WINE TOURISM PART TWO
This week I’m celebrating again the encouraging success story of Spanish Wine Tourism, a now burgeoning, integral part of the Spanish Wine Industry!
A recent article (archived here www.colinharknessonwine.com click Articles) proudly reported on a considerable percentage increase in Spanish Wine Tourism, in terms of both number of visitors, and in revenue. Enoturismo now rocks and I’d like to expand on how, and what’s now available, after humble, and occasionally dreadful beginnings!
I’ll start with two laughable (that’s now – neither I nor my clients found it so amusing at the time!) incidents in the very early days.
Although I’d had a house on the Costa Blanca for a number of years before I moved here, 20 years ago this coming August, I was pretty green when arriving to make Spain my new home. Yes, I liked the sun, the prices and the layback feel of the place. However, I wasn’t one to be content withy just that, nice as it was. I needed to travel a little and see more of Spain.
Wine was an ‘in’ for me. I came armed with a pretty good knowledge of wine in general having passed the first of a possible four-part journey to Master of Wine status, but I didn’t know enough about Spanish wine. As it happened, it was this thirst for knowledge and experience of the wines of my new adoptive country that really stopped me taking the next steps to attempt to become an MW. It was clear that there was enough to learn here, as well, of course, as a huge variety in wines to taste!
I started on a crash course re Spanish wines and was soon pleased to see that part of the itinerary of a day trip I’d seen advertised included a visit to a winery. It was to be my first wine tour, and was certainly a cathartic moment. The day was fine, the bodega visit, a disaster – I knew I could do better, much better!
I won’t go into all the details, but let’s just say it started badly, and failed! In a warehouse whose temperature must have been over 30ºC (I cringe nowadays to think of the poor wines!) we were offered a tiny white plastic cup of undrinkable wine drawn from some sort of receptacle by an old chap, who clearly would have preferred to be finishing his siesta and whose cigarette dropped ash around the wine, and occasionally in it too!
That said, not all the trips I subsequently organized with my own small business went perfectly.
We arrived in mid-Spain – for fear of being sued, I think I’ll leave the location at that – 55 of us, ready for a tour and some refreshing wine. This was a bodega whose wines were doing well (I’d tasted several) and had made a commitment to wine tourism. Part of the tour was around the, as yet unfinished, visitor centre, impressive already with its stone façade, sweeping staircase etc.
I wasn’t dismayed to be shown into the far smaller, converted finca building that wasn’t large enough for our tasting, this was a period of transition – rustic, was how I put it. However, the tasting went dreadfully downhill from there! Plastic cups again, only two wines tasted, nowhere near the correct temperature, and, worst of all, it was clear that these were their worst wines, the ones they needed to get rid of!
Despite my advising that this was not at all representative of the fine wines that the bodega made, and my apologies for such a shabby tasting, I was the only one who bought wine! Not, of course, the foul brews that we’d been given, but the good quality stuff that I knew. Unbelievably bad business!
Well – that was the ridiculous, and a long time ago; now I’m moving to nowadays, and the sublime!
Firstly, to briefly track the development of Enoturismo, following the end of the first part of this two part success story. The wineries who were the first to cotton on to the fact that there was money to be made from wine tourism, started to commit to it. A mini-budget would be allocated – glasses would be required, for example. Some realised early on, that at least one toilet would be needed!
And so it went. Gradually bodegas established Wine Tourism Departments, English speaking staff were at a premium, even better if they had a personality and were charming! Roads were widened (and tarmacced!); entrances were made grander and larger, allowing coach access; car parks were extended, re-surfaced and marked, often with mini-walls or hedges; floral gardens developed, roses were popular because of their association with vine growing, perhaps with some herbs for the olive oils mentioned in the first article, and why not a centenary olive tree, uprooted and repositioned (don’t worry, no olive trees have been harmed for the purposes of this article!).
Fast forward to these days and there are many sublime wine tours on which people can go. I’ve tasted wines onboard a boat on a short river journey as part of a tour; the same, but this time in a hot air baloon; on a subterranian train; in the ancient cellar from which Colombus bought his wines; and again in a beautiful horse-drawn carriage (it’s all on my TV series, DVD copies available!).
Many tours include amazing architecture, look at the ultra-modern Marqués de Riscal building, housing the outstanding restaurant and hotel; and contrast this with the beautiful, almost castle-like building that is Rioja’s oldest bodega, Marqués de Murrieta. Wine tourism can also include visits to historical and cultural centres nearby as well as world famous fiestas, such as the wonderful Horse Fair of Jerez, being included.
Wherever you go (I can help here by the way!) you are sure to be welcomed with open arms and nicely charged wine glasses, assailed, in the nicest possible way, with the history of the bodega, its philosophy, its fine wines, its own particular style and spin, and very often the fine cuisine of its restaurant! As I said, Wine Tourism in Spain rocks – so why not go out there and taste it!