Tourism is a rapidly developing element of the wine industry, specifically visits to wineries and here across the Valencian Community we have seen a meteoric development as bodegas in all four DO´s (Utiel-Requena,Valencia, Alicante, Cava) and the IGP in Castellon have opened their doors to tourists.
The trend is not just a quick trip around the bodega either. Many visits are combined with a nights stay in local accommodation (often a Casa Rural attached to a bodega), meals in local restaurants with a reputation for local gastronomy or a trip combined with a visit to a local wine or food fair.Just five years ago very few bodegas were interested in or had staff available to carry out even a basic tour of the winery.
They have had to adapt very quickly to the changes in demand for these services. Wine-tourists cover a broad range of ages and requirements and importantly the spend per head has been growing steadily as well ( currently measured at around 135€ per head per day on wine, accommodation and food. ) With some 70% of visitors to Valencia declaring that they come for the food and wine there is a big market to tap into.
The last two years in particular have seen the wine routes, Rutas del Vinos – expand and professionalise their services, bodegas have come up with many individual ideas for attracting visitors and the DO´s have encouraged the trend with Utiel-Requena in particular running courses for bodega staff to conduct their tours in English as well.
Interestingly the one time you could never visit a bodega was the most interesting time of year..when the harvest is being collected and the wine starts to ferment. Even this is changing overnight with several bodegas this year specifically making an event of the harvest and organising visits, even encouraging visitors to join in with the collection of the grapes.
One bodega in particular has led the way in this respect. In fact, Pago de Tharsys have been doing it for fourteen years!
The Requena bodega owned by Ana Suria and Vicente Garcia produce a white wine , Vendimia Nocturna , the grapes for which are picked in the cool of the late evening, the vines having relaxed in the lower temperatures it is better for avoiding rapid oxidation of the juice and preserves the flavours for a wine which is capable of ageing. It is made from Albariño and Pago de Tharsys are the only bodega with the variety in the DO.
Over the years this has become one of the most popular events during the harvest. Originally it was used to invite clients, friends and supporters of the bodega as a `thank you´ but now the numbers who wish to attend has grown to approaching five thousand per year. Many of these are wine-lovers who have never picked grapes before.
Ana and Vicente have made a virtue of the popularity by using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to encourage applications from the public selecting guests by ballot from the applicants.
Around 100 people each year assemble at the bodega for a welcome and a buffet meal to fortify the spirits! Vicente briefs the pickers on the task to be performed.
Then after a gentle stroll under a crescent moon to the vineyards, with lamps carried on the forehead, secateurs and rubber gloves in hand, the picking begins.
This year the weather had been very atypical with little or no rain. Nonetheless Ana was very pleased with the health of the grapes and was looking forward to a good harvest. The compact bunches of small berries were heavy and the boxes soon filled and taken to the bodega for pressing.
The guests then re-assembled in the lakeside garden alongside the bodega to receive a commemorative diploma attesting to their dexterity with the secateurs!
This very friendly and festive event ensures that visitors return to try the wine they have helped to pick but above all it highlights the relationship between the bodega, its friends and customers and those lucky enough to have attended will have enjoyed a very good evening in the company of friends, new acquaintances and above all Ana and Vicente who are attentive hosts with time for everyone.