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How More Diverse Wine Experiences Are Bringing Travelers Back to Tasting Rooms

Hosting guests at a winery’s tasting room can effectively showcase the brand’s vibe and present the wines in the best possible light. When executed effectively, these experiences can increase direct-to-consumer sales and cultivate lifelong customers or, even better, brand ambassadors. But according to a recent report by the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), tasting room visits in the U.S. have declined for the second consecutive year. Among the many potential reasons for this downturn — including increased international travel and increased prices — is the wine industry’s failure to engage historically ignored audiences: BIPOC wine enthusiasts and younger generations of wine drinkers. One way to combat this decline is to develop more diverse and inclusive wine travel experiences — a handful of industry pros are leading the charge.

One of these leaders is Field Blends, a wine tour company that prides itself on offering a unique and inclusive approach to wine travel. When Maryam Ahmed, owner of hospitality consulting firm Maryam + Company, envisioned founding Field Blends, she knew her first destination for travelers would be Walla Walla, Washington. The domestic wine region is known for high-elevation Syrah and small-production wineries, and the inaugural tour would include a local partner to guide participants through tours, food experiences, and tastings. This focus on a lesser-known region piqued the interest of travelers: seventy percent of participants had never visited the wine region before that first Field Blend trip, and they spanned ages ranging from 22 to 65 years old with geographical diversity and a mix of gender expressions.

Field Blends has since had success with attracting a diverse group of travelers with their offer of community-focused conversations, wine and food pairings, and the personal touch of a BIPOC community partner the company coordinates within each destination — travelers feel comfortable traversing what are often rural areas with someone who looks like them. This year, Field Blends will head to Traverse City, Michigan, where the community partner is Simonne Mitchelson, co-founder of the wine club Natural Action. Like previous trips, the goal is to dig deep into a wine region while facilitating authentic and meaningful conversations. Ahmed hopes the relationships built with farmers and winemakers will continue the ethos of inclusivity after Field Blends is over. “We are hoping to move the dial for a region when it comes to welcoming a more diverse or younger audience,” she says.

Similarly, Chevonne Ball, founder of the travel company Dirty Radish, specializes in crafting custom tours of the Willamette Valley, Oregon, and Beaujolais. For her Willamette tours, she assists travelers in selecting from the region’s over 800 wineries. Ball has observed that travelers who choose her tours often seek a guide closer to their age and with similar lived experiences. Before booking a tour, Ball says she assesses her clients’ preferences and familiarity with wine and believes in meeting them where they are. She also recognizes that BIPOC travelers seek her out because they trust her vetting process for wineries. “People want to feel safe and comfortable,” she emphasizes.

When discussing how wineries can attract younger drinkers, Ball suggests offering a range of price points and entry-level wines. “Young and youthful wine drinkers want young and youthful wines,” she adds. Ball also highlights the appeal of hands-on vineyard experiences and behind-the-scenes tours in engaging a younger, more diverse audience: “Being able to see and experience it firsthand is crucial in cultivating a passion for wine.”

“We are not just relying on one winery or three wineries that are championing these narratives; we are working with and holding the region more responsible, inclusive, and welcoming.”

The industry’s need for diverse wine tour guides extends to France, where Tanisha Townsend has created Girl Meets Glass, a French wine and drinking culture tour. The travelers who seek her out upon arriving in Paris are predominantly Black millennials, to whom Townsend offers city tours of wine bars and shops, tailoring wine suggestions to her customers’ preferences.

“My tours are more about conversation than a classroom,” Townsend states. She observes that the travelers she encounters are eager to delve deeply into the stories behind the wines they drink and seek practical advice on wine etiquette for meals and knowledge to share with friends upon returning home. Townsend highlights that while many domestic wineries excel in hospitality, this should not be the sole end goal.

“It has to be more than here’s our tasting room; here are our wines; look at our barrels. Tell us your story,” says Townsend. She also says wineries must demonstrate being as welcoming as they claim; a winery’s social media account featuring only photos of white people or older drinkers can deter potential visitors. If individuals can’t see themselves represented in the promotional material, it’s challenging for them to imagine visiting that winery.

Beyond the efforts of private tourism companies, Ahmed stresses that it’s the collective responsibility of wineries, regional associations, and tourism boards to foster more inclusive travel experiences.

“We are not just relying on one winery or three wineries that are championing these narratives; we are working with and holding the region more responsible, inclusive, and welcoming,” she says. There are numerous ways that wineries can reach out to more diverse audiences, including collaborating with consultants who aim to engage diverse millennials and reaching out to organizations focused on diversity, such as the Verasion Project or The Two Eighty Project. This year, The Finger Lakes Wine Alliance has partnered with Maryam + Company to update the code of conduct and strategy of its Riesling Camp travel scholarship program in 2024 and 2025. Riesling Camp is an annual immersive multi-day educational event for members of the wine trade and media, designed to deepen their understanding of the Finger Lakes American Viticultural Area. By offering scholarships, the program opens doors for people from diverse backgrounds, contributing to a more inclusive and representative wine community.

As the industry evolves, it’s clear that collaboration between wineries, regional associations, and organizations dedicated to diversity and inclusion is essential for creating welcoming and enriching wine experiences for all. Through such concrete efforts, the wine industry can breathe new life into tasting room visits and winery tours, all while fostering a wine culture full of vitality for generations to come.

The article How More Diverse Wine Experiences Are Bringing Travelers Back to Tasting Rooms appeared first on VinePair.

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