Wine tourism beyond the cellar door

Monday, 8 July, 2013
Graham Howe
Graham Howe reports on the launch of a major wine tourism initiative at the Australian Tourism Exchange 2013 he attended in Sydney in late April this year.
Wine and food tourism was a major focus at the Australian Tourism Exchange 2013 (ATE13), the biggest travel trade show in the southern hemisphere, which took place in Sydney earlier this year. Major tourism, government and industry players unveiled a high-profile campaign billed as “Ultimate Winery Experiences Australia”, launched under the banner “Go beyond the cellar door”.

“Food and wine offers the biggest marketing opportunity” says Andrew McEvoy, managing director of Tourism Australia which oversees Australia’s A$77,5 billion (R775bn) industry. Consolidating Australia’s status as one of the world’s leading food and wine destination is a major goal of the new tourism campaign - rebundling 280 000 national tourism experiences into champions of indigenous tourism, national landscapes, nature, golf and wine tourism by promoting the best in each category.

McEvoy comments, “What’s really interesting from the research is potential visitors from international markets don’t know just how great our food and wine is and therefore don’t see it as a ‘trigger’ to travel to our country. The research shows a 30% increase in people’s motivation to travel to Australia when they understand the quality of our food and wine. It’s an area where we can stand out – and perhaps a missing ingredient in igniting people’s passion for our country”.

In a destination where gastronomic tourists are spoiled for choice - with around 1500 wineries across dozens of regions - the initiative aims to market Australia’s high-quality wine tourism destinations. Unveiling the initial selection of eleven ultimate winery experiences at ATE13, Tourism Senator Don Farrell commented on how the industry-led consortium would twin wine and tourism to boost regional tourism:

Research shows that food and wine are one of the key factors consumers consider when they are deciding where to travel. I’m familiar with the importance of the wine industry to regional Australian tourism. These wineries not only create award-winning wine, they also offer world-class tourism experiences - wine tastings, gastronomy, food/wine pairing and wine education - set within Australia’s diverse wine regions.”

After a year-long selection by industry players, the ultimate winery experiences of Australia were identified:  Jacobs Creek and Seppeltsfield of Barossa Valley, Leeuwin and Xanadu of Margaret River, De Bortoli, Tarrawarra and Yering Station of Yarra Valley, Montalto of Mornington Peninsula, Josef Chromy and Moorilla of Tasmania, and Wyndham of Hunter Valley - a pioneer of wine tourism in Australia in the 1960s. A handful of the wineries attended ATE13 - and offered tastings at the launch.

There were some surprising omissions I discussed with Brigid Kennedy, the new executive officer of Ultimate Winery Experiences Australia, who has extensive experience in the French and Australian hospitality industry. She explained, “We’re talking to other wineries and wine regions about expanding the collection. In selecting the first eleven wineries, we used criteria such as unique location and heritage, the facilities to cater to international visitors, extra attractions such as master tasting classes and gastronomy … and hospitality experiences beyond the cellar door.”

Kennedy says this non-profit industry consortium funded by a federal grant and the wine industry is designed to create “a community of wineries brought together under the auspices of Tourism Australia”. She adds, “Wineries are often the end of the chain in tourism … they struggle to develop a clear national tourism focus or tourism profile. We’d like to identify a maximum of five world-class winery experiences in each wine region. We don’t want international visitors to visit one winery and have an average experience … I believe Australia has a better wine tourism than France”.

A recent consumer demand survey in Australia’s top eleven markets shows that Australia is ranked at no 23 in the world as a food and wine tourism by consumers who have NOT visited Australia - but at no 3 only behind the world’s leading gastronomic destinations of France and Italy by consumers who have visited Australia. (Australia is ranked no 8 by the WTO in global tourism receipts).   

“The world travels on its stomach” adds Andrew McEvoy, MD of Tourism Australia. “Australia has great national and regional produce made by artisanal producers. We want international visitors to experience the best of the best. Wine tourism is not just about the wine. It’s about wine tourism and culinary experiences. How does wine tell our story? The world travels to experience difference.”

The regional identity of Australian food and wine was highlighted at ATE13 with tastings by wineries and chefs to showcase local produce from hosts NSW, Western Australia and Queensland to South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania. I spoke to representatives of leading wine routes who exhibited at ATE13 - an annual showcase for tourism operators across Australia who pitch their product to 725 travel operators and 30 media from 50 countries around the world. Tourism is big business for this long-haul island destination which grew by 5% to 6,1 m foreign visitors in 2012.

Sydney is the global gateway to Australia and to Hunter Valley Wine Country. Spokesperson Danny Eather told me, “In designing a new ad-campaign for Hunter Valley, we looked at the storyboards of all the wine regions, and they all looked the same. What makes Hunter stand out? So we designed a campaign with more emotive black and white imagery and key hero shots which focused on the sophistication of Hunter as a tourism destination. We’ve invested A$100 000 in the new brand - linking wine and tourism, selling the whole experience, not just a wine tasting.” (Hunter makes only 2% of wine in Australia but draws the lions’ share of 2,4m visitors pa.)

Cathy Wills of Tourism Barossa is a sixth generation descendant of Lutheran émigrés who settled the Barossa in the 1850s. She comments, “We’re delighted to have two wineries - Jacobs Creek and Seppeltsfield - rated the Ultimate Winery Experiences of Australia. Our new national ad campaign, ‘Barossa Be Consumed” launched in June 2013 has only one shot of a wine glass - but lots of dirtl! It’s very edgy with music by Nick Cave. It’s not just about the wine. We’ve focused on the heritage, the generations of winemakers, the old homesteads in Australia’s original wine region - and the emergence of young trendy winemakers among sixth generation vignerons.”

Louise Fergusson, daughter of wine legend Peter Fergusson, who pioneered wine tourism in the Yarra in Victoria in the late 1960s, adds, “You can’t just make money out of wine”. Fergusson Winery has grown into a major attraction in the Yarra, offering wine and cider tastings, Louise’s fabulous food, a heritage farm stay and Ned’s Red, the best-selling bullet-pocked red wine label after outlaw Ned Kelly.

Last but not least, Alva Hemming of Mornington Peninsula Tourism, comments, “We’re delighted that a Mornington winery (Montalto) made the new Ultimate Winery Experiences Australia. We have fifty cellar doors, twenty restaurants, 200 accommodation choices and more five chef’s hat restaurants than any other wine region in Australia. We’ve got everything from olive groves and the only winery tours on horseback to sculptures in Montalto’s vineyards and an heirloom seed nursery.” That’s the holistic face of wine tourism today. It’s no longer just about the wine.     

* Graham Howe attended ATE 2013 as a guest of Qantas, Tourism Australia and Tourism New South Wales. To find out more about tourist attractions - see, and  

Graham Howe

Graham Howe is a well-known gourmet travel writer based in Cape Town. One of South Africa's most experienced lifestyle journalists, he has contributed hundreds of food, wine and travel features to South African and British publications over the last 25 years.

He is wine and food contributor for Eat Out and WINE.CO.ZA, which is possibly the longest continuous wine column in the world, having published over 400 articles on this extensive South African Wine Portal.

When not exploring the Cape winelands, this adventurous globetrotter reports on exotic destinations around the world as a travel correspondent for the Intrepid Explorer and - and for the weekly travel show on SAFM radio.

Over the last decade, he has visited over fifty countries on travel assignments from the Aran Islands and the Arctic to Borneo and Tristan da Cunha - and entertained readers with his adventures through the winelands of the world from the Mosel to the Yarra ."