Author: Leonid Gelibterman
«What if we take a drunken trip through Europe?» the merchant asked.
«Why not?» responded the man with mutton chops.
«Let’s head to Jerez now. Jerez de la Frontera is worth it.»
N.A. Leikin. Around Europe/Splinters, 1897.
Gastronomic tourism (and wine tourism as an essential part) is becoming an increasingly important and fast-growing travel segment. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, tourists spend more than 25% of their vacation budgets on food, 88.2% of respondents consider gastronomy an important component of an area’s culture, 79% of travelers choose routes based on gastronomic event calendars, and 59% of tourists are interested in visiting local agricultural fairs. The global market volume of gastronomic tourism is estimated at approximately USD 42 billion.
Wine tourism as a separate trend is also a long-standing practice. And this is far from surprising, given the fact that there are more than 3,600 wine regions and more than 1 million wineries in the world. Among the expected leaders of wine tourism are France, Italy, Spain, Australia, the United States and Argentina, and the presence of wine routes in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, England, China and Canada is an excellent sign of modern times.
In 2009, France established the Vignobles & Découvertes national program to promote wine tourism. It now operates in 36 regions of the country. The right to use the Vignobles & Découvertes brand is issued for three years, after that the «site» must confirm the right to use it according to certain criteria. Wineries, vineyards, restaurants and hotels of various types and historical monuments can all be considered sites. The presence of the Vignobles & Découvertes logo on the site gives tourists a clear signal of the high quality of services available there.
France also holds competitions for the best estate in the wine tourism industry. Among the winners have been many prominent producers, for example, Chateau Giscours from Margaux.
The gastronomic heritage of Italy boasts roughly five thousand typical dishes, which have been prepared according to traditional recipes for at least 25 years. 1,438 types of breads and pasta, 764 varieties of ham and 472 kinds of cheese are produced on the Apennine peninsula alone. Many products also have DOP (protected designation of origin), PGI (protected geographical indication) and STG (traditional specialty guaranteed) certificates. Such a variety, of course, promotes the development of oenogastronomic tourism in Italy, the number of fans of which is on the rise among both foreign visitors and Italians.
According to the Italian National Tourism Authority, at least 10% of tourists come to the Apennine peninsula to participate in some form of gastronomic or wine tour. One of the first regions in the country to move forward with the idea of wine tourism was Lombardy. Its coordinated system includes a total of 10 wine and gastronomic itineraries. Sicily also boasts 12 registered «wine roads.»
Spain has a special Association of Wine Towns (ACEVIN) responsible for the accreditation of wine roads, which helps actively develop domestic wine tourism throughout the country and attract foreign tourists. There are over 20 wine roads in thirteen autonomous regions of the country. The Monvinic wine culture center with a restaurant and regularly held tastings has been open in the Catalan capital of Barcelona for over a year now. Among the most renowned Spanish wine tourism areas is, for example, the Marqués de Riscal winery. It was founded in 1860, and nowadays has taken the form of an ultra-modern «wine city» complex built by Pritzker Prize winner architect Frank Gehry. The Starwood chain operates the hotel, and a Michelin-star chef manages the restaurant.
The British architect Norman Foster, winner of the Imperial and Pritzker prizes, was the design author of the Bodegas Portia in Ribera del Duero. In addition to Foster, such Pritzker winners as Rafael Moneo (Chivite), Zaha Hadid (Lopes de Heredia) and Richard Rodgers (Protos) have also built wineries in Spain. In August, in the capital of appellation Somontano, the town of Barbastro, the annual musical and wine holiday Festival Vino is held.
The German city of Mainz is also part of the international union known as the Great Wine Capital. Thus, the city’s merits in the development of winemaking and wine tourism are on display for all to see. In the Palatinate in the north of Germany, there is an 85-km-long German wine route (Deutsche Weinstraße), the oldest in the country, operating since 1935. There are about 100 major tasting centers in Franconia, which is a veritable heaven for wine festivals. Wurstmarkt Wine Festival in Bad Dürkheim is being held this year for its 599th time already. Here the Wine Queen is chosen, who is selected to represent German winemaking, both domestically and abroad, over the course of the coming year. The Wine Festival gathers the largest number of participants anywhere in the world. For example, 685,000 people attended the event in 2012.
For the convenience of tourists, the southern Austrian Steiermark even operates a special information bureau of wine-producing regions and three wine roads. Südsteirische Weinstraße is the oldest of them, and dates back to 1955.
The Wine Festival in Areni village is quite popular in Armenia, while more than 50 wineries are open to wine tourists in Bulgaria. Vinarska vizba Popova Kula is on the cutting edge of wine tourism development in the Republic of Macedonia, where a special complex has been opened to enjoy the local cuisine and wine, with the option of staying overnight in a comfortable hotel.
Moldova has also opened the Chateau Vartely tourist complex, including a five-star villa with 12 rooms, a cottage complex, two-level restaurant and underground wine cellar. In Portugal, the Association of Gastronomic Tourism is managed under the leadership of my friend Jose Barralho.
In Slovakia, the Muzeum vin Prešov, located in the ancient two-level cellar under the Prešov Town Hall, features offerings from all the wine regions of Slovakia and Moravia, along with wines from other regions of the world. Anyone interested in getting acquainted with Slovak wines «on the spot» is also welcome to take one of the country’s special wine routes (the Small Carpathians wine route is quite popular).
Slovenia plays an active role in global wine tourism, as major routes run through Maribor (on the banks of the Drava river, there is a 200-year-old wine cellar, and Zametovka grows there as well, which is a local grape vine claimed to be 450 years old and still bearing fruit), Ljutomer, Ptuja and Slovenska Bistrica. In Moravia in the Czech Republic, the country runs a tourist project called «The Wine Road of Moravia.» Tourists are invited to rent bikes in Mikulov and ride through Valtice and Lednice, where along the road the cyclists are met warmly by local farmers, who offer samples of Moravian wines. The total length of Moravia’s wine roads totals 1,200 km, with the single longest being Znojmskaya (165 km).
The Swiss canton of Geneva offers tourists three wine routes. At the Hungarian Eger from mid-May to mid-September, nighttime wine cellars tours are held on Thursdays. The Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul is actively developing enotourism in the Sierra Gaúcha area. In 2013, Valle dos Vinhedos was acknowledged by Wine Enthusiast and The International Business Times as one of the best places in the world for wine tourism.
The Uruguay Punta del Este is also renowned for its annual gastronomic festival «A Journey through the Senses,» featuring the country’s best chefs and wine experts. The International Wine Festival annually attracts tourists in the town of Ica, the main center of Peruvian wine. The grand festival of the grape harvest Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia is celebrated in the Argentine Province of Mendoza.
The U.S. state of California has a museum where the exhibits are vineyards, and visitors have the chance to taste wine while sitting in the comfortable cars of the «wine train.» Sonoma Valley holds an annual regional festival of wine and gastronomy as part of the Sonoma County Showcase of Wine & Food. Annual Zinfandel festivals in San Francisco gather 10,000 of people who gather to try more than 700 different samples of wines from this grape variety.
In the Canadian province of Ontario, the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival is held. In Marlborough in New Zealand, the annual wine festival is sponsored by BMW. Melbourne’s reputation as a paradise city for gourmet tourists is confirmed annually by the International Wine and Food Festival.
The Azerbaijan tourist «Wine Road» runs through Shemakha, Yevlakh, Agdash, Gabala, Göygöl, Ganja, Shamkir and Tovuz. The leading wineries of Israel, Lebanon and even Thailand offer wine tours to travelers.
In Russia, in Krasnodar Krai alone, there are some 15 wine routes, and they even have their own map. The absolute leader of oenogarstronomic tourism in this country is Abrau Durso, where a wine tourism center is open to guests featuring all the necessary infrastructure to host more than 100,000 visitors annually. «Lefkadia,» in addition to traditional tastings, also invites its guests to take a walk around its original museum. Phanagoria offers gastronomic restaurant delights, and Kuban Vino has even opened its own art gallery.
Beer lovers also have their own special getaway destinations. Hofbräuhaus, the oldest restaurant in Bavaria, was built by Duke William V in 1589. Nowadays, beer gourmets make pilgrimages here from all around the world. And let’s not forget about the number of tourists who gather every year at the Bavarian Oktoberfest, where at least 5 million liters of beer are consumed annually!
Ireland is also an interesting route for beer tourists. In fact, Dublin holds a curiously fascinating theme excursion, a walking «beer route» known as the Literary Pub Crawl. Yet this is not surprising, as English writers like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Abraham Stoker, the Nobel Prize winner poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, the great playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw, and playwright and Nobel Prize winner Samuel Beckett all loved to drink beer.
A tour of six Belgian monasteries producing Trappist beer transforms into a true adventure, where guests can complete the route at the beer Museum in Bruges, or at the International Beer Festival in the city of Leuven, which attracts more than 100 beer producers from all over the world annually. Hammerfest, Norway also has its own beer festival that gathers lots of tourists. Finland holds a number of beer festivals, the largest of which are the Dark Beer Festival in Tampere and the Helsinki Beer Festival.
And for the rest of us?
Tourists that prefer a stronger alcoholic beverage also have their own centers of gravity. For instance, the Riga Black Magic bar in Riga offers its guests the chance to taste its herbal liquor in the interior of a secret alchemical laboratory. In Tallinn, after enjoying a refreshing honey beer or lingonberry schnapps by candlelight, finds themselves launched into the world of a Hanseatic merchant in the Olde Hansa (where medieval recipes from the 15th-16th centuries are still used today).
Tourists can also visit the Food & Wine and Rum Festival on the exotic island of Barbados, where the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival is held in Bardstone (USA), lasting a full week. Belgrade organizes special rakija tours for visitors, which involve beverage tastings accompanied by professional comments.
Slovakia has its own special drink for tourists called Tatratea. Technically speaking, it’s a diluted spirit with herbs, which the waiter sets on fire upon serving. The Swiss Zurich holds the Whiskyship festival, where onboard docked ships visitors can taste several hundred types of whiskey, as well as wine, coffee, tea and cigars.
In May, the traditional Pálinka festival is held in Budapest, where one can taste dozens of variations of this strong alcoholic beverage paired with excellent local sausages. At the border of the Pontarlier region and Switzerland, there is an «absinthe route,» including visits to 15 villages of two countries to get fully immersed in the world of the Green fairy.
Grapes are widely used by cosmetic companies in all their manifestations, and in France there is the ELAYS skincare product, which includes champagne as one of its components. It is used in the production of creams as a substitute for Botox.
The history of Caudalie, a French brand of cosmetic products, began in 1993 with the study of the effects of grape polyphenols at the Department of Pharmacy of the University of Bordeaux (France). As a result, the five-star Les Sources de Caudalie Hotel and its spa was founded, offering various healing options using wine therapy.
A spa specializing in wine therapy is now open in Relais San Maurizio Santo Stefano Belbo (Piedmont), the Franciscan monastery of the 17th century. In Tuscany, between the vineyards of Montalcino and Montepulciano, visitors can get wine spa treatments at the five-star ADLER Thermae hotel.
The Marqués de Riscal winery opened its first wine spa in the Spanish region of Rioja, which the French Caudalie also helped develop. Slovakia is persistent in its efforts promoting oenotherapy. The cities of Banska Bystrica, Komárno and Evolène have enjoyed the most notable success in this regard. Balneology therapists prescribe individual «wine diets» for patients seeking health regimens.
Wine therapy has found its home in the expanses of Russia as well. Guests are welcome to take a real bath with sparkling wine at the Hotel Imperial (Abrau Durso) in Krasnodar Krai.
The medicinal properties of beer are being sought out by tourists as well. Thus, the world’s first beer health center opened in Czech Republic in Chodová Planá. Its owner Jiří Plevka offers beer massages, beer baths and cosmetics based on beer to the center’s guests.
In short, as the Irish folk saying puts it, «what can’t be treated with oil and whiskey is incurable.»
About the author:
Leonid Vladimirovich Gelibterman is the chairman of the Moscow (national) branch of the International Wine&Food Society (IWFS), and the chairman of the committee for the promotion of the IWFS in Europe and Africa. International arbiter of wines and hard liquors. Chevalier of the French Association of Gastronomy Chaine des Rotisseurs. Accredited tutor on sherry wine (Spain). President of the International Center of Wine and Gastronomy. Author of The Wine Alphabet, twice reissued in Russia, The Great Book of a Gourmet Traveler, and more than one hundred articles spanning alcohol, gastronomy and managerial topics in newspapers and magazines in Russia, Great Britain, Georgia, Spain, Portugal, Latvia, the USA, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Estonia. Professor and author of the «Enogastronomic etiquette and protocol» course for the Executive MBA program at the Institute of Business and Administration of the Academy of National Economy and State Service of the RF President (Moscow), at the State University of Management (Moscow), and the School of Business and International Relations of MSIIR.