How about a top-up?

In the past few years some wineries have made a real effort to provide unique and original experiences to their visitors

When you've seen one, you've seen them all. That is the ungenerous thought that often creeps into my mind on those occasions when I've found myself being led around a winery. Visiting a wine grower in your free time is obviously something that is likely to appear on anyone's holiday to-do list, and it can be a life-saver if you have to keep foreign visitors entertained for an extended period.

As our article on wine tourism starting on page 44 shows, Catalonia's wine sector is big and varied enough to justify its inclusion among the many tourist opportunities the country has to offer. The article also contains good news for the sector, in that the government has a plan for turning the industry into a top global tourist attraction. We will wait to see if the plan has any legs or whether it achieves its aims. From reading the article, it sounds as if they are on the right track in bringing producers together, improving local transport, forging contacts with coastal resorts, and so on. For the moment, all we can do is congratulate them on the initiative and wish them the best of luck.

I actually live in a wine producing zone and even a quick glance at the huge expanse of vineyard all around and the presence of wineries every few kilometres is testament to the importance of the industry for the whole area. There are a number of such areas around the country, and it cannot be doubted that the wine sector is key to the economy, whether in manufacturing or tourism. These areas, whether it be Empordà, Penedès or Priorat, all offer tourist related activities, and in the past few years some companies have made a real effort to provide unique and original experiences to their visitors.

However, whether you are touring the company's vineyards in a horse-drawn carriage rather than on foot, or taking a helicopter ride over the estate instead of looking out of the window, they still boil down to a tour of the facilities, accompanied by an explanation of the wine-making process, followed by a quick tasting session and a visit to the gift shop. The first or even second visit to a winery is a new and informative experience, but after the fifth or sixth time, it starts to lose its lustre.

Clearly, a foreign couple visiting Catalonia for the first and only time in their lives will not visit six wine producers. However, so much of the tourism in Catalonia includes hundreds of thousands of people who visit again and again. The British, the French, the Dutch, every year fill up the country's camping sites and hotels and surely the key is getting these people to go back to the wineries each time they come.

How to go about that is fortunately not my job, but I do think that at least a part of the effort to turn Catalonia's wine tourism sector into a global leader needs to include initiatives for encouraging return visits. That might entail wine clubs or offering accommodation as part of a package. I'm sure there are hundreds of possibilities.

However, I'll limit my unqualified contribution to a single reflection on wine tourism that I have noticed in my experience. People like wine, especially when they're on holiday and want to kick back and enjoy themselves. However, whenever I have visited a winery, the briefest part of the experience is actually trying the product. Sure I want to see the vineyards and of course I'm interested in the process, but as a lay person I want the opportunity to check out the products. Heaven forbid we end up with lines of drunken, singing Brits doing the conga down the cellar's aisles, but half a glass of cava and then being shoved into the gift shop is not going to cut it for me.

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