Tama Takahashi
November 18, 2012 | MIscellaneous Wine Fun! , Touring & Tasting Magazine, Wine Country Travel | Tama Takahashi

Wine Tourism Conference 2012 Review

Touring & Tasting sponsors Wine Tourism ConferenceTwo decades ago, there were less than 2,000 wineries in the United States, now there are nearly 8,000, with wineries in every state of the nation. Representatives from 19 states, plus 2 provinces in Canada, came to the Wine Tourism Conference sponsored by Touring & Tasting and hosted at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa last week. A great deal of terrific wine was tasted, a mountain of business cards exchanged, and a cornucopia of ideas shared in the seminars, panel discussions and break out sessions on how to promote wine tourism through networking, social media, advertising and partnerships with government and private enterprise.

Paso Robles wine at Wine Tourism ConferenceWine country tourism is big business. An estimated 17 million people will visit wineries in 2012, contributing to a chunk of the $852 billion spent overall this year on domestic travel. Overall, the wine industry contributes $162 billion to the US economy and has revitalized many rural areas. In the 1980s, Paso Robles was a pastoral ranching and farming community of less than 10,000. Today it is an international destination with first-class wineries, accommodations and restaurants. Their tongue-in-cheek promotional video has gone viral on YouTube, exemplifying the reach of new media. As David Bowman, VP of Marketing for JUSTIN Winery said, "we take a very irreverent approach" in marketing and in winemaking, with tremendous diversity of varietals and techniques embraced in this AVA, the second largest in California after the Central Coast AVA.

Wine Tourism Conference 2012Todd Davidson, CEO of the Oregon Tourism Commission and one of the panel speakers, noted that "the wine and film businesses are the 'dynamic duo' of Oregon's economic recovery" with 8,000 new wine jobs added in the state last year. His remarks on the growth of wine biz was echoed by other panelists including Steve Warner, President and CEO of the Washington State Wine Commission, who said that his state is in the midst of "explosive growth". He credits Washington State's success on the ideal terroir of eastern Washington where 99% of the vines are on their own rootstock, not having had problems with phylloxera due to the sandy, dry soil. Sparse precipitation minimizes pest and disease issues, but since the fourth largest river by volume flows through eastern Washington, growers can irrigate precisely. However, in regards to wine tourism, they are challenged by their distance from major urban centers. Their marketing effort is multi-pronged and includes partnerships with private enterprises. For example, private enterprises help facilitate wine country travel by allowing travelers to rent a car one-way without the usual additional fee, so they can drive one way and fly out the return affordably.

Virginia Wine Commission at Wine Tourism ConferenceVirginia is in an enviable location for wine tourism, being just a two hour drive from Washington DC and within a day's drive of 2/3 of the entire population of the United States. Virginia wineries are also enviable for the support their state legislature and their governor provides. A percentage of wineries' excise taxes fund the Marketing Office ($1.35 million in 2010) and tax credits are offered for winery startups. Annette Boyd, Director of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, outlined some of the many ways they are promoting their wine country, noting that the traditional stalwart of a current driving map with a comprehensive list of wineries remains the workhorse of their promotion.

Morgen McLaughlin, CEO of Finger Lakes Wine Country New York, stressed the need for a media rich website, among other important factors in marketing wine country. Their website brings together the ideas she and other panelists highlighted: social media links, videos, informative content, partnership between wineries, accommodations, restaurants, transportation, events and a convenient trip planner that can be accessed via computer or mobile phone.

Traci Ward, Director of Marketing for Visit California presented promotional videos and outlined the myriad ways that travel marketing organizations can help wine country businesses promote tourism to their area. One of the points brought up by various panelists was how much organizations and state and federal agencies can assist businesses in marketing their wine region.

Touring & Tasting at the Wine Tourism ConferenceTouring & Tasting sponsored the Regional Wine Reception on Wednesday, with representatives from 40 winery regions pouring their wines--including up and coming regions like Idaho and Colorado. The Wine Tourism Conference was organized by Zephyr Adventures with the support of an advisory board which included Sonoma County Tourism. Touring & Tasting's Dan Fox was praised opening day by the moderator, saying "There was nobody who worked as hard as Dan Fox of Touring & Tasting on making this year's Wine Tourism Conference a success". Kudos to all for an excellent conference, providing a wealth of information on specific marketing strategies and innovative ideas on public relations.  Portland, Oregon will be the host of the 2013 Wine Tourism Conference, scheduled for November 14-15, 2013.


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