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. 😀
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.
This post is part of a series of posts about le Vin 2.0 2011 where Robert Joseph presented on the topic of wine tourism and consumer psychology.
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.
Joseph also cites this article about tasting room sales and it’s pretty interesting.
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.
This post is part of a series of posts about le Vin 2.0 2011 where Robert Joseph presented on the topic of wine tourism and consumer psychology.
Robert Joseph at le vin 2.0
Robert Joseph started with a 2 minute biography of himself and then made a funny point. So far, 2 minutes about him and 0 minutes about wine drinkers. How typical of the wine industry! The rest of his presentation focused on consumers, their habits, and what they want in wine.
A large point he made was that we need to treat like wine like every other beverage. It’s a tough pill to swallow because everybody in the audience loved wine. But his point is that the majority of consumers don’t revere wine the way we do. There are split second decisions that people make to have a glass of wine or a beer or a coke or some water. The majority of consumers are simply pleasure-seekers and wine should try to deliver that pleasure.
The good news is that wine tastes great! So all we have to do is market its wonderful tastes. The bad news is that we are awful at conveying how good wine is. Instead of reassuring our potential customers that the wine they are thinking of purchasing is delicious, we plague them with esoteric region names, unpronounceable words, and intimidating etchings of our estates. Instead of promising a good time, many wines fill their potential clients with anxiety and dread.
As a result, many people would rather avoid wine entirely (which Joseph uses to explain the dwindling wine consumption numbers in France). Other people will simply seek different wines that are marketed more simply. He picks the example of Cupcake Wines who are inanely simple in their marketing. Everything is Cupcake Merlot or Cupcake Chardonnay or Cupcake Vodka (because once you launch a successful brand, you might as well run with it!)
On the bright side, it doesn’t have to be quite as simple as Cupcake. We can still try to deliver actual information to the consumer, but we have to be smart about it. Joseph cites a study he conducted where they put a QR code on a wine bottleneck. The QR code could send the shopper to a variety of different presentations. And then people were asked if that information made them want to get the wine or not. Here are the different presentations starting with the most popular (the number in parentheses is the percentage of people who said it was good information):
- how it tastes (47%)
- grape varieties (44%)
- food & wine pairings (41%)
- how can you save money on it (39%)
- where to buy it (38%)
- how to serve it (38%)
- information about where it was made (38%)
- information about how it was made (28%)
- information about the producer (18%)
- video of the winemaker (12%)
- video of the winery (9%)
People almost don’t care about where the wine is from, who made it, what drives us. Really, most consumers in this study wanted to know what the wine tasted like.
And the next step is a big ongoing research project called doilikeit that studies the relationship between wine preferences and other food/beverage preferences. And with that data, one day, we’ll be able to recommend wines based on what sort of food you like or what kind of soda you drink. Oh you like ginger ale? Try a riesling. Part of this terrifies me but part of it is also really cool. Like a last.fm for food. Oh and why stop there? Why not combine the last.fm data with doilikeit data! People who like Tom Waits Bone Machine era looovve O’Vineyards. Oh you like Tom Waits? Try some O’Vineyards O’Syrah.
And then combine rottentomatoes data and all the data on your TESCO shopping card. And suddenly you can tell potential drinkers that if you like Tom Waits AND bought The Muppet Movie there is an 86% chance you’ll enjoy O’Syrah 2009. Brave new world.
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. 😀
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.
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.
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!