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Top 5 Wine Tourism Tips Iberia Can Learn from American Wine Producers

Signpost SonomaLast week, we had spent the better part of a 6 days touring wineries on both the west and east coast of the United States. And during this time, we had a very unique opportunity to see how Americans create and manage wine tourism programs in order to promote not only their own wines, but the wines of the entire region.

As many of you know, although we adore the wines of both Spain and Portugal, we feel that effective wine tourism is one of the greatest areas lacking in Iberia. From wineries that won’t pick up the phone or return an emails to small, family run wineries who close their door to visitors, making it close to impossible for anyone outside their region to try their wines.

What we’ve included below are 5 ways EASY and CHEAP ways in which Spanish and Portuguese wineries can change customer service and/or their wine tourism program:

1. Merchandising: Generally Iberian wineries tend to shy away from merchandising, choosing instead to offer foodstuff, instead of branded scarves, hats, aprons or pins. And although fresh olives, homemade cheeses and canned jam are wonderful items to include in your store, they are difficult to travel with and tend to influence a smaller group of people. While clothing items, and the like, branded with your logo will not only last for years to come, but will be seen by a larger number of people. By simply providing your customers with a wider and diverse range of merchandise branded with your logo, you’re giving them an opportunity to promote you internationally.

2. Signposts: Unlike California, where signposts dot the landscape telling interested wine lovers in what direction their favorite winery lies, many regions throughout Iberia do not allow you to do the same. This was perfectly exemplified in our most recent trip to DO Montsant where we passed the Dosterras winery 3 times before we realized exactly where it was. When asked why they don’t put up a clearly marked sign telling us where to pull in, we were told that it was illegal to do so, and that the only sign the owner was allowed to display near the road was hidden behind the shrubbery alongside the driveway – clearly not the ideal location. Wineries need to collaborate (see #5) and lobby your local government to have this changed! If governments want wineries to survive and profit from the ample tourism opportunities available to them, then they need to put up clearly marked signs that help communicate exactly where the wineries are. Mind you, signs can be both small and classy, but they still need to exist!

3. Think of Your Customer’s Needs First: We understand that it’s not easy, or financially feasible, for all of you to open your winery to the public. We also understand that you may not have the resources, staff or desire to create an enotourism program for international tourists passing through your town. However, even if you can’t create an extensive program, you CAN make a wine lover feel appreciated when they inquire about your winery. Simply tell them that although your flattered that they want to come visit, you unfortunately do not offer tours, but that they can try your wines at “X” restaurant or purchase them at “X” store. If you do have a tourism program, make sure that each and every visitor is greeted with a smile when they walk through your front door. On a hot day, offer them some water, maybe have some international wine magazines available in the lobby while they wait for the tour to begin, or have some local dried fruits or nuts available to taste. These are small, cheap and effective details that allow your visitor to feel both considered and appreciated. In both New York and California, wineries were open during lunch and on the weekends; offered tastings in conjunction with concerts or classic movies; and placed suggestion boxes near the front door so that visitors could request particular services if they weren’t provided. Show your consumers that you care about their needs by remaining open and receptive to their inquiries and requests. And above all else, make it easy for consumers to both find and try your wines!

4. Offer FREE WIFI! One the greatest perks about being in the States was the unlimited access to WIFI at any given winery. More specifically, when attending the American Wine Bloggers Conference in California, the wineries that didn’t have WIFI initially, assessed their audience and chose to install special WIFI spots in and around their winery to accommodate the wine bloggers needs; which in turn, only helped to promote their winery and their wines. Even deep within the cellar, we could still use our iPhones to take and send pictures, Tweet our experiences or enter our impressions into our chosen social tasting note site. Thus, wherever we were in California or New York, we could promote the winery in real-time by using social media tools. The question being, can I do that at your winery in Spain or Portugal? Can I find a fast, free connection to share photos of your cellar on my flickr account? Can I conduct a live Ustream interview with your winemaker in your vineyards? Can I take a 12 second video of your harvest and immediately upload it to Twitter? If I can’t, then your winery is missing out an incredible opportunity for me to promote your winery and wines. Make sure you have a WIFI. Make sure your connection is sound. And make sure that your visitors know that they can use the WIFI at their discretion.

Winery Collaboration5. Collaboration is the Key to Success: One of the most important things Ryan and I experienced in the USA was watching how wineries joined forces to promote their wines as a team. Whether they hosted a dinner at a winery, pouring a wide range of wines from various wineries across the region, or simply talked about their neighbors in a very respectful and humble manner, collaboration was weaved into the fabric of their relationships. Here in Iberia, we tend to be fearful of our neighbors. We tend to shy away from collaboration fearing that our neighbor may steal business from us, or potentially harm us in some way. This fear mongering has, and will continue to, splinter and weaken our efforts. Through teamwork,  with your neighboring wineries and with your regional wine commission, you can help consumers learn about your wines more effectively. As Ryan has continuously points out during his talks about social media: Wineries who work together save money and resources. Don’t wait until your regional government sets up an effective tourism program or wine related activities. Talk to your neighboring wineries, or regional government, and get the ball rolling yourself! Remember, the rising tide raises all boats! (Photo of 4 different wineries hosting a lunch together)

What other ways can Spanish and Portuguese wineries cheaply and effectively improve their wine tourism programs? Please share your ideas and suggestions in the comments below.

Cheers,

Gabriella and Ryan Opaz

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  • http://www.backsberg.co.za/blog Simon Back

    Hi Guys,

    I am planning a trip to California in September, what were some of your favourite vineyard visits in terms of wine tourism?

    Cheers,

    Simon

    • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

      Honestly, Palmaz Vineyards was my favorite, not only because the owner took us around the winery, but because it was breathtaking, interesting and they had some fun wines. Beyond that Quintessa was fascinating as was Storybook Vineyards – if only for their incredible redwood groves :)

  • Andrea Smith

    Thank you again repeating and re-emphasizing what is so important to be said. I can’t promise the same for Spanish wineries since I’m still a bit far away but if the many Portuguese wineries with closed doors and disconnected numbers here finally get a clue from this and want to start doing some enotourism, hear me now that I will the FIRST to come visit you and I’ll bring friends!!!

  • http://www.color-odor-sapor.com Daniele del Gesso

    I absolutely agree with you in regards to jealous producers and the same thing goes for Italy. Once producers start thinking for the common rather than indvidual good and let go of their jealousy of other producrs, the underdeveloped wine regions will finally have a chance.

    I organised a wine tasting in Abruzzo, Italy last month and invited 3 producers to take part: 1 refused to take part with other producers present, 1 did so with hesitance (he wound up taking part but almost ruined the evening because he was so aloof) and 1 was more than happy to share the stage. The first two are typical producers who want to sell their wine but don’t want to invest in marketing and have no idea of what customer service is in this day and age.

    To make a long story short, I ordered 1 palate of wine from the last producer and will be distributing it amongst my wine club members in the next months. The first two producers will surely find out about it, as they usually do in small communities, and I’m glad they will.
    Their loss, not mine.

    Keep up the good work.

    PS: I won’t even get into the other points made, the mail would be much too long :-)

    • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

      Competition and jealousy is a common trait among many European businesses. In part, I think this is very cultural, as centuries of infighting and fear on a national level have naturally led people to assimilate a fight or flight mentality. But it is my belief that despite the many pitfalls Americans have as a culture, collaboration is a trait that, at least among wineries, we’re adopting quite well. And with the trend toward globalization, I would like to believe in my Pollyanna world, that we can succeed as an industry if we work together, rather than waste energy on fighting each other off.

      And for the record, I’m excited to have you join us at the EWBC. You’re one more example of cultural collaboration!

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  • Christian Marin-Malmsheimer

    Gabriella and Ryan Opaz,

    Thanks for your fantastic blog. My wife, daughter and I will be in the Costa Daurada in 4 weeks and we plan to visit some of the vineyards you recommended (west of Barca). Thanks for your help!

    Saludos,

    Christian