Is wine tourism worthwhile?

One of the joys of travelling by car through France's wine country is stopping off at any of the wineries en route to buy a few bottles. These casual sales apparently mount up for winemakers, and now that Spain has gone overboard for 'enoturismo', it must make sense financially.

Taking as an example the well-known Protos winery in Ribera del Duero, last year it had 40,000 visitors at 11 euros per head. Add in what must be a substantial number of purchases from the bodega shop, and the income makes it worthwhile.

Outside the frenetic weeks of the grape harvest, it is easy to die of boredom in a bodega. There is little to do, and even the most reticent oenologist would prefer to spend hours chatting away to some inquisitive backpacker than spend his days mooching around a warehouse full of barrels.

There is no record of when bodegas opened their doors to visitors, but it was probably in Jerez de la Frontera around the 1950s. Although there was no wine tourism then, it was possible to visit several bodegas a week for a year without repetition (there were hundreds of bodegas then). All for free!

Although the average price in Spain is around ten euros, this is likely to increase soon with the building of show bodegas for the express purpose of attracting visitors. One that has just commenced in Rioja is a multi-million euro investment where the actual making of wine is incidental. Hopefully it will be a long time before we get to the level of some Californian Napa Valley showplaces. At Castillo de Amarosa a visit costs 18,000 euros, but does include a barrel of wine for ageing plus 288 bottles of their best Cabernet Sauvignon, a leather-bound photo album and box of Monte Cristo cigars. Nearer home, the Duval-Leroy champagne house lets the visitors blend their own cuvee for the thousand bottles that will eventually be shipped to their home, for only 40,000 euros.