Their success; their ability to effectively communicate about spanish and portuguese wine; their energy to grow and create dynamic, authentic and extraordinary services have attracted hundreds of thousands of iberian wine lovers from around the world.
Joan Gómez Pallarès http://www.devinis.org/

Wine Tourism in Sherry Country and a Lesson from Portugal

Two weeks ago, after a very relaxing holiday in Galicia, we chose to make our way home to Jerez via Portugal, stopping off for two nights in Oporto on the way. I’ve been to where they make Madeira, I live where they make sherry but I had never been to Oporto, so this was an exciting opportunity to visit the place where they make Port. For me, the “traditional” fortified wines are madeira, sherry and port so in a way this completes the circle.

What struck me immediately on arriving at Vila Nova de Gaia, where all the port lodges are, was how geared up they are for visitors. This is starkly different to the experiences to be had at the sherry bodegas in Jerez. I’m being general here, so there are exceptions, but I think the sherry trade could learn a lot from their cousins in Portugal. But of course that’s only if the sherry trade sees any benefit in visitors to their bodegas. I often wonder if they really do.

If I were a winemaker and someone made the effort to turn up at my cellar door, interested in my product, I’d be more than happy to show them around, give them a taste and hopefully sell them a bottle or, even better, a case or two. Surely, that’s good PR? Is there any point in catering for wine tourism? Is it worth opening up to visitors? Actions speak louder than words, so the port companies obviously think wine tourism is a good thing. The morning we arrived in Oporto we managed to visit four different lodges (Calem, Kopke, Sandeman and Grahams), take the tour and try their wines. None cost more than €3, and some were free. Every lodge seemed to have tours starting at regular intervals throughout the day, and only a few were not open on Sundays. They all had shops, and the ones I went into were doing a brisk trade. Some of the port houses even had little minibuses doing the rounds, picking up visitors for their next tour. That’s how we landed up at Grahams. Everywhere the guides spoke impeccable English, were all very knowledgeable and able to answer technical questions. Very professional.

The following day, a Saturday, I went in for a bit of retail therapy. My goal was to buy a bottle from as many different producers as possible. I didn’t do too badly, coming away with bottles from Grahams, Quinto do Vesuvio, Croft, Vasconcellos, Sandeman, Fonseca, Ferreira and Offley. The whole experience was so simple, so easy. All the staff I encountered were friendly and helpful. Try that in Jerez on any day of the week! Once I tried to buy the new Harveys VORS wines, their Amontillado, Oloroso and PX and after two hours of wasted time, failed. I was promised by phone call that the wines were in stock and the shop open for several more hours. I immediately went to the bodega and followed signs for the shop only to find it closed, so I went to the porter’s lodge where I found myself in trouble with the porter for not signing in first. Surely a dressing down is not the best way to treat a potential customer? It turns out the person in charge of the shop was “away” and not due back for a couple of hours. When I finally made it into the shop the VORS Sherries were not in stock after all. Frustration!

There is only one sherry bodega in Jerez where you can turn up any time, where they take tours in Spanish, English, French and German hourly throughout the day, even on Sundays. Not surprisingly, of the approximately 500,000 people who visit a bodega in the whole Sherry region every year, about 210 thousand of those go to Gonzalez Byass, the makers of Tio Pepe Fino. Their tour costs the best part of 10€, but it is quite thorough and their shop is excellent although annoyingly can only be accessed from inside the bodega. If you want to buy something from the shop, but don’t want to take the tour, you have to wait to be escorted over.

The usual form when it comes to visiting a bodega in Jerez is to ring in advance and arrange a time. You can’t just turn up and expect a tour. Quite often if you try this, and arrive unannounced, you will be treated with hostility! Sometimes it can take several phone calls to arrange the tour and don’t bother with e-mail – it’s very unlikely to be answered. If you’re visiting over a weekend then Gonzalez Byass is probably your only option, because all the other bodegas will be closed. In most cases forget about a visit after 3pm on weekdays. That’s home time! As I mentioned earlier, there are exceptions, but this has been my general experience, especially before I knew anyone at the bodegas. They don’t exactly make it easy for people to visit. Once you are inside then the tour can be variable. I have been on some fantastic tours, and if you ever get the chance to be shown around Emilio Hidalgo‘s bodegas by their tame American, Peter De Trolio, you are in for a great treat. I highly recommend their tour and their wines. Sadly, there is another end to the scale and I’ve had a gum-chewing guide take a personal call on her mobile phone half-way through an explanation about the solera system. Not professional!

This is my suggestion to the sherry bodegas. Make it easy for people to visit and buy wine. Have tours often, all day and every day, given by knowledgeable guides. Co-operate and co-ordinate with each other, for example, to save costs there could be a rota of visits spread out amongst the various bodegas with transport provided from certain points in the city as necessary. Open shops staffed by friendly people. Keep these shops open during office hours. Send your staff on courses to improve their customer service.

Last year, 2007, just over 7 million visitors came to the region. I’m sure that’s a fraction of the people who visit Oporto, but it’s many times the numbers who visit a sherry bodega. So even though it’s very frustrating for me when I think about the opportunities being lost for sherry at the moment, I also get very excited when I think about the huge potential. There is easily the possibility to double or even triple the number of people visiting a sherry bodega every year, many potential converts to this great wine. This has got to be a good thing. Being able to introduce people to sherry, where it’s made and showing them how to best enjoy it must be a fantastic opportunity.

Hasta la Proxima,

Justin Roberts

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  • Andrea Smith

    Wow, I didn't know it was such a challenge to visit the Sherry bodegas! You know I was just up North in that area a couple weekends ago and the Port houses were actually the only ones open in the entire region it seemed. We tried to visit several wineries in Minho and all of them were closed, whether they were on holiday or it was only by appointment, and even one of their phone numbers was disconnected. It's definitely frustrating and I think there are still a lot of other wineries in Iberia who need to take your suggestion!

  • Justin Roberts

    Hi Andrea. Thanks your comment. Yup, getting into a sherry bodega can be a challenge sometimes. We had a similar experience to you three weeks ago around Salvaterra de Miño, actually following "Ruta de Vino" signs. Locked-up gates everywhere, not even the dogs were barking. The only comparison I have is the wine routes in South Africa around Stellenbosch, Franschoek etc and also visiting wineries around Geelong in Australia, a completely different experience in both cases. Everyone was open for business for a start.

  • Dylan

    You couldn't be more correct in your plea for tourism. Since when did any product become just about the product? We don't just drink alone for a reason. It's about social interaction, people and friends. If you want to sell more cases and be more recognized, there's no better credibility source than word of mouth. Better tourism could only benefit this process and open up the eyes of the public to what you yourself said is great once you get past the barriers. I'm really pushing for the idea of having our vineyard at Tin Cross be open for visitors in the future. I hope to see it come true. Today's marketing is in a large part all about the experience.

  • ryan

    This is the NUMBER 1 annoyance I have with Iberian Wineries. Yes Port country does it well, but the rest of Portugal is a bit of a mess. That said I have consistently had better experiences in Portugal, where people actually smile and invite me in, as opposed to Spain, where I get looks of "why would we want to show you around". Tio Pepe (GB) does a great job and so do places like Dinastia Vivanco, Torres, and Abadia Retuerta(our client), though these are the exceptions not the rule.

  • Milton

    I think that every wine region in Portugal has a wine route ("Rotas dos vinhos"). In each one of those "Rotas do Vinhos" you can find wineries that are prepared to welcome visitors and show them theirs wines. For example: Vinho Verde <a href="http://rota.vinhoverde.pt/ ” target=”_blank”>http://rota.vinhoverde.pt/ Ribatejo <a href="http://www.rotavinhoribatejo.pt/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.rotavinhoribatejo.pt/ Oeste <a href="http://www.rotavinhooeste.com/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.rotavinhooeste.com/ Alentejo <a href="http://77.91.200.110/~vinhosdo/index.php ” target=”_blank”>http://77.91.200.110/~vinhosdo/index.php Setúbal <a href="http://www.rotavinhospsetubal.com/index.php?secti…” target=”_blank”><a href="http://www.rotavinhospsetubal.com/index….” target=”_blank”>http://www.rotavinhospsetubal.com/index.php?secti… Bairrada and Dão also have "Rotas dos Vinhos" sites but right now the access is denied.

  • Milton

    I think that every wine region in Portugal has a wine route ("Rotas dos vinhos"). In each one of those "Rotas do Vinhos" you can find wineries that are prepared to welcome visitors and show them theirs wines. For example: Vinho Verde <a href="http://rota.vinhoverde.pt/ ” target=”_blank”>http://rota.vinhoverde.pt/ Ribatejo <a href="http://www.rotavinhoribatejo.pt/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.rotavinhoribatejo.pt/ Oeste <a href="http://www.rotavinhooeste.com/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.rotavinhooeste.com/ Alentejo <a href="http://77.91.200.110/~vinhosdo/index.php ” target=”_blank”>http://77.91.200.110/~vinhosdo/index.php Setúbal <a href="http://www.rotavinhospsetubal.com/index.php?secti…” target=”_blank”><a href="http://www.rotavinhospsetubal.com/index….” target=”_blank”>http://www.rotavinhospsetubal.com/index.php?secti… Bairrada and Dão also have "Rotas dos Vinhos" sites but right now the access is denied.

  • Milton

    I think that every wine region in Portugal has a wine route ("Rotas dos vinhos"). In each one of those "Rotas do Vinhos" you can find wineries that are prepared to welcome visitors and show them theirs wines. For example: Vinho Verde <a href="http://rota.vinhoverde.pt/ ” target=”_blank”>http://rota.vinhoverde.pt/ Ribatejo <a href="http://www.rotavinhoribatejo.pt/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.rotavinhoribatejo.pt/ Oeste <a href="http://www.rotavinhooeste.com/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.rotavinhooeste.com/ Alentejo <a href="http://77.91.200.110/~vinhosdo/index.php ” target=”_blank”>http://77.91.200.110/~vinhosdo/index.php Setúbal <a href="http://www.rotavinhospsetubal.com/index.php?secti…” target=”_blank”><a href="http://www.rotavinhospsetubal.com/index….” target=”_blank”>http://www.rotavinhospsetubal.com/index.php?secti… Bairrada and Dão also have "Rotas dos Vinhos" sites but right now the access is denied.

  • Milton

    I think that every wine region in Portugal has a wine route ("Rotas dos vinhos"). In each one of those "Rotas do Vinhos" you can find wineries that are prepared to welcome visitors and show them theirs wines. For example: Vinho Verde <a href="http://rota.vinhoverde.pt/ ” target=”_blank”>http://rota.vinhoverde.pt/ Ribatejo <a href="http://www.rotavinhoribatejo.pt/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.rotavinhoribatejo.pt/ Oeste <a href="http://www.rotavinhooeste.com/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.rotavinhooeste.com/ Alentejo <a href="http://77.91.200.110/~vinhosdo/index.php ” target=”_blank”>http://77.91.200.110/~vinhosdo/index.php Setúbal <a href="http://www.rotavinhospsetubal.com/index.php?secti…” target=”_blank”><a href="http://www.rotavinhospsetubal.com/index….” target=”_blank”>http://www.rotavinhospsetubal.com/index.php?secti… Bairrada and Dão also have "Rotas dos Vinhos" sites but right now the access is denied.

  • Anna

    I think Spanish wineries in general should take advice from the portuguese. Getting into a winery can be very difficult, buying wine even more difficult…There are ofcourse exceptions but nevertheless there are lots to learn.

  • Milton

    As far as I know in Portugal it's not difficult to visit a winery but the only place were you can have a professional reception is with Port wineries. In your opinion Ryan, when you say the rest of Portugal is a bit of a mess you mean that they are not that professonal or they lack something else?

  • ryan

    No actually many locations are very professional, though finding out that there are places to visit can be hard. The Alentejo has always been a great place to visit and the regions offices in Evora are always very welcoming and helpful when I've wanted information about the area. The mess part is finding out where to go, what's open, and who to talk to. If your not in the BIZ, it can be hard. Fortunately Charles Metcalf's new book is a great way to start exploring. <a href="http://www.catavino.net/portugal/book-review-the-…” target=”_blank”><a href="http://www.catavino.net/portugal/book-re…” target=”_blank”>http://www.catavino.net/portugal/book-review-the-

  • ryan

    No actually many locations are very professional, though finding out that there are places to visit can be hard. The Alentejo has always been a great place to visit and the regions offices in Evora are always very welcoming and helpful when I've wanted information about the area. The mess part is finding out where to go, what's open, and who to talk to. If your not in the BIZ, it can be hard. Fortunately Charles Metcalf's new book is a great way to start exploring. <a href="http://www.catavino.net/portugal/book-review-the-…” target=”_blank”><a href="http://www.catavino.net/portugal/book-re…” target=”_blank”>http://www.catavino.net/portugal/book-review-the-

  • ryan

    No actually many locations are very professional, though finding out that there are places to visit can be hard. The Alentejo has always been a great place to visit and the regions offices in Evora are always very welcoming and helpful when I've wanted information about the area. The mess part is finding out where to go, what's open, and who to talk to. If your not in the BIZ, it can be hard. Fortunately Charles Metcalf's new book is a great way to start exploring. <a href="http://www.catavino.net/portugal/book-review-the-…” target=”_blank”><a href="http://www.catavino.net/portugal/book-re…” target=”_blank”>http://www.catavino.net/portugal/book-review-the-

  • ryan

    No actually many locations are very professional, though finding out that there are places to visit can be hard. The Alentejo has always been a great place to visit and the regions offices in Evora are always very welcoming and helpful when I've wanted information about the area. The mess part is finding out where to go, what's open, and who to talk to. If your not in the BIZ, it can be hard. Fortunately Charles Metcalf's new book is a great way to start exploring. <a href="http://www.catavino.net/portugal/book-review-the-…” target=”_blank”><a href="http://www.catavino.net/portugal/book-re…” target=”_blank”>http://www.catavino.net/portugal/book-review-the-

  • Justin Roberts

    For example: Finding information about wineries on the Ruta del Vino de Jerez, Andalucia, Spain <a href="http://www.rutadeljerezybrandy.es/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.rutadeljerezybrandy.es/ vs Finding information about the Geelong Wine Route in Victoria, Australia. <a href="http://www.winegeelong.com.au/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.winegeelong.com.au/ I challenge you to find times and details for visits on the first website in less than two clicks. Just check out the "Plano de La Ruta" for some REALLY useful information, and the translation for the english version of the site teeters on the edge of being a joke. For the second site I challenge you to find any dead links. (I love my new IT, finally I can get involved without having to wait ten minutes for a page to refresh!)

  • Justin Roberts

    For example: Finding information about wineries on the Ruta del Vino de Jerez, Andalucia, Spain <a href="http://www.rutadeljerezybrandy.es/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.rutadeljerezybrandy.es/ vs Finding information about the Geelong Wine Route in Victoria, Australia. <a href="http://www.winegeelong.com.au/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.winegeelong.com.au/ I challenge you to find times and details for visits on the first website in less than two clicks. Just check out the "Plano de La Ruta" for some REALLY useful information, and the translation for the english version of the site teeters on the edge of being a joke. For the second site I challenge you to find any dead links. (I love my new IT, finally I can get involved without having to wait ten minutes for a page to refresh!)

  • Justin Roberts

    For example: Finding information about wineries on the Ruta del Vino de Jerez, Andalucia, Spain <a href="http://www.rutadeljerezybrandy.es/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.rutadeljerezybrandy.es/ vs Finding information about the Geelong Wine Route in Victoria, Australia. <a href="http://www.winegeelong.com.au/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.winegeelong.com.au/ I challenge you to find times and details for visits on the first website in less than two clicks. Just check out the "Plano de La Ruta" for some REALLY useful information, and the translation for the english version of the site teeters on the edge of being a joke. For the second site I challenge you to find any dead links. (I love my new IT, finally I can get involved without having to wait ten minutes for a page to refresh!)

  • Justin Roberts

    For example: Finding information about wineries on the Ruta del Vino de Jerez, Andalucia, Spain <a href="http://www.rutadeljerezybrandy.es/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.rutadeljerezybrandy.es/ vs Finding information about the Geelong Wine Route in Victoria, Australia. <a href="http://www.winegeelong.com.au/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.winegeelong.com.au/ I challenge you to find times and details for visits on the first website in less than two clicks. Just check out the "Plano de La Ruta" for some REALLY useful information, and the translation for the english version of the site teeters on the edge of being a joke. For the second site I challenge you to find any dead links. (I love my new IT, finally I can get involved without having to wait ten minutes for a page to refresh!)

  • Justin Roberts

    I've been checking out the links you posted above with interest. Some of the sites are really good, and others are just pointless. Vinho Verde just freezes up. I will try again later. Ribatejo is great. Useful map. All the information a visitor needs about the adegas is there, except costs. Oeste website looks very nice, but it is a waste of time. No map. Individual adega pages have no information about visits. Some adega links don't even work. What is the purpose of this website? Alentejo is good to a point. Good map of each route. On individual adega pages (I tried all on São Mamede) "Offered Services" (should really be "Services Offered") has all sorts of lovely things, but nowhere can I find times or costs. Setúbal looks really nice. Useful "mapa da região" even if you can only look at one square at a time. However José Maria da Fonseca is the only adega regularly open to the visitors. Every other adega "com marcação prévia". Friendly website, but not very friendly ruta! All tourists want to know is where, what time and how much…

  • Gabriella Opaz

    I would suggest that we have a LONG way to go on "customer service" in both Portugal and Spain. I say this because I have persistently tried to contact many of these regional websites through email to get the same information Justin is asking for, and I have been ignored – totally and completely. It is not to say that some aren't extremely generous with their information, but too many regional websites in both Spain and Portugal don't see good customer service as direct key to regional wine sales. They think if they can provide some basic info, that's as far as they need to extend themselves. But what they don't realize is that people aren't going to call, they're going to search the website for information and then email, most likely in English, to get whatever info they're missing. Clearly, providing all the information first would be key, but second would to make yourself available for any and all questions in more than one language. Because in the end, it is not only the individual wineries that gain exposure from this, but so will your regional hotels, restaurants, etc.

  • Milton

    Interesting comments and evaluation on the Portuguese and Spanish winery sites philosophy… In the benefit of the Iberian wine and tourism I hope the people responsible for those sites as also read your comments!

  • ryan

    Sadly most of them have no clue that Social media exsists or how to access it…I wish we could change that

  • Justin Roberts

    We will, eventually!

  • Tom Clarke

    Sorry if someone else has already said it, but… could this not just be a combination of the usual sloppiness of Spanish customer service and the month of August? In my experience, getting anything done, particularly down south, in August, is pretty hard work. BTW: best Priorat wineries to visit? Any tips?

  • ryan

    Zero to do with August, this is a perpetual problem in Sherry country and many other places. As to the Priorat, well, it's not the easiest, but you should give these guys a call: <a href="http://www.ficariavins.net/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ficariavins.net/ great personalized wine experiences.

  • ryan

    Zero to do with August, this is a perpetual problem in Sherry country and many other places. As to the Priorat, well, it's not the easiest, but you should give these guys a call: <a href="http://www.ficariavins.net/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ficariavins.net/ great personalized wine experiences.

  • ryan

    Zero to do with August, this is a perpetual problem in Sherry country and many other places. As to the Priorat, well, it's not the easiest, but you should give these guys a call: <a href="http://www.ficariavins.net/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ficariavins.net/ great personalized wine experiences.

  • ryan

    Zero to do with August, this is a perpetual problem in Sherry country and many other places. As to the Priorat, well, it's not the easiest, but you should give these guys a call: <a href="http://www.ficariavins.net/ ” target=”_blank”>http://www.ficariavins.net/ great personalized wine experiences.

  • Justin Roberts

    On a positive note. Just been to pick up the sherries for the EWBC 2008 from the friendly people at Alvaro Domecq. They have just opened a shop! Very nice looking too… Open normal office hours. It's still very new, so there are a few things to round off (like installing a fridge), but in the future they will let you try before you buy. I will take photos and blog about it as soon as I'm back in Jerez.