Wine tourism is important in developing brand awareness for a wine region and its producers’ wines. It also generates a lot of revenue. Napa Valley drew about 3.5 million tourists in 2006 who spent a little over $700 million on hotels, restaurants and other leisure- and wine- related activities. In many wine regions around the world, wineries open up their doors to hospitality including tours and various seminars on blending, wine tasting and food/cheese and wine pairing. Bordeaux – not so much. However, this is rapidly changing as Bordeaux competes with the New World.
In Bordeaux last week, we met with Martine Cazeneuve who is part of Les Medocaines, a quartet of women chateaux owners who have opened up their doors to engage tourists in the uniquely Bordeaux experience of harvest, wine component blending, cooking and food/cheese and wine pairings. The Fabulous Four are Martine Cazeneuve of Chateau Paloumey, Marie-Laure Lurton of Chateau La Tour de Bessan, Armelle Falcy Cruse of Chateau du Taillan and Florence Lafragette of Chateau Loudenne. These chateaux are also members of the quality consortium, the Crus Bourgeois, so the wines presented are quite good indeed. The chateaux work together, typically pairing up to provide a full day of activities.
Martine talks about the inception of the program: At a Cru Bourgeois marketing meeting she proposes that chateaux attract tourists by providing such workshops. When asked for volunteers, four hands went up – all women. Her initiative and drive is not limited to hospitality. At Chateau Paloumey in Loudon Medoc, we got a sense of Martine’s modern sensibility by being served rose vs. just red and also trying a varietal petit verdot vs. the usual blend which does make up the majority of wines her three chateaux properties produce. She is also trialling wines in test tube format in a tasting portion. For lunch, and as they were in the middle of harvest, we were served the same hearty food the workers ate – a potato salade with fresh vegetables and a turkey osso buco that was stewed with carrots and onions, not tomatoes. It was one of the best meals we had last week. During lunch, Martine herself got up frequently to oversee service and even to clear dishes. Now that is clearly a sign of hospitality you can expect by participating in one of these workshops.
This relatively young program its evolving, with more experiences planned for 2010. The workshops are booked primarily through the Bordeaux Tourism Office to consolidate numbers – they seek a minimum of eight persons but you can contact the chateaux directly for the latest information.