A French expert on wine tourism said more and more wineries were opening for visitors in France.
Of France’s 87,000 wineries five years ago, only 13% were open to the public, said Martin Lulle, head of wine tourism at Atout France, the country’s tourism development agency.
Now many others have opened their doors for tours and tastings, he said.
“Since our last estimate, the number of distilleries open to the public has grown by more than 10%,” he said.
This is a growing trend in an industry that once opposed the friendly open-door policy prevalent in wineries in California, South Africa and other New World wine regions. It was thought that French distilleries – or castles – were engaged in making serious wine, but not Caring for families with playgrounds in the area is common practice in some parts of Australia.
But that began to change a few years ago when wineries began to set up visitor-friendly tasting rooms, renovate their cellars and organize tours of the vineyard, turning working estates into small tourist attractions.
Activities soon began, with visitors able to book picnics, harvest workshops and treasure hunts for children in the areas as distinctive as Bordeaux.
The trend has risen up the echelon of French winemakers, from small independent estates to the country’s leading producers. Now “the vast majority” of France’s most prestigious castles are also open to visitors, Louis said.
There are four main types of wine tourists to France, Louis said. The largest group (40%) are “Epicureans”, in his words, who seek pleasure and “satisfy their feelings.”
They are followed by “classics” (24%), who consider wine as one experience, including from leisure. “Researchers” (20%) value deeper knowledge, he said – they want to meet winemakers and explore lesser-known aspects of wine. The rest of the visitors (16%) are “experts” who want to master the science of wine, he said.
Wine tourism in France brings in about 5.2 billion euros ($ 5.9 billion) a year, Louis said.
Prior to the pandemic, the country hosted about 10 million wine tourists each year, spending an average of $ 1,430 per stay. Most of these visitors came from France (58%), but the growth of foreign visitors outpaced the growth of domestic.
“The average growth rate of wine tourism in France over the past six years is about 4% per year, with growth in foreign tourists higher,” he said.
Lulle said he divides the wine regions of France into two camps:
- “Classic” destinations where wine plays a crucial role in the decision of travelers to visit the area, such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and Alsace; and
- regions where wine plays an important, though not primary, role in choosing to visit, such as Provence, Occitania and the Loire Valley.
Visitors mostly want to try and buy wine, but the desire to experience the region’s “landscapes, cultures, heritage and gastronomy” is not far behind, Lule said.
Les Sources de Caudalie is a five-star hotel and spa in the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte vineyard estate near Bordeaux.
Jean-Pierre Mueller AFP | Getty Images
Others come to take part in winemaking events, from wine workshops and wellness-based grape therapies to wine festivals and family events in vineyards, Lulle said. He called all these “growth trends” in France.
There are not many differences between French and foreign wine tourists, Luy said.
However, the French tend to look for more “authenticity” in their tours, he said. They usually want direct contact with the winemaker, he said, while foreign guests are less worried about being escorted by the estate’s winemaker.
Mediterranean from Chateau Maraven in Provence, France.
@Atout France Cibo Tuzo
“Another difference … is that French wine tourists are less likely to pay for visits and tastings than their foreign counterparts,” Luy said. “Some French wine tourists still think that … if they buy wine, you shouldn’t expect them to pay for the visit.”
But now that is changing, he said, especially since “visits have grown significantly in content and quality.”
“Generally, the bigger the brand, the more likely foreign wine tourists are to visit,” Lulle said.
However, “an American wine lover who has been on several wine trips to France is more likely to try Jura … than a Parisian who has tasted only one weekend in Champagne.”
Jura is one of the six “well-hidden secrets” recommended by Louis. He said it is one of the smallest wine regions in France, home to some of the most beautiful villages.
The “heart and soul” of the district is vin jaune (yellow wine), which is celebrated on the first weekend of February during a large-scale festival called La Percee du Vin Jaune, he said. This year, the event has been postponed until April.
Martin Luier of Atout France singled out Chateau-Chalon-sur-Saône as one of the most beautiful villages in France.
@Atout France Gilles Lansard
Corsica is a well-known tourist destination, but it is “impressive island vineyards not so famous, “he said. The same goes for Ardèche, a subregion of the Rhone Valley that has more wine to live in and … amazing experiences of wine tourism such as its underground wine tastings».
Between Burgundy and the Rhone Valley is Beaujolais, famous for its Beaujolais Nouveau wine made from Gamma grapes.
The area is “known locally as French Tuscany for its landscapes and art of living,” Luy said. “It’s an hour’s drive from … Lyon, which is the capital of French gastronomy.”
Beaujolais is home to 10 cru, or major villages and wine-growing areas such as Saint-Amour, Fleury (see here) and Shiruble.
@Atout France Olivier Roux
Finally, southwestern France, called “Sud-Ouest” in French, is a huge wine-growing region with big names and “unpassed” gems, Louis said. He recommends two areas near the Spanish border: Huransonwhere “bathing summers in the region and warm winds offer exceptional sweet wine,” and Irouleguy“The smallest of the mountainous wine regions of France, deeply rooted in the Basque Country.”
He also recommends vineyards around Bergerac and Durres, south of Bordeaux. Lulle called the area an unspoiled “natural value” and a growing destination wine tourists who worry about sustainability».