Dr Valerie Saxton
28th February 2007
The Niagara region of Canada – famous for ice-wine - is otherwise a small wine producer which has been concentrating on developing domestic wine tourism. The target market is independent people who appreciate culture and wish to combine experiences such as art, cuisine, and accommodation, with wine. Wine regions are seen as destinations that can supply these.
But seriously – winemakers make wine and often do not have time or skills to interact with the public. Growers in the field have even less affinity with the world of humans, often preferring nature to nurturing tourists. So what strategies are going to work?
Looking at the Canadian experience, the key lesson here is to get networking. Get modern. Networking creates critical mass for independent wineries. First of all group together, get a committee (preferably with a person from government or other funding body on board). Then get a web-based information outlet, with options where people can search and book. Get the people to your region – then keep them there. Accommodation is a key issue. People who do a daytrip will spend a day’s money. People who overnight will spend more than two days’ money. Accommodation, dinner, and maybe a more leisurely drive back where they will stop and buy some pottery or something. Competitiveness is not productive here. Group together to get visitors, then combine to make the experience a good one. 70% of advertising is by word of mouth. Not needed are: “We went but there was nothing open” or “we went but couldn’t find what we were looking for.”
Mixing experiences is another draw card – a cooking school, wine outlet and good restaurant in one complex creates a destination. Evening events contribute to this atmosphere of cultural wealth. The problem though is the same as before – different talents and skill sets are needed for these. Winegrowers have created their wineries from the love of lifestyle and wine, not to open to the public. How can this creative holistic love be communicated to others and at the same time contribute to the survival of the winery?
Banding together for events that support charity, supporting local organisations, hosting several wineries together – these all add to the critical mass that attracts the public.
In Canada the ‘cottage wineries’ that have grown in number from six to 60 in six years, have amalgamated, sometimes corporately, to get the business acumen and company structure that underlines successful enterprises. But they maintain their own brand and contribute to diversity and complexity of experience. One amalgamation has now been bought out by Constellation, the largest wine business in the world.
Niagara draws on a local population of four million people in the ‘golden horseshoe’ of Ontario. Not too far away is the US East Coast population of 20 million. It is clearly a catchment that has more potential than domestic Canterbury. New Zealand’s sink or swim approach to primary industry does not help either– no subsidies, frequent changes of government policy, the exchange rate. Clear messages are: the need for innovation, and not to overstretch or overstock. The clearest message of all – band together, combine resources, maximise skill sets, use the right people for the job.
Canterbury has a burgeoning wine region producing in recent years several very creditable award-winning wines. Look out for events, destinations and the local wines. If at a restaurant buy a local wine. Look out for the latest local wine trail maps. Come out at the weekend and stay in a bed and breakfast.
Marketing in Central Canterbury is in its infancy. The Canadian approach offers a model of how our local industry can take a significant step forward.
Dr Valerie Saxton is a Lecturer at the Centre for Viticulture and Oenology
Agriculture and Life Sciences Division, Lincoln University. This article is based on discussions with Dr Bruce Archibald, Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Ontario, and Dr Joanna Fountain.