Wine-tasting holidays – good vintage or bad taste?

Wine tasting

Although a French wine-tasting holiday popped the cork as a top attraction, the regions that produce some of France’s most prestigious wines scored relatively poorly for their inhospitable attitude to tourists.

Which? Travel conducted a recent expert panel to review the best destination for a wine-tasting holiday. Alsace was the venue we raised our glasses to.

Our experts commented that Alsace was the only region of France to fully embrace wine tourism, scoring an excellent expert score of 82% when rated against criteria such as the quality of the wine, the visitor experience, and the accessibility of wineries.

But the warm hospitality of Alsace’s vineyards stands in stark contrast to Bordeaux where, with some notable exceptions, wine-makers almost seem to want tourists to go elsewhere.

Pass the ‘Bordeaux’ if you’re a wine connoisseur

Although their attitude is improving, wineries in Bordeaux still prefer pre-arranged visits from serious buyers. They also prefer people who are already experts on the region’s wine and can speak knowledgeably about them… in French.

Champagne receives the highest volume of UK wine visitors and offers the chance to taste some of the world’s finest wines. Yet the infrequent opening hours and weekend closures are a real barrier to tourists.

The Old World stalwarts were also shown up by the wineries of the New World where visitors can choose between hundreds of wineries with tasting rooms, picnic areas, restaurants and vineyard tours.

New World wine regions have really understood the importance of entertaining visitors and offering them value for money. California was particularly praised by our experts for the slick visitor experience and range of tourist services on offer, including a wine train, and concerts among the vines.

All aboard the wine train

However, some argue that this professionalism can make for an impersonal experience and fear that the commercialisation of wine regions can lead to a bland, overcrowded visit. Surely real wine lovers shouldn’t have to be subjected to winery experiences more akin to a wine theme park than a tailored visit?

Do you think that the most prestigious regions are right to eschew wine tourism and concentrate on making great wines? Or do you think that Bordeaux, Champagne and even Burgundy have a lot to learn from the friendly hospitality of Alsace?


Perhaps we have unrealistic and romanticised expectations. In the regions of France you highlight as offering poor visitor experiences, viticulture – not tourism – is key to the economy and the wines are already renowned world-wide. Most of the Champagne houses are owned by global corporations, Burgundy is run through a system of négociants (large wholesalers and distributors – often distinct from the growers) and the privately-owned Bordeaux Châteaux that remain have no need to open their properties to the general public in search of additional revenue, or have no resources to spare.

Given these wine businesses run industrial-scale operations throughout the spring, summer and autumn, it is not too surprising that the casual tourist is given the Gallic accueil froid. The value of visitors is in PR; but if you already have a global brand, then why bother? Unless the marketing department has some budget to burn, you may as well try turning up at a chicken soup factory and see what kind of reception you get there.

Regional producers have more to gain, but don’t expect all visits to be conducted in English. If you want to see the Champagne process, the Saumur town of St Florent has a producer of sparkling wines, with a tour intimate enough to not feel that you been squeezed along with the grapes:

Ian Maitland says:
7 May 2012

You’re right on Bordeaux – poor wine on offer and a poor welcome, but Burgundy and the Beaujolais are different, though it is necessary to speak good French. Growers are allowed a tax deductible bottle a day for samples of each wine they make, and the wiser growers realise that a warm welcome is the cheapest way to advertise and sell their wine. Thy also know that people who take the trouble to visit them will normally order at least one case if they like the wine, so the sales are worth the effort. The grower or a staff member has to be at the farm every day, so spending a little time showing visitors their wines is not a great chore, and they don’t get that many visitors – I’ve hardly ever seen another visitor at the same time as myself. Two excellent cellars in and near Beaune are Patriache and Chateau de Meursault where a range of 20 to 30 wines costing from €7 to €50 a bottle are offered for tasting for a nominal fee of about €10 (all given to charity!). The tasting lasts up to three hours in the negociant’s cellars.