Pique-nique chez le vigneron – Montlouis
Table ronde: Oenotourism – fermer le weekend !
I have just spent a few In Tours for the 11th Rencontres François Rabelais where I was a member of a round table on wine tourism in the Loire.
My fellow panelists were Jean-Max Manceau (Domaine de Noiré, Chinon), Pascal Pringarbe (Château la Morinière) and we were kept in order by Jean-Claude Bonnaud (editor of Vin Ligérien), who also set the scene for the session.
There were two main points that I wanted to put over. Firstly that with so many of the Loire domaines being long-standing family concerns or run by people, who have given up another career to become wine producers, is a big plus. Whatever one thinks for the growth of the ‘natural wine’ movement it reflects a desire amongst some regular wine drinks for authenticity.
The Loire can provide this authenticity. Often the visitor to a Loire domaine will meet the producer or one of their family. Few estates, apart mainly from the co-operatives and the sparkling wine producers, can afford or wish to employ guides to look after visitors. This immediately sets the Loire apart, for instance, from the top level of Bordeaux and grandes marques Champagne
Of course the Loire’s family orientation has its constraints. A small wine producer now has to wear many hats – good in the vineyard, in the winery, able to market and sell their wines and now increasing good at communicating, especially using social media. All this means that many Loire producers work very long hours. Not surprising that there is a reluctance to welcome visitors over the weekend, especially on Sundays.
However, if you are seriously interested in oenotourism (wine tourism) you have to be open over the weekend. It is over the weekend that people are free to visit wineries. Increasing people take a short break often spanning a weekend, so it actually probably makes more sense to be open during the weekend than during the week.
To which the producer and their family may well reasonably object that they need a break – that they cannot work 24/7. This is where cooperation, which was a recurring theme during our session, comes in. There are ways of improving the offer to visitors, which doesn’t cost a lot of money.
Bourgueil has a programme of Portes Ouvertes from April through to late September/October. Every weekend there are, at least, two domaines ready to welcome visitors. Thus the load is spread and provides visitors with domaines to visit where they will often fine special offers plus food etc. that makes the visit memorable.
It may well be that other Loire appellations have similar arrangements but I am not aware of any. This highlights another theme: using social media and blogs to publicise your events. True it takes time but is not that difficult given the amount of time people now spend on smart phones or tablets that finding time to fire off a few tweets or Facebook invitation should be relatively easy.
Being open, at times, during the weekend also makes commercial sense. Pascal Pringarbe (Château la Morinière), who offers accommodation, meals etc., between Cholet and Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay recounted how he sells 3,000 bottles of wine a year to clients, who have tasted a wine in his restaurant and who want to visit the producer. The bad news for the wine lover is that the producer is closed over the weekend but they can buy from Pascal. Sales gained by Pascal but lost by the producer!
Jean-Max Manceau is convinced that the Loire producers do not take sufficient pride in their patrimonie unlike those in Burgundy, for example.
A final thought – the annual pique-nique is a brilliant idea from Les Vignerons Indépendants. I have been to a number and it is always a very convivial occasion with visitors bringing their own picnic and the vignerons providing the wine. It is highly likely that the producers sell more wine than they open to the happy and relaxed picnickers, who have probably been converted into ambassadors for the estate.
Unfortunately it is only held once a year usually in May. Why isn’t this or something similar run in August when there are many more foreign visitors and well as French people on holiday?!