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Wine tourism: a behind-the-scenes tour of French vineyards

[Dossier written by FNCA]

A growing number of wine tourism enthusiasts are exploring the rich wine-growing heritage of France, travelling through outstanding landscapes, learning about the timeless know-how safeguarded by passionate wine-growers and enjoying a host of new tastes. Join us on a tour of a fast-growing sector.

 

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 Foreign customers are curious about the know-how of wine-growers and the history of the vineyards.

As the world’s number-one tourist destination and number-two wine producer, France naturally possesses enormous potential in wine tourism. The booming sector of oenotourism, or wine tourism, stands as a key growth source for the wine and tourist industries. And the figures say it all: “Oenotourism generates an estimated €5.2 billion in annual revenue,” says Martin Lhuillier, Head of the “Destination Vignobles” division of Atout France, the national agency for tourism development that notably manages Vignobles & Découvertes certification. “Over ten million tourists a year visit vineyards and cellars, and their number is increasing by around 4% a year.” Foreigners account for a much larger share of the wine tourism sector than other tourism sectors. Over 40% of oenotourists herald from neighbouring countries such as Belgium, the UK, the Netherlands and Germany, but a growing number are travelling from further afield, including Asia and North America, many of them wealthier and more demanding.

 

 

 

 

 

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From wine buying to a complete experience

The sale of wine remains a key component of wine tourism, with each vineyard visitor spending an average €100 to €110 on wine. But foreign visitors, and an increasing share of French visitors, are showing more and more interest in the know-how of the wine-growers and the history of the vineyards. They are seeking a complete experience, encompassing not just wine in itself but gastronomy, culture and human aspects. The younger generations are particularly interested in learning about the world of wine and tasting techniques.

Awards to encourage innovative initiatives

“Initiatives have been legion in all wine-growing regions in recent years,” says Martin Lhuillier. “And a host of players are behind these initiatives, including wine-growers, restaurant owners, wine bars, hospitality-sector businesses, tour operators, local and regional authorities, and cultural institutions. Wine tourism in France is entering a new dimension in terms of diversity and quality. In this respect, we have caught up with the major pioneers in the sector such as Napa Valley in California and the vineyards in South Africa.”

It is this momentum that Atout France sought to encourage by joining forces with Terre de Vins magazine and Crédit Agricole to launch the first “Trophées de l'œnotourisme” wine-tourism awards. The aim is to showcase, promote and encourage the wine estates, châteaux and cooperatives that are working to develop attractive tourist offers adapted to the needs of French and international customers alike. The first edition, the final of which was held in March, comprised nine categories and awarded 30 prizes.

 

 

 

 

 

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The troglodyte cellars of the Ackerman House in Saumur.

 

Cellar art

The “Art & Culture” award went to the Ackerman House. “The Ackerman House, founded in 1811, is a pioneer in sparkling wines from the Loire. Our historic cellars are located in Saumur,” says Julien Goudeau, Head of Tourism and Public Relations. “What makes them unique is that they are troglodyte cellars, extending over an area of 7 km and boasting oversized dimensions, directly hollowed out of the tufa limestone.” The extraordinary site is popular with tourists and has been open to visitors for several decades. But Ackerman won the prize for its policy on contemporary artistic creation, initiated in 2015. “We created an artists’ residence in partnership with the nearby Fontevraud Abbey. We invite artists to create installations specifically for our cellars and for a three-year period. We continuously propose three in situ works.” The 40,000 visitors expected this year will be able to discover the work of photographer and video artist Bertrand Gadenne, a spectacular room of columns created by Séverine Hubard, and an enigmatic wooden cabin by the Chapuisat brothers.

 

 

 

 

 

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Château Feely in Saussignac offers several packages, ranging from one-hour visits to five-day adventures.

 

Exploring biodynamics

The winner in the “Education and the Environment” category was Château Feely, located in the town of Saussignac in the Dordogne. The focus here is on natural wines and biodynamics, recounted with a touch of a South African accent. “My husband Sean and I moved to the region in 2005 to realise our dream of becoming organic wine-growers,” says Caro Feely. “Wine tourism quickly became a natural move.” The couple made a decisive step forward in 2010, opening a second accommodation unit, a tasting space and a wine school, which offers training courses certified by the prestigious Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Château Feely today offers several tourism packages, ranging from one-hour visits to five-day adventures, as well as a tasting experience comprising wine and food, the latter prepared by a starred chef. “This year we also introduced an educational visit, which is particularly important to us. We take our visitors on an exploration of our vines, explaining the key principles in organic and biodynamic wine-making and the importance of this approach relative to today’s environmental issues.” The innovative visit is both physical and virtual, the educational content being accessed via QR codes along the visitor route and on the chateaufeely.com website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Château de Santenay organises weddings and company events

 

And vintage wines, too!

At CA Grands Crus, the Crédit Agricole subsidiary comprising five prestigious vineyards in the Bordeaux region and Château de Santenay in Burgundy, wine tourism is also becoming a reality. “Château de Santenay led the way forward, by opening up to company events and weddings,” says Marine Lemmens, Head of Marketing and Communication at CA Grands Crus. “This year we wrapped up the last phase of a major renovation project enabling our visitors to appreciate in privileged conditions the unique architectural heritage of Santenay and all the richness of its range of 25 wines. We have also created a VIP visit in which customers take a tour of the vineyard and taste our finest wines in a premium setting.” In the long term, some of the Bordeaux estates of CA Grands Crus may take inspiration from Santenay’s initiatives and enter the era of wine tourism themselves...

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