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The lockdown has postponed what should be the beginning of the wine tourism season in Bordeaux, but hope springs eternal and the Châteaux of Bordeaux are preparing for future visitors.
The international clientele is important for wine tourism, with chateaux welcoming guests in many languages. As borders remain closed, the start of the season will focus on the local French clientele. When France eases restrictions mid May, locals will be allowed to venture up to 100 km around their domicile. The wineries will be ready for them.
Lockdown wine sales show an increase in direct sales and via specialist retailers. On-line wine education and tastings are also popular. Does this show a desire for a more intimate product knowledge? Wine tourism responds to this desire, bringing the consumer closer to the place and the people behind the product.
Logistical challenges remain; social distancing rules limit groups to ten people; nine guests plus a guide. The Bordeaux wine tourism model is already characterised by small private groups, a model based on pre booked tours rather than drop-ins. Appointments allow a more personalised welcome responding to the experience each group is looking for.
In the new normal, the capacity to welcome guests will depend upon the space available. With many chateaux now offering reception spaces for weddings and conferences, all put on hold; this room is available to comfortably receive guests, avoiding direct contact with workers at the property.
Solidarity between wineries is important, learning from what others are doing and offering complimentary experiences to visitors. Groups such as the Best Of Wine Tourism play an important role in supporting each other. Appellations such as Margaux already work together to ensure that if one chateau doesn't have the capacity to welcome guests, they can recommend a neighbour who does.
Visiting the vineyard is an outdoor activity, no need to worry about social distancing as you wander through the vines. Most properties offer outdoor activities. At Château d'Angludet in Margaux, you visit the vineyard in a golf cart with a glass of wine in hand. Chateau La Dauphine offers a food and wine experience high up on the slopes of the vineyard and at Château Marquis de Terme you can even bicycle through the vines and then sleep off your adventures with a siesta in the park of Château Lamothe Bergeron. A welcome change for visitors after months indoors.
For tasting, clients will need to be reassured about sanitary measures, chateaux can clearly communicate the precautions they are taking. Some properties will offer a brand new tasting glass to take home as a souvenir, or perhaps not tasting together but offering special discounts for guests to take bottles to taste at home, sharing their new found knowledge with friends and family.
Properties, such as Château de Cérons, offer the possibility to take a bottle out into the park of the chateau to enjoy with a picnic. Others offer a private château dining room experience such as Château Haut Bailly, or Château Malartic-Lagravière in Pessac Léognan.
Or forgot the tasting? Visiting a Bordeaux chateau is not only about the wine. Agriculture rhymes with culture: visitors can discover the cultural side of Bordeaux, with art experiences such as Château d'Arsac, with their amazing contemporary art collection spread through the vineyard or Château Malromé the family home of Toulouse Lautrec.
Admire historic architectural styles at Château de Ferrand, Château Tour Saint Christophe and Le Cloitre des Cordeliers in Saint Emilion, and contemporary architecture at Château Les Carmes Haut Brion in Pessac Léognan or Château Pedesclaux in Pauillac and Château de Camarsac in the Entre-deux-Mers.
Innovation will be key to rising to these challenges. We know wine properties can innovate, they already do. Innovation is one of the Best Of Wine Tourism award categories, recompensing such initiatives. As restrictions are gradually lifted, small private visits from locals, with friends or family will be the ideal opportunity to celebrate these newfound freedoms. For readers further afield, you can dream today - visit later. Follow the winemakers on social media, some of them have online videos, tastings and workshops for you to enjoy while you prepare your future visit.
The wine world has faced many other challenges in its history, from Phylloxera and world wars to climate catastrophes, and has found its way back. We know we can count on the resourcefulness of our producers and the support of wine enthusiasts to see us through.
Bordeaux chateaux will be ready and waiting for you as soon as you can come back to visit. See you soon.