Zephyr Adventures has offered guided Active Wine Tours for many years both here in the United States and abroad. During this time we have gained a global understanding and comparison from the experiences we have shared with the wineries and wine regions we visit. We have also learned a lot from our guests, the wine tourists. This November we hosted America’s first Wine Tourism Conference. Two hundred leaders in the wine tourism industry attended to share and learn more about wine tourism. Needless to say, we learned a lot about the subject from these experts.
Here in the U.S. and to a certain degree in Australia, Wine Tourism is driven mostly by wineries that invite tourists into their winery with the goal of gaining a loyal customer who will buy wine directly from them then and in the future as a wine club member. For the rest of the world wine tourism is driven instead by the tourism industry and not the wine industry. Abroad, hotels, regional tourism agencies, a city’s information center, rental car agencies and tour companies like Zephyr Adventures all promote the wine region as a tourist attraction. These are the driving forces behind getting people into wine country, not the wineries themselves as it is here in the U.S.
Internationally, many of the wineries themselves are not as welcoming as those here in the United States. Most wineries in Spain for example cannot be visited without an appointment and in almost all cases a wine tasting will cost the visitor verses the free tasting we might experience here in the US. Abroad a winery might expect the visitor to spend hours on a lengthy tour, often without wine in hand, and then they tend to offer a wine course that for many is just too detailed and time consuming. Here in the US, tourists arrive at a winery without appointment, they taste the wines they are interested in, and then they leave when they like. That being said a good wine tour and a well-orchestrated wine tasting is well worth the time but it is unrealistic to expect wine tourists to want to experience this at every winery they visit.
On our Zephyr Wine Adventures, we spend days visiting wineries in a region in advance of the tour itself. We determine who has the best tours, the best wines, the best vineyards to visit, the most unique stories, and the most sincere storytellers. We set up appointments for our adventure well in advance and we talk to the winery in advance about what we want to experience. We often find ourselves asking for a shortened tour or a less organized more casual introduction to the wine and wine region. This effort makes the best use of our group’s time and assures a balanced winery experience with less repetition of shared information. Let’s face it, once you have seen one stainless steel fermentation tank, you don’t need to see every winery’s stainless thereafter.
Why the difference? Wineries outside the U.S. rely more on traditional commercial outlets for selling their wines and don’t focus on direct sales to the consumer as much as wineries here in the U.S. So for them, inviting someone into their winery may be perceived as more of an inconvenience than an opportunity. These perceptions are changing but slowly. It should be noted that there are also many great wineries around the globe that offer a great visit and tasting but they are not the majority.
Tradition has a lot to do with the old world’s lack of focus on the wine tourist but shipping laws have a lot to do with it as well. These laws regulate wineries from shipping direct to a consumer and are prohibitive both abroad as it relates to international shipping and here in the U.S. as it relates to shipping from state to state. On our International Zephyr Wine Adventures we often try to look into this with the wineries we visit in advance in an effort to make the possibility of purchasing wine and then bringing it back or shipping it to the U.S. easier. We aren’t always successful. Here in the U.S. shipping regulations are also a major road block, especially for the smaller wineries. To learn more about these regulations, the reasons behind them and their effects you can visit Free The Grapes or follow an informative and well written wine blog like Fermentation .
Overall direct to consumer wine sales are only 3% of the total wine sales here in the US. This statistic includes the largest wine producers, the top 2%, but 98% of the US wineries produce
Only 8.23% of US adults have purchased wine directly from a winery. Only 1.94% has purchased wine from a wine club (2011 Stonebridge Research Group) If you are still reading this I might assume you have been to a winery and may have even been on a Zephyr Wine Adventure. You may have even bought wine from a winery or even a wine club. If so, I’d like to make a toast to you, The Minority, the 1.94%!
Active wine tours are a large part of Zephyr Adventures travel portfolio. We have our customers to thank for that. Our customers keep us employed as the creators and guides of these awesome wine adventures and we love it! The even better news is that it goes beyond Zephyr Adventure’s doors, or computer screens in our case. As an example, we offer an Active Wine Adventure in Napa & Sonoma , we offer Sonoma Vineyard Walks in Sonoma and we co-created and hosted the Wine Tourism Conference in Napa. In 2007 Wine Tourism in the Napa Valley was responsible for 10,210 jobs and $259.8 million in wages (2011 Stonebridge Research Group). Zephyr Adventures and its conference & tour attendees are responsible for a tiny percentage of that wine tourism both then and now and together we are a positive for the overall economy and jobs market in the Napa Valley region.
As another example, the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference was hosted in Charlottesville, VA. We co-created that too. The local NBC station covered the event and noted the following, “Tourism spending in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, VA is up. The 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference helped boost spending to $450 million, supporting nearly 5,000 jobs.” (Oct. 13, 2011, NBC29.com).
Who are these significant and influential wine tourists? You! The affluent, well educated, responsible, somewhat older, healthy, active, social, really good looking people who make a conscious decision to spend a certain amount of their hard earned income on travel, new experiences, good food and of course, great wine. This happens to be exactly how we describe our Zephyr Alumni!
This post was written by Reno Walsh, who handles sponsorships on Zephyr’s conferences and is our lead guide on all Yellowstone tours.