As the calendar closed on May, many were still thinking of Memorial Day and all it brings, parades, speeches, flags, great sales, cookouts, and the promise of leisurely beach days ahead. But this year one other thing has definitely been on everyone’s mind… food and drink-focused getaways.
How could it not be with May being the month that Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy series on CNN fired up its second season on CNN and Netflix served up season five of Somebody Feed Phil? They left us hungry, and thirsting for travel. That’s good news for wineries, breweries, and distilleries who are capitalizing on travelers’ desires. And beverage tourism part of the reason that some wine regions are seeing heightened recognition. Those doing it right know they’re not only capturing those destination dollars visitors are spending to produce meaningful, memorable, and lasting experiences, but they’re also building repeat business.
While this may not be a new phenomenon, it’s certainly a booming one. Twenty one years ago culinary tourism was barely a blip on anyone’s radar. When the World Food Travel Association (WFTA) produced its first white paper titled Culinary Tourism: A Tasty Economic Proposition, 2001 they noted that food and drink experiences weren’t being monetized.
What a way to leave money on the table.
Fortunately, for so many booming wine and spirits regions around the globe, we’ve evolved beyond our early 2000s ways and that money isn’t being lost any more. Wine regions are blossoming, and tourist dollars are buoying these liquid businesses along with related tourist destination needs like lodging, dining, and local crafts. You could say that beverage tourism is a key driver for growing wine and spirits production, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
The Texas Hill Country is one region that’s reaping the benefits of engaging with wine lovers who love to travel. Kate LaFleur, Communications Coordinator for Texas Hill Country Wineries, saw interest in the region grow, even during the worst of the pandemic. She points to the ability to explore and connect locally as she says, “There are lots of hidden gems out here. People are catching on to that and figuring out how great it is out here in the Hill Country; realizing this fantastic area is in their backyard. During the pandemic it was such a great way for people to get out and do something and feel they’re in a safe environment.”
While the initial itineraries may have been around those clusters of wineries in certain areas like Stonewall or Fredericksburg LaFleur notes, “from those itineraries they are finding wonderful local restaurants and boutiques and shops and restaurants that offer wonderful local products. It’s a benefit for everyone.”
In Scotland the benefits of promoting whisky travel are clearly so great that the country’s tourism board, Visit Scotland, has dedicated pages of its website to exploring the water of life. They note the over 130 active whisky distilleries spread across Scotland, all of which can be found within one of the country’s five whisky-producing regions: Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside. In 2019 over 2 million visitors stopped into one of these distilleries according to a report from whisky.com.
That’s a lot of people who need to lay their head somewhere. And eat something too after all that whisky. Or wine, as the case may be for countries like Israel which are seeing both an increase in production and visitors.
Josh Greenstein, Executive VP of Sales and Marketing for the Israeli Wine Producers Association (IWPA) is proud of the reputation Israel’s wines have developed. He notes, “The wine’s getting better, they’re trying new stuff, they’re trying new grapes, and they’re having fun with it.”
Greenstein continues, “Wines are stories and timelines, and the history of Israeli wine tells the story of Israel.” Visitors to the country are clamoring for a sip of history and a chance to walk these vineyards themselves to connect further with the land. The wineries are accommodating, pouring more money into visitor centers, and developing special events to draw in guests who want the full winery experience. And it’s every single winery you go to that is investing in their tourism and visitors center and the way to interact with them when you visit.”
Lest you think it’s all about the wineries themselves, these expansions, like the ones Matar undertook in the Golan Heights and those underway at Shiloh where they recently broke ground, also benefit the local economy by creating more jobs. A win for the winemakers, the guests, and nearby businesses.
Though you’d be hard pressed to find a corporately branded hotel in Madison County, Virginia, the Shenandoah Mountains area where Early Mountain Vineyard is situated, rest assured local B&B operators are cheering the expansion of the region’s winemakers. Aileen Sevier, VP of Strategy and Marketing for the winery, explains the broader regional and historic context of Virginia wines which have exploded in quantity and quality as she says, “Over the last 40 years it’s grown from just a handful of winemakers to well over 300. Historically they were clustered around Charlottesville and there’s a robust presence in Loudon County, Middleburg and a concentration on the coast. Lastly, a grouping in Shenandoah, and up there, that’s where there is the greatest growth potential.”
Sevier attributes that potential to the conditions on the mountain which favor grape growing and wine harvest and production; a key element being the rocky soils on the mountainside which are superior to the valley’s heavier clay soils when it comes to drainage.
Great drainage is mother nature’s effective distributor. The human distributors that vineyards like Early Mountain count on really are only able to sell about 30% of the region’s wine. The majority of the wine produced in Virginia is sold direct to consumer, whether that’s on-site in tasting rooms and restaurants or via individual wine clubs.
Sevier has built the wine club list that numbers in the tens of thousands one bottle at a time. She notes, “We do not sit on a trail. We’ve had to really differentiate ourselves and create an experience that draws them in. On average people are coming to our winery from at least 50 miles away. At Early Mountain we have a full-service restaurant so people can come and get a meal and a flight, or just a tasting experience. Or they can hang out in a meadow and order a burger; no matter what they want it’s a very accessible experience.”
She continues on describing their commitment to Virginia itself and supporting the industry, knowing that word of mouth is what builds business, “We buy wines from other Virginia wineries and serve them in our tasting room/restaurant so you could come here and do a cellar flight from top Virginia wineries. Tourists are always asking me ‘where do I need to go next?’ I can tell them because we all want to be talking up one another. And we know people are sending folks our way.”
The 50,000 visitors who pass through Early Mountain to taste the Early Mountain Wines, wines of fellow winemakers, and the delicious produce and meats from local farms, are fueling the region’s economy one sip at a time. Sevier keeps in touch with them via opt-in newsletters, social media posts, special invitations and more.
It wouldn’t be too hard to boost your own local business profile and coffers by investing in some regional culinary & beverage tourism marketing that taps that 90 minute to four-hour drive market like she does, would it?
SIPS TO SAVOR
Over 15 generations of the Arlaux family have overseen production at this vineyard designated as premier cru. With vineyard records stretching back 1000 years, Arlaux is one of the most historic houses in Champagne.
While time and history were not as favorable to some of their neighbors, today the Arlaux vineyard is one of the very few French vineyards to keep pre- phylloxera Meunier vine trees (that have survived the phylloxera crisis end of the 19th century). For more than 20 years these grapes have been grown without any insecticides, a new approach to the winemaking introduced by Christine Arlaux-Maréchal when she took over the care and production of the Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes grown on the estate.
There are four expressions, each one made in limited production wines that are solely from the first press (těte du cuvée). Their delicately fruity notes, complex aromas, and a rare elegance makes them most sought after by those in the know.
(Photo courtesy of Champagne Arlaux)
Fords Gin Co Sloe Gin
In interior design Grandmillenial Style is having a minute and this new offering from Fords Gin Co. not only captures the popular grandmother driven design trend but it reflects modern sensibilities too; satisfying guest desires for something a little dry.
Sloe Gin has always been seen as a UK grandmother’s liqueur of choice and this modern-day product pays homage to the sloe gin recipes that have been handed down in families for generations. The hand-picked sloe fruit is steeped in Fords Gin for 12 weeks before it’s sweetened with sugar to balance the bitter essence of the sloe fruit and cut to 29% ABV.
(Photo courtesy of the Fords Gin Co.)