Traveling While Drinking

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Can the Wine Tourism Trend Save Travel?
By Robert P. Farmer

While it’s no new concept in the valleys of Napa or Sonoma, the idea of wine tourism is starting to take root across the globe. From France to Germany and Australia to Chile, people are increasingly booking passage based less on the destination itself than on the wine produced in that destination.

Wine lovers everywhere are discovering that it’s more fun to drink their way through vacation than to sit idle on, say, a beach reading the latest trashy best-seller. Wine Tourism is providing a renewed sense of purpose for leisure time and it is not limited to wine aficionados. Thanks in part to concerted efforts by wine-producing regions to espouse their industry and leverage it for fun and profit, the wine tourism trend appears to be something travelers can savor.
The numbers support it. Through the middle years of this decade, visitors to California wineries increased by an order of magnitude–by some five million between 2002 and 2005, and again by another four million in the past three years. Indeed some of that can be attributed to a heightened awareness of California wines, but the population in these wineries also correlates to an increase in travel to the wine-producing regions in the state. And with the advent of such entities as the Russian River Wine Road–which places an official stamp on what would otherwise be simply the road one would travel anyway to get to the wineries–travelers are more apt to center their itineraries on something that is already laid out before them.

California is not alone. The Silverado Trail in Napa is perhaps the first true wine trail in America. But roads connecting wineries in vineyard-rich regions from Oregon to Virginia are being officially “designated” as wine trails designed for tourism convenience. The Monticello Wine Trail of Virginia has helped reinvigorate tourism in the area where once only history buffs dared to tread. Now, visitors are getting another angle on the Thomas Jefferson story–one in which they discover that the man was also something of a wine aficionado in addition to being simply an architect of a country.

Similarly, countries such as France, Spain, and Australia have aggressively positioned their respective wine industries as prime reasons to pay them a visit. Initiatives have not just begun and ended with advertising campaigns, but also involved government funding to help bolster infrastructure in these regions ranging from new hotels and restaurants to packaged vacations centered on food and wine.

To be sure, another reason for the increase in wine-related travel is the shift in interest among consumers toward so-called lifestyle. The coincidental rise in, for example, the popularity of the Food Network and the Travel Channel, has spurred along the interest in all things culinary. Wine was, of course, well positioned to benefit from the trend. But that’s not the only reason for the uptick in wine tourism. Additional motivations are myriad and include everything from wine education to the pleasure of exploration.

With the travel industry shaking in its collective boots during this economic Armageddon, wine tourism may just be the trend that saves the day. Because gone are the days of travel for travel’s sake. This is travel with a purpose. And what better purpose can there be than to drink wine?




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