WINE TOURISM

With France’s wine tourism in­dus­try go­ing from strength to strength, Sandra Hau­rant takes a look at some of the wine-themed hol­i­days on of­fer

France - - Contents -

It’s no longer just about a tast­ing or two. Visit a vine­yard for a new ex­pe­ri­ence.

Think wine travel, and you may imag­ine vis­it­ing a se­lec­tion of châteaux, fol­low­ing in­for­ma­tive guides through vine­yards, tak­ing a look at the vats where the grapes fer­ment, peer­ing at the bar­rels where the wine sits be­fore be­ing bot­tled, and round­ing off the visit by sam­pling a few glasses in a quiet tast­ing room.

But the wine world is chang­ing. France is the most vis­ited coun­try on the planet, count­ing some 89 mil­lion vis­i­tors in 2017, and is also con­sis­tently one of the top global pro­duc­ers of wine by quan­tity – just af­ter Italy with around 45 mil­lion hec­tolitres in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Vine and Wine. It makes per­fect sense to bring those two themes to­gether and cre­ate some­thing even more spe­cial, and that’s just what is hap­pen­ing.

Of course, as Marc Ja­cobs, a con­sul­tant in wine tourism says, vine­yards have not his­tor­i­cally been tourist at­trac­tions: “Wine­mak­ers are, above all, in­ter­ested in mak­ing wine. They are working in agri­cul­ture; they are close to the soil, to the weather.” That is not to say that wine­mak­ers do not wel­come tourists. “They like to receive vis­i­tors and to talk about what they do,” says Ja­cobs. “They want to share that pas­sion with peo­ple, and of course they want to sell their wine. But, tra­di­tion­ally, tourism was not a part of the story.”

Now, though, the coun­try’s trend for oeno­tourisme, or wine tourism, is re­ally tak­ing off. In 2016, as many as 10 mil­lion ‘wine tourists’ came to France, 2.5 mil­lion more than in 2009. And many French vine­yards are do­ing all they can to en­cour­age more. From ac­tiv­i­ties for grown-ups want­ing a wine-themed hol­i­day, to fun days out that will suit the whole fam­ily, there are plenty of choices avail­able for any­one want­ing to in­clude a visit to, or stay at, a French vine­yard in their hol­i­day.

The op­tions are end­less. Want to learn to blend your own wine with the ex­perts? Take the chil­dren on a pony trek through the vines? Sip wine from a treetop tast­ing table? There’s a château for that. “Things are def­i­nitely chang­ing,” says Angélique Car­ballo from the web­site oeno­tourisme.com. “There are a huge va­ri­ety of ex­pe­ri­ences on of­fer, from cy­cling tours to he­li­copter rides over the vines.”

It’s great news for vis­i­tors who are look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent, says Jenna Jones of tour com­pany Grape Ex­pec­ta­tions: “There is an enor­mous dif­fer­ence in the way winer­ies in France are ap­proach­ing tourism to­day. So much has changed over the past decade,” she says. “There used to be a strong lan­guage bar­rier, for ex­am­ple, but we have seen that the new gen­er­a­tion [of wine­mak­ers] are tak­ing over vine­yards and many will have been to busi­ness school and learned English, or have trav­elled and worked abroad. They un­der­stand what vis­i­tors want and they are keen to of­fer some­thing new and fun that ap­peals to a lot of dif­fer­ent peo­ple. There is much more of a feel­ing

of open­ness than be­fore.”

And as a re­sult, a far wider range of vis­i­tors are grow­ing in­ter­ested in what the vine­yards have to of­fer. “We are see­ing dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple want­ing to try it. In the past, a lot of our clients would have been wine clubs, now a lot of peo­ple come to us who per­haps feel they don’t know very much about wine, but they want to find out more, and, im­por­tantly, have fun,” says Jones.

For fam­i­lies, too, wine re­gions have be­come much more ac­ces­si­ble, al­though there are caveats, of course. As Ja­cobs says: “Wine is for adults, af­ter all – it is not some­thing that is de­signed for chil­dren, and not ev­ery wine­maker is happy to have chil­dren run­ning around.” But fam­i­lies want­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence this im­por­tant part of French cul­ture need not be put off – there are vine­yards across the coun­try who ac­tively en­cour­age fam­i­lies to visit them, pro­vid­ing ex­pe­ri­ences that ap­peal to younger chil­dren and teenagers as well as their par­ents.

Across France, wine­mak­ers are open­ing their doors and find­ing new and ex­cit­ing ways of wel­com­ing a wider range of vis­i­tors than ever, al­low­ing ev­ery­one to en­joy what the coun­try’s vine­yards have to of­fer.

For the ad­ven­tur­ous

Fancy com­bin­ing the se­date ex­pe­ri­ence of wine tast­ing with a lit­tle bit of ad­ven­ture? The stun­ning Château de Rayne Vigneau in the Sauternes area of­fers a range of ac­tiv­i­ties that go be­yond your av­er­age dé­gus­ta­tion, or tast­ing ses­sion. Rayne Vigneau makes in­cred­i­ble dessert wines, and when you con­sider than among its clos­est neigh­bours is the iconic Château d’yquem, it’s easy to un­der­stand just how well placed the chateau is to cre­ate some sen­sa­tional wines.

Château de Rayne Vigneau of­fers a dé­gus­ta­tion per­chée, or treetop tast­ing, which is open to adults and chil­dren aged seven and over. Here, ex­perts har­ness up vis­i­tors and help them to climb up the trunks of the gi­ant pine trees in the en­trance to the vine­yard. From this su­perb van­tage point on high, with views across acres the Val­lée du Ciron, which is lined with sauternes vines, grown-ups are in­vited to taste a se­lec­tion of wines from the château. Adults get to taste fan­tas­tic wines, while chil­dren get to climb a very tall tree. It’s a win-win sit­u­a­tion.

LEFT: The beau­ti­ful vine­yards of Bordeaux in the morn­ing;INSET: The Do­maine de Massereau in Langue­doc-rousil­lon; BOT­TOM LEFT: Château de Pom­mard in Bur­gundy;TOP RIGHT: Château d’agas­sac in Haut-medoc; CEN­TRE AND BOT­TOM RIGHT: The Cité du Vin in Bordeaux

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