Wine tourism in Italy is growing its importance and Veneto is one of the most important region to visit for wine tourists from all over the world.
So, as part of my research on wine tourism I was able to participate in a wine tour in Valpolicella organized by Pagus Wine Tours.
You will know more about Pagus and my direct experience reading my interview with Davide Canteri, creator of the wine tourism agency Pagus:
-Ciao Davide, how is Pagus Wine Tours born?
First of all, I want to emphasize that I was born and live in Valpolicella, and my family is half from Valpolicella and for the other half from Lessinia. The idea of Pagus was born with my thesis, discussed in December 1998 at the University of Verona, which deals with wine production and the extraction and processing of stone in Valpolicella in Roman times. The thesis was followed by the course at the CUOA Foundation of Altavilla Vicentina, dedicated to the enhancement of the Venetian tourist-cultural heritage. In October 2000 the Pagus Cultural Association was founded, in order to promote the Valpolicella area with a series of historical, artistic and food and wine itineraries. In April 2013 the travel agency Pagus Wine Tours was founded, of which I am the owner along with my sister. The name “Pagus” derives from the ancient Roman district, the pagus, which included much of today’s historic Valpolicella.
-What is your wine tourism offer?
Pagus Wine Tours is a wine tour operator specialized in wine tourism. We organize and guide group and private tours in the main wine-growing areas of Verona and beyond, primarily Valpolicella, then Soave, Lugana, Bardolino, Custoza and, outside Verona, Conegliano Valdobbiadene, Franciacorta and Trento. The tours include visits to one, two or three producers in the same area or adjacent areas and can include a complete lunch or a light lunch in the cellar. We also offer cooking lessons held in the cellars themselves, with the combination of wines and prepared dishes. From this year onwards, our proposal has been extended to the so-called “Wine holidays”, tourist packages of two, three or four days, including stays in agritourism or wine relais with tastings and combined excursions.
– What do you think about wine tourism in Italy? And what do you think are the improvement potentiality?
Our point of view is limited to the province of Verona and, in part, to the Veneto region (although at the beginning and at the end of each season we compare ourselves with our friends in Tuscany). In my opinion, there are a couple of important open questions in wine tourism. The first is the regulatory vacuum in tourism in general: there are no clear rules on who can do what. I speak, for example, of travel agencies, which do a little of everything, without clear limits to their possibilities; hotels that organize transfers and guided tours with their own means and personnel; of transport companies that improvise guides and sell services that are the responsibility of the agencies; of the same cellars, which have come to propose, sell and manage wine tours, another activity reserved for agencies. And unfortunately, on all this the controls of the competent authorities, as far as we know, do not exist or are very rare. The second problem is related to the definition of wine tourism itself. In my opinion there is a fundamental error: wine tourism is not “tourism made by wine producers”. The term “enotourism” means a much broader reality. It would be more correct to conceive wine tourism as a “system”, where every essential component plays its role: the cellars, the object of the visit and prepared for the reception, the hotels and the receptive structures, which make their services, transport companies, which move tourists around the area, restaurants, taverns, trattorias that have the correct combination of food and wine, agencies, which bring together all these ingredients and, on the basis of their preparation and experience, build and sell the packages, and finally the Wine Roads and the various Consortia that have the task of coordinating and promoting (not selling) the wine tourism offer of a territory. A separate consideration concerns the “subjection” of our tourist offer, and I am talking about the online offer, now the main channel for marketing tourism services, towards the major foreign booking portals (Booking, TripAdvisor, etc.). Today in Italy those who “sell tourism” online are obliged to enter into contracts with the OTAs, which guarantee visibility and have the almost unconditional trust (!) of the users. Unfortunately, in doing so, the artistic and cultural wealth, the culinary excellence, the professionalism and the proverbial Italian hospitality are literally sold off and, made even more sad for a Country like ours, to all this there is no alternative; we do not have national, or at least regional, institutional portals that guarantee the same service to tour operators.
– Speaking about Valpolicella, where do wine tourists mainly come from?
I can only refer to our customers. More than a third of wine tourists are from North America, another good chunk is represented by guests from Scandinavian countries and the United Kingdom, although in recent years there has been a slight decrease in the English presence, for the rest, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Brazil.
Oltre alla possibilità di farsi conoscere in maniera concreta e diretta quanto credi possa incidere l’enoturismo sulle dinamiche di vendita di una cantina medio-piccola?
In Valpolicella there are companies that have staked everything on hospitality and on direct and online sales to individuals, and that have grown thanks to this. I think that other realities, offering tastings, and more recently, other experiences related to wine, both to local customers and to foreigners (using social media and in general promotion on the web), have seen a significant increase in sales. I can only say that, if a few years ago the response of companies to our request for willingness to welcome wine tourists was: “But I, what do I gain?”, today we find it hard to “thread” our guests in the great quantity of tastings and daily experiences offered by the wineries.
– What’s your advice for Italian companies that want to start moving in the wine tourism sector?
I can refer to travel agencies and in part to wineries. About tour operators operating exclusively in the field of wine tourism, I can advise them to start from a thorough knowledge of the territory, not only historical or purely enogastronomic, but cultural in the broadest sense. I believe that only those who were born and / or lived in that area can truly present it and “explain” it with sincerity and truth. And this is fundamental for building significant and quality itineraries. I also suggest to privilege the relationship with people, care and attention in hospitality that, in my opinion, are much more important than a specific oenological or linguistic preparation. For this reason, it is essential to choose well the collaborators (guides, sommeliers) and the companies to work with. I can simply advise the producers to immediately establish the objectives they intend to achieve with the wine tourism activity and, based on these objectives, invest in human resources, training and promotion, in short, build a wine tourism business plan; because it is one thing to make wine, but quite another is to know how to tell it and make it appreciated by those who enter your cellar.
Thanks to Davide for allowing me to live this amazing experience as a “simple” wine tourist in Valpolicella area.