While nearly 70% of Mendoza’s visitors to wineries are Argentine, Bodegas de Argentina recorded in 2010 that the majority (around 60%) of them were actually from Buenos Aires rather than local.
Perhaps intimidated or just plain uninterested, the local population overlooks most wineries despite the fact that the visual presence of vineyards is unavoidable.
Maybe one of the reasons for the lack of local interest is that most of the wines produced in attractive, expensive and touristic wineries are destined for export, and not for local consumers. Take for example Benegas Lynch, Kaiken and Vina Cobos who export more than 80% of their wines, and in turn receive less than 15% Argentine tourists. On the other hand Nieto Senetiner which has a strong domestic market, receives 80% Argentines through the door. But many of the most internationally famous wineries here are completely unknown to locals. Achaval what? Michel who?
The increasing cost of visiting wineries could also be partly to blame for alienating local clientele whose peso power is rather less than that of foreign tourists. An average tour with tasting in a good winery will set you back between 30 and 150 pesos – not something accessible to everyone when the average wage here is around 25 pesos an hour. However when you speak to wineries such as Catena Zapata, which had previously always offered free tours and a glass of wine but since November has been charging 100 pesos for a tour and tasting, it appears that the change in price and policy has made very little difference to its visitors – most of them still remain foreign and still come in their droves. And with a handful of wineries still offering free tours, price cannot be the main reason.
It appears that visiting wineries is more of a disconnect between local culture and that of wineries. They are not readily promoted to local clientele and are perhaps more associated with work than pleasure. Although there are many high end wine tourism agencies in Mendoza for foreigners, there are barely any offering luxury wine tours in Spanish.
Not all is lost, however. Leticia Fraggapane, Secretary of Tourism in Lujan de Cuyo, says that there are two groups of people who are increasingly visiting wineries, “ You have the older elite Mendocino and the young professional.” The first group she mentions is, to say the least, homogenous. “They send their children to one of three schools, they eat out frequently, and they love Palmares shopping mall.” For this elite, wineries enter the picture in terms of their gastronomic options. Particularly on special holidays like Mothers or Father’s day, where certain wineries with restaurants “are packed with locals.”
The second group who frequent bodegas are young, professional, educated adults in their late twenties to thirties. Like the first group, this profile is equally uninterested in wine tourism but rather in special events. This can mean weddings or special events that use wineries as the backdrop.
Some events in Mendoza’s social calendar are especially worthy of note for how they attract local visitors. Renacer’s Annual Party has always drawn in a large crowd and most wineries with restaurants take in good numbers on special dinner and lunch events. But the event that wins hands down is Zuccardi with their annual Santa Julia tasting. Attracting 4,000 visitors, this is one of the key wine events in the year for Mendocineans. Julia Zuccardi explains that tourism (local and international) to the winery is a very important activity for them, as they believe that it is the best way for their consumers to know and understand the brand. And Zuccardi go full throttle with different programs such as grape picking, wine tasting courses, cooking classes, bike and wine tours and cultural events.
The wineries that attract the most local visitors are those that offer something beyond wine. Take for example Dutch owned winery Salentien: with two wineries, a chapel, two restaurants, a posada, an art gallery and stunning architecture. With a whopping 25,000 visitors a year, and 70% local, Salentein is one of the most successful wineries for local tourism – not bad for a new foreign owned winery located over 100km out of the city. At first people were skeptical that anyone would travel so far to see the eclectic collection of Dutch and Argentine art but it has become a top attraction since its launch in 2006. Their regular mass services in the chapel and participation in the Caminos del Vino events also draw in a local following. The Caminos del Vino is a series of three government-backed cultural event series along the wine routes – classical music in April, tango in September and cinema in October.
Some people working in the wine industry feel that the practical tie between local people and wine needs reinvigorating. Although Mendoza produces some of the finest wine in the New World, a lot of local people still drink theirs with soda, from cardboard Tetrapacks and aren’t even sure how it is made anymore. As winemaker Brennan Firth puts it.
“Those working in the wine industry are often completely detached from the final product. What grape picker has ever tried a glass of their hard labour?”
Training from a young age
‘Learning to Make Wine in School’ Wine Educator Cecilia Cabrera is trying to reforge the link between wine and locals, starting from the future generation of consumers – young children. Her educative program at Dolium winery uses winemaking as part of the school syllabus to study through biology, chemistry and finally marketing how to make wine from scratch. firstname.lastname@example.org
By Gwynne Hogan and Amanda Barnes
Published in the February/March 2012 edition of Wine Republic