Wine tourism has been a booming activity since its creation at the turn of the 2000s. Although the visits to wineries and estates have been available for a much longer time, these mainly concerned small groups of experienced oenologists, almost always French. A large part of them took advantage of these visits to interact with the winemaker and to consider buying cases of wine before it was made (what we call buying en primeurs). Why were these visits the prerogative of small groups of connoisseurs? Because the en primeur sale, a process originating in Bordeaux, initially concerned only the great châteaux, whose wine prices were in direct relation to the great reputation of the domain.
Bordeaux wine tourism: where it all started
Because of the great notoriety of Bordeaux wineries internationally, it is mainly around Bordeaux wine that the first wave of wine tourism development was organised. Wine tourism as a leisure activity in its own right is therefore developing alongside a commercial process of selling wine to particularly well-informed amateurs. Foreign tourism takes off in the region, because the Bordeaux castles are also very famous internationally.
The other region that initiates wine tourism, with from the start a strong presence of foreign visitors is of course Champagne. With cellars of international renown and a very important marketing presence, especially in Asia, Champagne stands out by offering luxury wine tourism and cellar visits centered on the high-end perception of the products that customers demand.
Even today, these two regions appear to be the most attractive for wine tourism, with total uptake for the two regions exceeding 35% (2018 figure given by an ATOUT France study). We see coming just after wine tourism in Alsace, which has a 17% market share in French wine tourism . It is important to note that Alsace, unlike the two regions mentioned above, benefits from greater notoriety among the French public. Alsatian winegrowers have benefited from the local population’s enthusiasm for vine-related activities for longer than others. Part of the regional tourism was therefore naturally organised around tastings and walks through the vineyards, a communication which was very effective with French visitors.
Wine tourism in France: specific features by region
As we have seen, the origins of wine tourism are quite different from region to region. Thanks to intelligent communication since the 2000s, the activity is booming and the numbers are impressive. In 7 years (between 2009 and 2016), activity has grown by more than 30%, in particular due to foreigners who are increasingly attracted to visiting French vineyards.
However, each region retains specificities. The vineyards of Bordeaux and Champagne houses always attract a large share of wealthy tourists, who take advantage of their visit to order cases of wine directly from the producer. Wine tourism in Alsace remains very important for the inhabitants of the east and for the rest of the French. Wine tourism in Burgundy tends to be closer to the Bordeaux and Champagne models, with increased visibility of very large houses, the reputation of great Burgundian wines is indeed starting to stand out internationally. Champagne wine tourism therefore risks having to share its visitors.
It is very interesting to note that wine tourism is developing enormously thanks to foreigners, who represent an ever larger share of market shares. A share estimated at 49% in 2016, it is certain that their number slightly exceeds the number of French tourists for the past two years. The average baskets of each enotourist according to the regions remain very different, but this will be the subject of another article.