What is wine tourism and how can it be eco-friendly?

Written by Anneleen Debruyckere, Herost Global Youth Ambassador

Have you ever experienced oenotourism? Also called enotourism, wine tourism or vititourism, this special interest tourism is about traveling with the aim of participating in activities surrounding wine. For example going to a wine festival, visiting a vineyard, or attending a wine and food pairing workshop. Recently, eco-sustainable wine tourism have become increasingly popular. 

Herost - Napa Valley
Wine tasting in Napa Valley, California – Photo by Alexander Gamanyuk on Unsplash

Knowing more about the wine world

Wine, a product exuding luxury and finesse, yet so simple and authentic. For thousands of years, the consumption of wine has been common routine in many households, especially in traditional winemaking regions. Just like wine itself, the industry only gets better by the years. More and more winegrowers have been opening their vineyards and facilities to public for a behind-the-scenes experience. Moreover, wineries producing organic, biodynamic and natural wines have taken their place in the market, creating a cross between tradition and innovation.

Even though the tradition behind viticulture, or wine growing, can be traced back many thousands of years, its promotion as a touristic product only started some decades ago. Due to a variety of factors including location, climate and farming practices, no vineyard is the same. Every territory receives different influences that, connected to an intangible regional heritage and individual winemaking techniques, make each wine unique. This relates to what the French call “terroir“. Drinking wine in a fancy restaurant is great, but going to its origins, breathing in the air, touching the soil, understanding specific farming practices and taking in the atmosphere that give the wine its character, that is what truly attracts wine lovers.

Herost vineyard
Photo by Elle Hughes on Unsplash

The origins of oenotourism

In 1976, British wine merchant Steven Spurrier, organized a big wine tasting event in Paris, informally called ‘The Judgement of Paris’.  On that occasion, French judges carried out two series of blind tests: one for Chardonnays and one for red wines including Bordeaux and Californian Cabernet Sauvignons. By and large, France has the reputation of being the world’s foremost producer of wines. Surprisingly, it was a Californian wine that came out on top in both categories. This international recognition gave Napa Valley, where the wine was made, a huge boost. The area then developed as the wine region of California and a a hub for innovation. It also became a popular wine tourism destination since the local vineyards started promoting activities such as tours, workshops, shows, farm stays and tasting experiences. 

Following the model of Napa Valley, winemakers around the world started promoting their wineries in a similar way, for example in Catalonia, Spain. Since Spain had been famous for its ‘sun-sea-sand’-tourism, this alternative was a welcome change, adding cultural enrichment and gastronomic heights to an already successful holiday. In fact, wine tourism brings all the elements of a comprehensive holiday into one. Visiting a vineyard can be exciting, relaxing, educative and surprising all at the same time. From collecting grapes in a painting-like landscape to manually squashing them in a barrel, viticulture is both fascinating and enjoyable.

Beside being educational and pleasurable, wine tourism is also relaxing and wholesome. Traditional vineyards can have this nostalgic and romantic atmosphere. It takes you back in time to the authentic and simple, yet hard-working life of ancient winegrowers. It is an emerging experience invoking all of our senses, which makes it extra remarkable and unforgettable. Who would not want to spend their holiday in a picturesque farm in a rural environment, where you can learn about a unique heritage and participate in a centuries-old craftsmanship?

Herost - wine tourism
Photo by Manuel Torres Garcia on Unsplash

Towards eco-friendly wine tourism

With increasing concerns over climate change and environmental conservation, many wine growers have taken up the challenge to adopt a more eco-conscious model. Regardless of these issues, it is a whole achievement in itself to modify a centuries-old process and make it fully natural, without handing in on taste or quality. But what exactly is eco-friendly winemaking? Vintners, or winemakers, may have various interpretations. Some just reduce packaging plastic, others avoid chemicals and/or any intrants, while some limit soil exploitation.

Given the fact that wine growing is a soil-intensive practice, going green will inevitably contribute to regional development and assist territory conservation. Good soil is imperative for good cultivation of grapes, so it is naturally a sustainable practice. If wineries decide to expand their business by hosting eco-friendly tourism experiences, this can also be seen as a contribution to regional development. In fact, it creates new income opportunities for farmers through bringing travelers to the countryside where they will directly and indirectly support sustainable rural development and agriculture.

Recently, organic, natural and biodynamic wines have become popular. Based around a specific astronomic calendar, biodynamic agriculture was developed in the 1920s by Dr. Rudolf Steiner. This holistic, ecological and ethical approach includes the principles of organic farming but goes much further. It has recently gained attention. Organic wines are made with grapes grown without the use of artificial pesticides, fungicides, herbicides etc. and in the winery, the use of prohibited additives is restricted. e seek out Natural wines, also called low / minimal intervention wines, do not follow universally accepted principles but a fully natural winemaking process should ban any intrant and artificial technique. For example, synthetic chemical products and filtration are not allowed, as well as the addition of industrial yeasts, sugar or enzymes.

Getting to these stages takes time and research. It is a challenge, but will certainly proof worthwhile once the goal is achieved. Another difficulty is convincing customers of the consistent quality of those wines and the value of a sustainable approach. The concept is quite novel, and it may need some extra time and effort to establish a good reputation in the wine industry.

Herost - Wine tourism harvest
Photo by Lasseter Winery on Unsplash

Overall, a growing number of vineries enjoy welcoming visitors and they might even organize special tours, workshops, farm stays or other associated activities. If sustainably committed, wine farmers will be more than happy and proud to elaborate on their vision and practices.

Read this article: How to grow wine grapes

Do not hesitate to contact us if you are hosting wine tourism / oenotourism experiences and would like to list them in Herost platform.