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Where is the Future of Wine Tourism Heading? A Summary of The Wine Pleasures Conference

stormWaking up Saturday morning in Sitges for the Wine Pleasures Conference, I shuffled into the hotel bathroom to take a shower. Feeling rather groggy from staying up half the night listening to the wind howling against the windows, water spraying up against our second story windows, I assumed that hot water would clear the senses and prepare me for a jam packed conference weekend. However, just as conditioner was gently rinsed from my hair, I was left in the dark. Pitch blackness settled like a thick blanket around me in the windowless bathroom.

What happened?

The Wine Pleasures Conference kicked off in the midst of a massive wind storm that swept through Italy, France and Spain, leaving the hotel with zero electricity. Participants were trapped in airports, train stations, buses and highways in route to the hotel, while speakers were left Power Point-less, having to use their wits and spontaneity to attract participant attention. (Flickr photo by Cruccone)

One might take these extreme climate conditions as an omen for an unpredictably unmanageable conference, but I am very happy to announce, the success couldn’t have been more tangible. For the record, we did get our electricity back by Saturday afternoon,  making the live blog actually…live.

Approximately 100 people attended the Wine Pleasures Conference in Sitges, Spain, aimed at the subject of wine tourism. Having Live Blogged most of the event – check out the full conference notes here – I’ve narrowed down my synopsis to 7 fascinating questions that I have been churning in my mind all weekend:

1. What is a wine tourist?

This may seem like a very obvious question, but I would suggest that it isn’t. Rainer Brusis from Grape Escapes defined a wine tourist as someone who stays in a defined wine region for 24 hours. This would mean that if you were a diehard wine lover and were staying at the Fuster Hotel in Barcelona – an internationally renowned historical hotel, and spend 18 hours visiting the Priorat, you are not a wine tourist. Now, for tour operators, needing a sense of who and where their market it, this definition may be more loosely defined, but to a winery, does this definition make sense? Many comments in the live blog suggested that the definition should be expanded to day trippers. Therefore maybe there should be a overall “wine tourist” term that is further subdivided into: over nighters, day trippers, the occasional passerby, etc.

What is a wine tourist to you?

2. Should Wine Tourism by Default Include a Wide Variety of Languages?

I think everyone would agree that yes, every winery, hotel and restaurant should cater to their client’s needs. And if that need is global, a winery should communicate with their clients in English at the very least. Where the question is more interesting for me as an expatriate in Spain, is whether their written information – brochure or web page – should be translated by a native of that language? I would argue that YES!, if a winery wants to attract wine tourists from across the globe, make sure that your information is correctly translated by someone other than your niece who has had 3 years of “X” language in high school.

What languages should wineries speak to cater to your “wine tourism” needs?

3. Is Collaboration the Buzz Word for 2009?

Manuel Colmenero of Food Wine Tours gave a fascinating talk emphasizing that the future wine tourism lies in collaboration. No longer can we site on our laurels thinking that a walk in your vineyards and 20 minute tasting will satiate the diverse palate of wine tourists far and wide. The future, he claims, will depend on those bodegas who will collaborate with restaurants, hotels, spas, etc. to offer a wide range of options for wine lovers to choose from. Maybe a walk in the your vineyards could be taken on horseback where you are met with a picnic complete with an array of foods indigenous to the area. In the afternoon, you may learn how to both cook with wines and pair wines with various cuisines, followed by 2 hour exfoliating wine massage. The point, he made, was that if you are not creating a wide range of options for your visitors, someone else will. So do something different!

What kind of package would excite you as a wine tourist in Iberia?

4. Should We Throw off the Blinders and Welcome Children into the World of Wine?

Anna Manchón Montserrat of Bodegas Torres is a petite dynamic woman who spoke faster than the wind howling outside our floor to ceiling windows, about a new initiative by the winery to educate children about winemaking. Beyond their general educational program for children (read more here), they have now embarked on a series of workshops geared to accomplish the following:

. Knowing how the vine and vineyards function as a unit.
. Experience the fragility of the natural environment and to find personal or group actions to prevent its degradation.
. Promote responsibility through personal and group projects.
. Stimulate the creative capacity of individuals by making them accountable and participatory in a work team.
. Learn to assess the capabilities and potential of individuals with disabilities.

And how will they accomplish this fabulous feat? Simply by teaching how wine is produced from a biological, chemical, social, historical, philosophical, ethical and political perspective. Sounds rather comprehensive to me. Having just scratched the surface of their new endeavor, I trust I’ll dive a bit deeper and get you a more detailed version in the near future!

Should wineries embrace more family friendly tourism activities, and if so, what?

5. How do we more Effectively Incorporate our 5 Senses when Teaching Others about Wine?

What is ironic about this question, is that I was pondering this exact same issue in my head while in route to the conference. I wondered why I have never visited a winery who approached education from a dynamic and hand’s on approach? Why don’t wineries sit me down with several glasses of wine expressing everything from cork taint to 100% wood? Or from the other spectrum, from freshly pressed grape juice to fully fermented wine? Why not blindfold me and allow me taste through a mixed palate of reds, whites and rosados all at the same temperature?

The issue I raise is that taking me to your vineyards and winery, while barrading me with a thousands facts and figures, will not help me learn. It  will only distance me from the experience. So why not include me? Dinastia Vivanco’s museum does a great job at letting me smell a variety of different aromas to grasp what I could potentially smell in a wine. But where are the workshops dedicated to touch and taste? When was the last time a winery gave me a flawed wine and explained to me why it is flawed, and what they are doing to make their wines different? Or an overly acidic or tannic wine? What about a hot wine that most normal wine drinkers would associate with sweet?

Bodegas Torres has created a blind dinner experience, where for approximately 80 euros per person, you can be guided through a dinner with a monitor telling you what your eating, drinking and experiencing, allowing you to enhance the other four senses.  This is a start, but not feasible for your everyday winery.

What can an everyday winery do to educate their wine tourists about wine on a sensory level?

6. How does a Wine Tourism Event Ebb into a Wine Web2.0 Event?

It all started on Saturday, when Oscar from Quevedo and Emilio from Casa Vides chatted about their experiences with Twitter, sending the audience into complete and utter shock. “T-w-i-t-t-e-r….what is that!?”

Add 4 hours of Ryan giving a speech covering everything from Social Media to Youtube to Blogging, and you had  a mobbing of people clawing their way at Ryan to get more information. Sprinkle a little economic crisis and boatloads of money being flushed down the toilet on shiny brochures, and can imagine the interested that was harvested. Honestly, I have never seen so much interest in social media by Iberian wineries as I saw at this conference. It was as if someone turned on the switch and said “let there be a cheap and effective way to connect your brand with thousands of people around the world in a matter of minutes”, whereby stimulating fascination, interest and…get this…a willingness to do something different!

In short, what started as a wine tourism conference, eventually turned into a wine and web2.0 conference. Lucky us!!

Have you seen a change towards social media from wineries in your neck of woods?

7. Will we see a Winery Blog coming out of Namibia?

First off, Namibia is not an emotional disease, nor is a food group, it is a country located on the southwest tip of South Africa. And it just so happened that we tasted 70% of all the wines in the entire 825,000 sq. km. country of Namibia at the conference. Granted, there are only 5 bottles of wine being produced by 3 wineries in Namibia, and we tasted 3 of 5, but hey, that was pretty cool!

Of the three wineries – Kristall Kelleri Kellerei , Neuras and Thonningii – we met the owners of Kristall Kelleri, Michael and Katrin Weder (video below), for whom were extremely kind and personable. Open and willing to chat about their wines, they made it clear that although their wines were not incredible as of yet, they are very approachable and easy drinking wines that you could easily be consumed over the course of the night with a plate of game. And from the happy grins around the tasting table, I would have to agree with his assessment.

Would you like to have Kristall Kellerei start a winery blog?


On a final note, Jimmy Pons ( the Spanish Social Media guru) called me this morning asking me how the Live Blog worked for the event, and whether he should do it for Fiturtech this coming weekend. My answer, it was great fun and wonderful archive of the event. It allowed participants to focus on the speaker, knowing that they could grab links and highlights later on on the Live Blog. Additionally, those who participated on the Live Blog from around the world gave a richness and depth to the conversation, that allowed speakers to get a sense of what people outside of Spain where pondering as wine tourists.

However, I learned some really important lessons for my next Live Blogging Experience:

  1. Always start each session by typing in the CAPITAL LETTERS of the name of the session and the speaker so that it is an easy to reference for readers in the future.
  2. To the best of your ability, start each sentence with the name of the individual giving the opinion. Although a very difficult task when you’re typing as quickly as you can, it does provide readers a better sense of who’s opinion is who’s.
  3. Do not assume you will have an ounce of dexterity at the end of the Live Blog. Depending how long you are typing like a mad fool, a simple task like tying your shoe will prove itself as impossible.

Please check out the live blog, and let us know what you think!


Gabriella Opaz

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