Making a vineyard more attractive to tourists

By | Category: Travel destinations

To offer a tour of a vineyard is insufficient to tempt visitors. This is at the Roche complex in Pokolbin.

The production of wine stretches back millennia in the history of man. Georgia can trace the history of viticulture back 8,000 years. We may have been drinking wine for that length of time but for how long have we been treating vineyards as a tourist attraction? When did vineyards stop being just an agricultural industry and morph itself into a combination of tourism and agriculture?

Today there are viticulturists in the middle of cities like Portland in the US state of Oregon but they bring the grape juice in and then meld different grape varieties together in order to create their own wines. I cannot think of any vineyard being in the middle of a city but there are some close by meaning that it is easy for tourists on city breaks to spend a day sampling wines whilst the owners are sincerely hoping that those visitors will buy cases of them.

This is the impressive entrance to the Roche Estate

In the 1980’s many vineyards in France, for example, were small enterprises with just hand-written roadside signs or in areas where there were a number of vineyards, the local tourist board would have published a map indicating where you could find those vineyards that were open to the public. Once there, some were barn-like with a few tables where the vintner/ farmer would bring out a few bottles so that you could sample them. After a while you moved onto the next.

I remember on one trip where I based myself in Nîmes in the southern France area then called Languedoc but which – due to a reorganisation of local government  – is now in Gard, that I visited a couple of vineyards before 10am and decided I had to stop or I wouldn’t be fit to drive! In those days, apart from a handful of small number of local tour guides who would bundle you into the back of small bus, tours on the scale we have today were largely unknown.

To resolve the issue of drinking and driving and to enable people to visit more than one winery easily,  in the Napa valley of California, a train weaves its way between different vineyards allowing you to sample wines on-board or to stop at some, try the wines and board the train for the next part of the journey. Wherever wine is grown today, there are tours organised, coaches are laid on or you can even cruise down the Rhine and the vessel pulls into the bank so you can try different wines from a number of vineyards. Wineries are doing so much more to entice visitors.

Fine dining is also an attraction to vineyards. this is Roast Chicken with edible flowers at one of the the Roche Estate restaurants

Today wine and vineyard visiting is big business. Gone are the barns to be replaced by large buildings with tasting rooms and sales people who have been trained in selling first and viticulture second.  In Nîmes in the 1980’s there were probably no more than twenty vineyards. (That seemed a lot back then.)    Now there are over 400 growers and nearly a hundred private wineries and that is before you consider the number of co-operatives.

When I visited the Hunter Valley (claimed to be the oldest wine growing area of Australia but historians argue about that) in the Australian state of NSW in the 1960’s (as a schoolboy I hasten to add) there were a number of vineyards and places where wines could be tasted. The well-known wineries of Tyrell’s, Lindeman’s and Seppelt’s were up and running fifty years ago but there weren’t that many in comparison with today. Now there are dozens and dozens just in an area known as Pokolbin with many others in a fifty mile radius. And that presents a problem for both the visitor and the wine growers.

The Usher Tinkler winery – not the biggest you’ll ever find!

From the visitor’s point of view, which ones do you visit because you can’t see them all unless you have a lot of time and your liver and palate can take it? From the winery’s side how do you attract the visitor and standout amongst all the other local vineyards?

The vineyard has to find some other reason for the visitor to come and spend their money with you. After all, if you visit your local wine shop (grog shop as it is locally known in Australia) the prices will be cheaper because of bulk buying and the sales people will probably be as knowledgeable as those selling the wine in the vineyards’ tasting rooms. But, as the vineyard owners say, it is all due to the experience! They are all trying to provide a memorable experience that will either entice you back or encourage you to order online again and again.

What I did on my recent trip to the Hunter valley was to avoid the big wineries whose wine I can buy from Sydney to Sidmouth.  Some of the big wineries, however, have wine that is unavailable or largely unavailable in the UK or even Europe.

and here is the best meal I had – a cheese and meats platter; simple but quality food

Take the Roche Estate as an example. It has a number of wine tasting rooms for the different brands it has plus restaurants  (Thai and Japenese which help to attract Asian and local visitors) and, set on a hill, a view over the vineyards where, at dusk and in the early morning, you can see kangaroos in the distance. Although Roche is a large vintner there are brands such as Tempus Two which are very difficult to find in the UK.  They also offer concerts but not just local talent. Neil Diamond on his 50th anniversary tour is playing a gig here in April 2018.

From the big to the small. Usher Tinkler Wines are to be found in a small grey/blue wooden building that is smaller than many houses. They only produce eight different wines and the amount made is insufficient to export. The wine is just sold locally and in Australia.  The Reserve Chardonney made a pleasant accompaniment to one of the best meals that I have had anywhere. That was one of the reasons I chose this vineyard to visit. A platter of meats and cheeses for five cost just $100. Yes, it might be considered plain food but is all quality and made a welcome change from meals where competing tastes drown out the taste of the main component. Usher Tinkler have gained a reoutation as a place to eat as well as a wine producer.

This only shows a small selection of Sabor’s sweets and desserts

Other vineyards offer different attractions. At the larger McGuigan Wine Complex, (their wines are widely available in the UK and Ireland) there is the Hunter Valley Cheese Factory to tempt you and, twice each day, there are free instructional guides on how to make your own cheese.

If you palate opts for sweeter fare then at the Lambloch Estate there is Sabor on the Hunter, a café/restaurant which sells the most artistically designed desserts that can be a meal in themselves. On a winter’s day in the middle of the afternoon, the place was packed with visitors and the queue to wander in front of the cakes, puddings and treats was congested as people wandered back and forth trying to decide which one to try.  Look at the website and drool! Naturally, if you visit here you also go to the wine tasting rooms to look at the Lambloch range whilst those wineries with no other attractions seem to see fewer visitors.

Buying in bulk at Drayton’s as the locals do. No fancy packaging here!

Draytons was the last vineyard on my day-long visit. Next year they will celebrate their 165th birthday being one of the origial vineywards in the Hunter Valley. And it is still family run. Why visit here? Because they are innovators coming up with a variety of different wines.  (blue wines for exampe) I confess I went there because I heard that locals pop in to buy 10.5 litres of something like white muscat at a time. But not in ten or so bottles. They buy it in a single plastic container and I did see at least two sales in the short time I was there.

In a place where there are over a hundred vineyards, wineries are working to make their attractions different from others. No-one can visit a hundred on a trip so choosing comes down to wines that you know or have been recommended. Or it comes down to the other features that they offer. I visited Cockfighter’s Ghost merely because I found it an appealing name! The future for wineries when so many are to be found is not wholly due to the wines they produce. It is to what else they offer the visitor.

 

 

 

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