Trends in Wine Tourism – Reporting from the Wine Tourism Conference

Last week, several of us from SB Architects traveled to Paso Robles to attend the Wine Tourism Conference. Although it was a first for us, this is the conference’s fourth year.

As we work on our existing winery projects and continue to grow our winery design practice, we were attracted by this relatively new conference…not a wine-making conference, not a winery development conference, but a wine tourism conference. This is a conference devoted to the wine-making experience. Bringing together wine region associations, winery owners, wine makers, tour operators, boutique hoteliers – and an architecture firm – the conference leaders focused on forging community around the making and sharing of wine.

The community of winemakers in the U.S. is 8,000 strong and growing, and the interest was high. According to the Wine Tourism organizers, a survey conducted by Silicon Valley Bank found 45% of wine revenue in Napa County comes from direct sales, much of that from tasting rooms. More visitors to wine regions, wineries, hotels, and restaurants leads to increased profitability. The making and sharing of wine is, after all, an act of hospitality. Here are some trends and key thoughts from the conference.

Authentic Experience

The “experiential economy” is one of the most important trends in travel, and it is particularly relevant to wine tourism. The wine experience is driven not only by wine, but the people and community behind the wine. Visitors want to be immersed in the culture of wine-making, agriculture and become – maybe only for a day but hopefully for much longer – a part of the winery’s community.

Successful wine destinations are created by providing authentic experiences. Paso Robles’ tagline is “authentic California,” and it fits. The region’s identity is – authentically – built upon a balanced lifestyle that is connected to the land. The importance of the farm-to-table movement cannot be overstated, and it is deeply ingrained in the experience of wine. The relative rusticity of Paso Robles is an important part of its identity – it is a very different experience of wine than visitors get in the more high-profile Napa Valley. Each of the wine regions represented at the conference had their own unique identity, shaped by their history, land, climate and people. From Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, to the wine regions of Oregon and Washington, from the Finger Lakes to Loudoun County, Virginia, each region had a story to tell.

One-to-One Connections in the Digital Age

The internet and social media has changed the game, enabling wineries, small hotels and regional communities to tell their story and connect to their visitors one-to-one. It has, in many ways leveled the playing field in favor of new destinations, small wineries and boutique hotels, who might have found it difficult to have a voice in the pre-digital economy. The age of digital is helping to bring back the value of uniqueness, customization and personalization, which is good news for the growing wine sector and for wine regions across the country.

Authentic destinations, true experiences, personalized communication. It is a great time for wine tourism, and a great time for winery architects.