Châteaux, wines, grape varieties... The success of wine tourism.

Châteaux, wines, grape varieties… The success of wine tourism.

At the age of 10, Romane wonders: “What is the oldest cognac? » While her family is in the middle of tasting, the little girl waits to drink her glass of fruit juice, preferring to first speak to Jérémy Marcelino. The guide has just completed the visit to the historic Martell cellars, in Cognac (Charente). “We have a vintage that dates back two hundred and twenty-two years,” he replies. “Wow! » exclaims the little girl, impressed. It was Romane’s cousin, Emma Lebrault, who proposed this family outing, an opportunity to see her family again for the young woman living in Australia. “I was looking for a place that would please everyone, mixing history and heritage. Apparently, no one seems disappointed,” she smiles. Romane, Emma and their loved ones are among the 10,000 visitors that the Martell house receives each year.

In the Charentes, many of them open their doors and this “spirit tourism” can take original forms. By taking over Cognac Guillon-Painturaud, in Segonzac, Mathilde and Élise Thorin, two sisters aged 28 and 26 respectively, came up with the idea of ​​an “escape game”. Enough to seduce teenagers and their families by introducing them in a fun way to the blending of different vintages, a whole art specific to each cognac house.

Share a drink and emotions

This thirst for knowledge, for some, goes hand in hand with the spirit of conviviality. “I wanted to develop an activity based on human relations. The wine tasting met this expectation,” says Ludovic Aventin, founder of Clubs Épicure. Since 2011, these have spread throughout France: twenty-seven currently exist and three are being created. “Drinking is not an end in itself, it is the pleasure of coming together, of sharing sensations, of expressing one’s emotions around a bottle. Everyone has a different palate and a different vision: it’s all a question of open-mindedness,” he insists, referring to seniors who are passionate about classified growths and young professionals, particularly women, who love little-known vineyards and natural wines. Consumers or not, enlightened amateurs or neophytes, the world of wine is no longer limited to the bottom of a glass.

And it’s not Romane, in Cognac, who will say the opposite. Once back at her school in Chevreuse (Yvelines), she is preparing to give a presentation on the subject. The multiple stages of distillation to allow the concentration of alcohol and aromas, range of colors that the wine will then take after passing through a still, of which she was able to discover a model dating from the last century; topography of the vineyard presented by a panoramic clip and characteristics of its main grape variety, Ugni-blanc, here she is aware of the life cycle of cognac. And inexhaustible on the different players in the sector: winegrower, cellar master, without forgetting the cooper whose barrels must allow the aging of the spirit in optimal conditions. “I will have many things to tell,” she confides delighted.

Have a nose and crazy ideas

The Cognac vineyard is not the only one to attract the general public in this way. Wine tourism offers have multiplied since the registration of several vineyards as UNESCO world heritage sites: the jurisdiction of Saint-Émilion, in 1999; the Loire Valley, in 2000; and, since 2015, the climates of Burgundy, as well as the hillsides, houses and cellars of Champagne. Visits to the cellars, walks in the vineyards on foot, on horseback, by bicycle, reception with winegrowers, everyone has their own initiatives… For example, at the Lur Saluces.

In addition to the group visits organized on their property, this emblematic family of Sauternes, in Gironde, has chosen to embody the tradition in a beautiful book: Château de Fargues, a crazy ambition in Sauternes (Ed. Glénat). “It is essential to convey that wine is the fruit of the complex work of nature and men,” confides Philippe de Lur Saluces. A photographer followed our work for a year, throughout the seasons, in order to capture some of the strong moments we experience. » The vineyards also tell their stories along the multiple wine routes. These deviate from the beaten track in favor of more confidential tourist routes, in lively countryside, where wine-growing activity avoids the rural exodus. So much so that the number of wine tourists* is estimated at 10 million each year.

Presenting the civilizations of wine in all their components is the vocation of the Cité des vins de Bordeaux opened in 2016. Véronique Lemoine, scientific manager of the establishment, explains: “Behind a bottle, there is a mountain of unsuspected knowledge: a winemaking work stemming from millennia-old traditions, environmental and societal issues, without forgetting the way in which wine infiltrates literature, music, cinema, and the arts in general. » A world of knowledge that can speak to everyone as long as we put in the right form. “Rather than accumulating data, we focus on entertainment through interactive activities and immersive tours,” says Karine Marchadour, head of cultural mediation and accessibility. “The idea is that each visitor builds their own journey, acquires knowledge on their own, guided by curiosity, by multiplying sensory experiences,” she summarizes. A success: the Bordeaux establishment records around 400,000 admissions per year.

Another region, another establishment: in Aÿ (Marne), Pressoria presents itself as “a sensory interpretation center” dedicated to champagne. “We are lucky to have invested in a Pommery-style wine building from 1902, at the foot of the historic hillsides. It’s the ideal setting to escape the constraints of a classic museum,” confides Victor Canchon, its director. Here again, it was a success: 20,000 entries when it opened in 2021, 49,000 two years later. Introducing the world of wine to make it better understood is also the vocation of the Cité des climats et des vins in Burgundy, inaugurated in June 2023, around three sites Chablis (Yonne), Beaune (Côte-d’Or) and Mâcon (Saône-et-Loire), which aims to decipher the typicality of the region’s vineyards.

No discovery of the world of wine without diving in. Everywhere, an olfactory device is a moment appreciated by young and old. It’s up to everyone to identify the notes of fruit, flowers, spices, plants, undergrowth… thanks to which they can distinguish one wine from another. Guaranteed success! Everyone plays the game, fun and often disconcerting. It’s up to adults to complete and deepen their experience, this time by participating in a tasting workshop led by an expert…

*Estimate from the government agency Atout France.

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