It isn’t necessary for us to mention it, but we will anyway: We love Wine Country. The sectors we spend the most time in are in the United States, but we have also gone wine tasting in Europe, Africa and Australia (sadly, not yet in South America). We find the scenery to be beautiful, the food delicious, the people friendly and, of course, there’s the wine.
Meadowood Resort in St. Helena. Photo courtesy of Five Star Alliance.
We have seen a worrisome trend in recent years, beginning in Napa Valley but spreading elsewhere as well. What was once an area dedicated to a very particular kind of agriculture, with a few nice hotels, is being transformed into upscale resorts with wine tasting as a sideline. Now, we have nothing against attractive hotels and try to stay in them as often as we can when travelling. And there’s nothing wrong with golf, tennis, spas and top-flight dining rooms. But when they start crowding out reasonably priced hotels and inns, so that Wine Country becomes the preserve of only those who can afford to stay there, then we have a problem.
Perhaps an even greater issue, as we see it, is that the vibe of Wine Country becomes different. Perhaps 75 years ago, the reason to visit Napa Valley or Sonoma County was to be in the country, buy fresh fruit and maybe do some horseback riding. But for at least forty of the intervening years, roaming through vineyards and tasting wine that have been the attractions there. Even in some of the sleepier parts of Europe or Australia, wine tasting as a weekend or vacation activity has taken off.
Hotel de Pavie in Saint-Emilion. Photo courtesy of All Wine Tours.
By changing the emphasis from wine tasting to spa living or golf, the tasting rooms will attract a different clientele. Instead of couples taking in three or four wineries in a day, there will be visitors who only schedule one tasting a day, scheduled around their tee times or massage appointments. Diners may have glasses of wine at suppertime, instead of a bottle and they may not be as particular about what’s in that bottle. In fact, they may be more inclined to dine at the resort than in the local restaurants. We have already experienced a bit of this in Napa Valley and are fearful it will creep in elsewhere.
Wine tasting has not been an inexpensive avocation ever since wineries discovered that charging for small pours of fine wine was a more profitable proposition than giving it away. But tasting was a pleasure that could be enjoyed by casual tourists as well as connoisseurs with deep pockets. Altering the focus to those who can afford Wine Country resorts will change the way that wineries approach their market.
There is nothing that can be done about this trend. Those who want to open resorts will do so, and those more interested in golf or workouts are free to indulge those pastimes. But those of us who are wine tasting devotees can go about doing what we have been doing. We can, and will, visit, sip, dine, sip some more and maybe stay for dinner. Let’s hope the wineries continue to cater to us.