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Great Wine Capitals – Spain has Rioja, Portugal has Oporto – A few questions answered by Thomas Perry

In August, during the 2008 European Wine Blogger’s Conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Tom Perry – someone I can now call a good friend. Tom is an American expat who has worked and lived in Spain for over 30 years and is incredibly well- versed on the Spanish wine economy, not to mention an incredibly interesting guy who will capture your attention for hours on end.

Not surprisingly, Tom is also heavily involved with the Great Wine Capitals project. From their website:

The Global Network of Great Wine Capitals,which embraces Melbourne, Bordeaux, San FranciscoNapa Valley, Porto, Cape Town, Bilbao-Rioja, Florence and Mendoza, works to encourage international winery tourism, as well as economic, academic and cultural exchanges between these famous capitals of wine.

To tell you the truth, I don’t have much experience with the Great Wine Capitals, and have only run into it a few times. Bit from what I can tell, it is a project that helps the capitals themselves to embrace enotourism.

According to Tom, my sense of the project was accurate in that the project is geared towards supporting wine capitals to better assist travelers. Additionally, there is a new website currently being constructed that will offer various tools for wine travelers. After Tom participated in the EWBC, he is convinced that social media and blogging should also become a part of the strategy for future incarnations of the Great Wine Capitals website. We can only hope that he succeeds in convincing the group as a whole.

Today, Catavino offers you a short interview conducted by email with Tom. Please take note of the last question, as it is directed specifically towards our readers. So please take a moment to answer the question and show Tom what a bunch of wine blog readers can do!

I just spent about a half hour on your site, and I realized that it appears to have very little for the consumer. This makes me think, what is the message of Great Wine Capitals for the wine consumer? Or maybe I’m misunderstanding the focus, what is the goal of Great Wine Capitals?

I think the site has a lot of useful information for consumers, especially to help them identify excellence in winery tourism on an international level through the winners of the “Best Of” awards. It is also a potentially useful tool when consumers are planning a visit to one of the regions-there’s information about lodging, restaurants, wine routes, wineries…as well as a network of travel agents specializing in organizing visits to the regions.

The Great Wine Capitals also has a strong B2B focus, putting businesses together in the different regions through the Chambers of Commerce and regional development offices.

Cooperation among the regions is also important-joint research programs are carried out, information is exchanged between universities, speakers from one region are invited to lecture in other member cities, member cities visit each other’s wine regions and the like. For example, we are all benefiting greatly from South Africa’s biodiversity initiatives, Napa’s strength in the wine tourism business and Rioja’s experience with improving its image through outstanding winery architecture projects.

As an example, the European Great Wine Capitals (Bilbao-Rioja, Florence, Bordeaux and Porto) were recently awarded a European Union research grant to study the use of encapsulated, native yeasts in vineyards in each region. The goal of the study is to create and market native yeasts in order to preserve variety in the different wine regions rather than use international yeast strains.

I know the Organization’s annual awards, the “Best of Wine Toursim” to members of your group, but what does it take to win this award? What does this mean for a winery who wins it?

“Best Of”: Each region organizes a local contest among interested wineries, restaurants, winery tourism companies etc. in several categories:

* Accommodation
* Architecture, Parks and Gardens
* Art and Culture
* Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences
* Wine tourism restaurants
* Sustainable wine tourism practices
* Wine tourism services

Then, each country’s winners compete against one another on an international level to win the international awards.

In each case, the awards are given by a jury that rates the candidates on the basis of a questionnaire and personal visits.

For the winners, the award is recognition for excellence in each category.

I browsed last years Global Tourism winners, and went to the websites linked to from the winners page. What I noticed is that 1 of the sites, did not function at all. 2 of them wouldn’t let me past the home page. 2 Others, were covered with flash and hard to navigate. Question: Since the Internet is becoming to important to promoting wines, and tourism, might we see a “Best of Internet Technology” award somewhere down the line?

Creating a “Best Of” of Internet technology: a good idea! Let’s see if we can make it fly.

The website and winners’ information: the current website leaves a lot to be desired with few interactive features and difficult navigation. A new website is about to be launched that will be easier to navigate, with many more interactive features and more visuals.

Your point is well taken about the sites of some of the international winners. I was able to navigate through all of them. One was only in Italian which is obviously a mistake. About Flash: I don’t know why it’s so bad (apart from being invisible to Google).

Catavino note: Flash is bad for a viariety of reason’s, primarily because it’is hard to navigate in some browsers, is slow to load, and as a journalist, it does not allow us to copy facts and figures for use in articles. Apart from this, many sites do not load at all or eats up so many resources that the reader’s browser can freeze. Flash is good for videos and pictures, but not for text. It’s like using oil paints to write a letter to a friend. It’s slow and awkward, hence the invention of the pen, or better yet, the keyboard)!

Bilbao-Rioja: Explain as best you can this contradiction.

Bilbao-Rioja: not a contradiction at all. Historically, most of the startup capital for Rioja wineries came from Bilbao and the Basque Country in general (CVNE, Bodegas Bilbaínas, Bodegas & Bebidas, Olarra…and many more) and the port of Bilbao was where the wine was shipped from. Also, the north of Spain has always been the biggest market for Rioja.

Also, don’t forget that the Great Wine Capitals is a network of major cities located in or near important wine regions.

Porto, and Bilbao-Rioja are “Great wine capitals” in Iberia, though I think they have a pretty strong peer in Jerez. What does it take to be a “great wine capital” and what are your plans to expand?

Our charter says that there can only be one capital per country. There is no doubt that Jerez is an important wine capital but the selection committee preferred to have Rioja in the network. Until we have one capital from each of the major wine producing countries (we lack one from Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Hungary for example-but are working on all fronts to select suitable candidates) it will probably stay that way. Perhaps in the future the charter will be changed.

What are your future plans for Great Wine Capitals? What should we as consumers know?

Future plans for the GWC are to improve the Travel Network, create new cooperative projects in education, research, winery tourism and business opportunities, as well as improve our communication capabilities. FYI, I’m the leader of the communications committee and one of the points on the agenda of the upcoming annual meeting is using social networks.

Since you have an audience on this blog of wine lovers and producers., what questions do you have for them?

A question for the blogging community: if you are interested in visiting a wine region, what concrete resources do you use (specifically, which resources on the internet) to plan your trip?

I want to Thank Tom for answering my questions, and I ask that all of you take the time to answer Tom’s question above, if not add your own questions for Tom. I know he’ll be listening!


Ryan Opaz

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