine.  And I think a lot of kids my age are looking for this sort of experience.  I say kids because the average age of our B&B guests so far is about 35.  That’s exceptionally low for a B&B.  It’s eye opening for a lot of operators who think that only older couples are interested in the bed and breakfast concept.

So here’s hoping that Tonton Marcel becomes as much a household name as Mr & Mrs Smith.

A lot of people ask me what wine regions are closest to Toulouse, because they’d like to get out of the city to taste some wine.  I thought I’d write up my wine tasting recommendations in one place.

If you want to spend a day visiting a wine region near Toulouse, I’m naturally going to recommend that you visit me at O’Vineyards or spend the night in our B&B.  I’m a little more than an hour’s drive from Toulouse and after you visit O’Vineyards, you can spend some time at the Cité de Carcassonne.  But this page has information about all the other wine regions you can visit near Toulouse.

Vineyards around Toulouse

photo: DalGobboM

Wine regions close to Toulouse

  • Gaillac (near Albi) – Probably the closest wine area that people talk about frequently.  You can check out Albi’s cathedral or the Toulouse Lautrec museum on the same day as they’re in the same area as Gaillac.
  • Cabardes (near Carcassonne) – The Languedoc-Roussillon appellation that is closest to Toulouse, Cabardes is just a few kilometers away from the Cité de Carcassonne, so that can be an interesting day trip or weekend.
  • Cahors – This is the original home of Malbec, a grape varietal made popularized in Argentina.  Try to find a winery that makes real black wine, so dark you can add water and still not see through it.
  • Madiran – A southwestern appellation that has gained notoriety more recently for it’s highly tannic wines generally dominated by the Tannat grape  variety.
  • Cotes de Millau – I don’t know much about the wines, but it’s made right around where they make Roquefort cheese (and you can often visit those cheese caves).  So if you’re into salty blue cheeses this would be a pretty epic day trip.
  • Armagnac –  Not strictly wine, but worth mentioning, as this spirit is distilled from wine.  Similar to cognac but aged differently.  Check it out if you like spirits.

These are generally ordered by a combination of how interesting I think they are and how far they are from Toulouse.  It’s not an exact science because some wine regions are very large and oddly shaped and so even though most of the region is farther away, some wineries in it may be closer.  To illustrate this point, the map here shows all the southwestern French wine designations, but Cabardes (which is technically Languedoc-Roussillon and not southwestern France) is not shown even though it is much closer than most of southwestern France.  Such is life!

Here is a more complete list of wine areas classified as Southwestern French wines which includes some regions that I don’t know as much about:

  • Côtes du Frontonnais
  • Vins de Lavilledieu
  • Gaillac
  • Cotes de Brulhois
  • Cotes de Buzet
  • Cotes du Marmandais
  • Cahors
  • Cotes de Saint-Mont
  • Tursan
  • Madiran / Pacherenc du Vic Bilh
  • Bergerac
  • Cotes du Duras
  • Montravel
  • Monbazillac
  • Saussignac
  • Pecharmant
  • Rosette
  • Marcillac
  • Vins d’Entraygues et du Fel
  • Vins d’Estaing
  • Cotes de Millau
  • Bearn
  • Jurancon
  • Irouléguy (Basque country)
note: This post is written as advice for winemakers offering tours.  If you are looking to participate in a wine tour, you can learn about our winery visits and wine tastings.

By looking at feedback we receive from our clients through social media and review sites like TripAdvisor, we’ve learned a surprising lesson about the top priorities for travelers visiting a winery.  Almost all reviews highlight a casual, relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.

TripAdvisor reviews about hospitality and atmosphere

  • “Joe, Liz and Ryan are excellent hosts, and we all immediately felt relaxed in their company.”
  • “The O’Connell family is warm, friendly, and kind.”
  • “Ryan: some guy JUST LIKE ME, yet with an encyclopediac knowledge and passionate interest in grapes (and all that goes one with them!). There is no pretension or snobbery here – just big smiles and AMAZING wine.”
  • “Ryan, Joe and Liz made us truly welcome”
  • “As well as the gorgeous wine the other outstanding thing at O’Vineyards is the great hospitality and wonderful food.”
  • “Instantly I felt at home.”
  • “Then we relaxed in the cellar”
  • “Not to worry”
  • “The owners Liz and Joe were so friendly and inviting. From the moment we arrived we were greeted with smiles and friendliness.”
  • “C’était une très agréable visite pour nous, surtout parce que nous n’étions pas les seuls à nous amuser–eux aussi!”

These are all excerpts from tripadvisor reviews we’ve received in the past year or so. I think TripAdvisor is more than just a new arm of marketing/PR.  These reviews are really helpful because they give amazing insight into the psychology of our visitors.

A recurring theme that leaps out of our reviews is a focus on feeling relaxed, welcomed, and unpretentious.  Some reviews include detailed accounts of visiting the winery, tasting from barrels, looking at vines, and other more technical aspects of the tour.  But virtually all the reviews talk about atmosphere, hospitality, friendliness, relaxing, and so on.

This was an exceptionally important realization.  We were very focused on providing good information, great wine, good tasting conditions, and so on.  Of course, these things are important, but we now learn that putting your guests at ease is even more crucial. The wine doesn’t have to be at exactly 17 degrees centigrade and served in finest crystal.  But you do have to be smiling, welcoming, and fun to be around.

Quality of food and wine

All that said, it is really important that the wine tastes great.  The quality of the wine is mentioned in virtually every review.  And literally everybody who ate my mom’s cooking at the end of the tour has mentioned how good she is in the kitchen.  So food is exceptionally important.

Don’t be pretentious

The point of this post is to share surprising lessons from TripAdvisor reviews.  We’re not surprised that people want good food and wine.

We were sort of surprised at how much of the reviews are devoted to explaining that we are nice people.  Being friendly and unpretentious is super-important!

Since I know a lot of really friendly people in the wine trade, and because I’m pretty confident about my wine knowledge, I had forgotten how intimidating this world is.  And a lot of our visitors share horror stories about visiting wineries and wine shops where the wine tasted great but the service was awful.  Usually these stories focus around a person who clearly knows a lot about wine and serves delicious wine, but treats the visitors like dirt just because they’re not as knowledagable or rolls their eyes at simple questions.  And even if these stories constitute a minority of wine experiences, they scare people to death!

A quick look at our reviews reveals that people are really worried that the atmosphere won’t be relaxed or welcoming.  And so they are very pleased to discover it is!

So don’t be a jerk!  Smile a lot.  Remember that nobody is born knowing a lot about wine.  And even very well educated people don’t know everything.  And smile again.  Your guests will appreciate it!

More practical advice

Aside from smiling, there are a few things we’ve started doing differently because of this discovery.

  • Communicate on the fact that our wine tour isn’t for snobs.
    • Feature customer testimonial from people who say “this was my first winery tour and…”
    • Feature customer testimonial with words like “welcoming” and “relaxed”
  • When guests arrive, put them at ease
    • Tell them to interrupt you
    • Insist that they can ask questions
    • Look at everybody in the group while you talk, even (especially?) children
  • Don’t get too distracted by technical elements of the tour – if serving the wine at just the right temperature in a specific type of glass is impossible, don’t worry.  Never neglect your guests to attend to some detail they don’t even care about.
  • Small doses of self-effacing humor help, but don’t get too morose
  • If you’re too busy to give a good tour, let your guests know beforehand. Explain what’s going on and ask if they’ll put up with these circumstances.  Offer them a free glass of wine if they’re unhappy.  Small groups are generally willing to wait fifteen minutes if it’s with free wine. :)

We were already doing simple stuff like smiling and being nice.  But taking these extra steps has resulted in even better feedback and even happier visitors.  And I assume this is how we got so well ranked on TripAdvisor!

top rated things to do in the languedoc roussillon on trip advisor 2011

top rated things to do in the languedoc roussillon on trip advisor 2011

TripAdvisor users who look for “Things to Do” in the Languedoc Roussillon region are presented with a top 3 attractions list, and Domaine O’Vineyards is the number 1 attraction on that list!  We also placed #1 on the complete list of 174 things to do in Languedoc Roussillon.

What is TripAdvisor

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.

What’s next?

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!

Everybody likes wine!  Okay, not quite everybody.  But besides the President of France, really a lot of people love wine.  And it’s time for wine tourism to take this into account.  This post summarizes some of my philosophy on our winery tours and travel activities by thinking about normal people and what they want when they visit a vineyard.

Wine tourism falsehoods

  • False: Only wine snobs will enjoy a winery tour
  • False: A vineyard tour can take place in one room
  • False: All potential vineyard visitors use wine guides
  • False: If you don’t drink, you can’t enjoy a winery tour
  • False: Young people aren’t interested in wine

To put it more positively:

Wine tourism TRUTHhoods

Normal people think wine is cool

About half of the people who visited O’Vineyards this year have never visited a vineyard or winery before.

There’s this very old notion in France about wine tourism.  If somebody is averti (ie “in the know”), they will find out about a winery in a guide book, they will call ahead of time to arrange a visit, they will taste the wine during that visit, and then they will purchase a significant amount of wine.  This is a fine way of doing things for wine nerds.  But only a tiny number of wine drinkers are wine nerds.

Most drinkers are totally normal people who drink wine 2-4 times a month and have never even considered buying a magazine about wine.  If they are visiting a place like Carcassonne, it will not take long for them to realize they are in wine country.  The land between villages is covered in vines.  They will get curious about visiting a winery. And they are frequently surprised to see how hard it is to find a good vineyard to visit.

These people don’t know a ton about wine, but they want to learn a little.  Wine tourism should focus more heavily on this demographic because they’re more fun than snobs and they are more statistically significant.  If we could only sell wine to wine nerds or normal people, we’d choose normal people.  And if we could somehow forbid wine snobs from drinking O’Vineyards, we probably would.

Standing in a gift shop is rarely fun

Our goal is to entertain winery visitors.

The thing about entertaining normal people is that it’s marginally more difficult in some ways.  Wine nerds are so desperate to be immersed in wine culture that they will put up with almost anything.  For normal people who have never thought of listing “wine” as an interest on their facebook profile, we’re going to have to be a little more entertaining.

That said, it’s not very hard to be entertaining.  Wine is inherently cool.  You have to fight pretty hard to make it boring.  And I’m surpised that some wineries spend a huge amount of resources making themselves uninteresting.  One of the most common ways for a winery to develop tourism is to build a giftshop.  More accurately a caveau de degustation or a tasting room. And a tasting room is important for lots of reasons.  But it shouldn’t be the only thing you do.

My tasting room at O’Vineyards is just a really comfortable living room.  There’s no cash register.  There aren’t price tags.  You sit down and enjoy some wine.  And there are direct views on the vines at all times.  If I didn’t have a view on the vines from the tasting room, I’d probably encourage people to taste in the winery.  Again, it’s just more interesting.

Most wine retailers would kill for the opportunity to show their customers a vineyard. To taste the wine in situ surrounded by barrels or by vines.  Winemakers have this opportunity.  And instead we spend tons of money to build tasting rooms that are totally removed from the vineyard!

Normal people don’t read wine magazines

There are other ways to let normal people know they’d have fun visiting your vineyard.

Normal people don’t think about wine all the time, and they don’t invest in wine guides and wine magazines.  While it is logical to advertise winery tours, wine camps, etc. in wine magazines, it also makes sense to reach out through other non-wine media.  I remember a story from one of the people at mesvignes.com who mentioned that their ad campaigns in so-called “feminine magazines” were infinitely more successful than their ads in wine zines.

I obviously do a lot of Internet work.  But you don’t need to follow the same path as me!  Consider at least adding your property to TripAdvisor.  And encouraging visitors to leave a review when they get back home.

Consider your working relationships with hotels, B&B, gites, and house rentals in your area.  Can any of them send traffic your way?  What about restaurant staff?  If a restaurant sells your wine, the staff there are in an amazing position to send drinkers your way.

Working with retailers is harder because they sometimes fear the tourist will circumvent the middleman while visiting the vineyard.  But consider giving your cavistes gift certificates for a free winery tour and tell them to distribute them for purchases of 6 bottles from your estate (or whatever).  A clever retailer will be able to upsell one-time clients on your wine, and you’ll increase your overall sales while getting some travelers to come by.  And even though you don’t make any direct cash off of those tourists, they will go home and talk about you, and you are going to sell more wine to that retailer.

Brochures and signage are good too.  However, in my experience, word of mouth always beats a stack of brochures or dilapidated roadside sign in the shape of a wine bottle.

And don’t ignore trade press or wine press.  They’re important too.  Just for different reasons and different audiences.

Wine is only one weapon in your entertainment arsenal

A lot of people who visit O’Vineyards don’t drink wine.

I know it seems crazy that somebody who doesn’t drink wine might visit a vineyard.  But this happens–all the time.  Pregnant ladies, young teenagers, religious abstainers, and people who plain out dislike red wine.

This is because people visit a vineyard expecting to be entertained.  And wine tasting is only one possible method of entertainment. Education and personality are big here.  People generally expect to learn something.  If this is their first winery, they’re probably curious about really simple stuff like how wine is made.  What does a vine look like?  How often does it give fruit?  What’s the difference between red and white and rose?  Normal people don’t know this stuff, but they’d like to know.

Of course, it’s not just about conveying information.  It’s about having a good time.  Think about going to the bar.  People can drink at home, so why do they go to a bar and pay more money?  It’s usually for the social element.  Guests to your winery will appreciate meeting a winemaker and finding out what a winemaker is like.  It’s pretty rare for most people.  Like meeting an astronaut or a racecar driver.

Although I should also mention that you shouldn’t treat these tourists like idiots.  They don’t know a lot about wine, but they’re still intelligent.  More than a few tourist attractions in the region have developed expensive but meaningless light shows.  Wine tourists are not THAT easily entertained.  Actually, I’d argue it’s even easier to entertain them.  You don’t need to build a light show.  You just need to open up and share what you know.  Tell a funny story.  Tell a sad story.  Listen to their stories too.  Wine tourism, like wine should be a fun social experience.

Wine tourism is no longer for curmudgeonly snobs

Get them young!  (but not too young!)

Don’t underestimate 20-something year-olds.  Remember the sweet spot that we’re looking to hit is normal people who think wine is cool but don’t necessarily know a lot about it.  Blank slates, if you will.  A lot of young people fit that description…almost by definition.  Americans can’t start drinking wine til we’re 21 so it’s difficult for somebody in their twenties to know much at all about wine other than “I like it!”

If you are looking at developing wine tourism, consider the vast potential of this market.  We tend to like authenticity which is wonderfully inexpensive in terms of communication, ads, and PR.  Also, converting young people gets you a brand advocate that will market you and your wines for a lifetime to come.  I have a lot of twenty-somethings who visit the vineyard and end up recommending it to their parents and grandparents.

Caveat

I will confess that this post is where I stand today, and my views will almost certainly evolve over time.  And I should also mention that a lot of winemakers complain about a sort of looky-loo tourist that I have never met.  They spend an hour or two at the vineyard, tasting for free and then they leave without buying anything or they buy a single bottle of the cheapest wine or somesuch.

Honestly, this is why I charge for tours.  I still offer free giftshop tastings if that’s what people specifically ask for.  But then they also know that it’s thirty minutes and then I gotta run.  And (knock on wood) I still haven’t had any bad experiences.  I really enjoy meeting all the kooks who come through this vineyard.  And they mostly seem to enjoy meeting us too.  Here’s to hoping I never have to complain about visitors!

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How to find us

Domaine O’Vineyards is just a few kilometres north of Carcassonne. GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387

Domaine O’Vineyards
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910

  1. Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou until the D118 (the last straight road) and the Dyneff gas station on the roundabout.
  2. Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
  3. Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which goes up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire.
  4. At the last juction, bear left at the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
  5. After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.