Wine tourism set to pop its cork

Newsroom 23/06/2008 | 16:39

At the beginning of 2003, a project entitled “The Wine Road” was launched by former minister of tourism, Dan Matei Agaton, as part of the project “Romania – the Wine Country.” The project was intended to exploit Romania's wine tourism potential by welcoming around 50,000 tourists.
“Unfortunately the Wine Road stopped at the level of the good intentions on the part of the authorities who left its ‘administration' to wine producers. From this project, all that is left are several signs which lead the tourists who follow them onto unpaved routes and to places that have nothing to do with wine,” says Magdalena Constantinescu from the marketing department of Cramele Halewood.
Other players agree that much more needs to be done. “I would like to see a global operation at the level of the entire country to promote wine tourism with recognizable markings, circuits, promotion activities and bus stops for visits,” says Anne-Marie Rosenberg, the owner of the Clos des Colombes Domains.
According to data from the National Association of Tourism Agencies, in 2007 around 2,200 tourists came strictly to visit the vineyards and the wine cellars. On top of this are those who happen to be in the area and decide on spec to drop by for a visit. More than three quarters of the tourists who go on holiday with the declared purpose of visiting the vineyards are foreign citizens while Romanians only pass through if they happen to be spending their holidays nearby, Traian Badulescu, spokesman for ANAT, previously told the media.
In 2008 the number of wine tourists is expected to register a 20 percent increase, but with adequate promotion and better wine quality in Romania, wine tourism could even double in five years, he said.
“Romania is a country with a tradition in wine-making and people have always had someone in their neighborhood who made wine, so they are not really curious to see what happens in a real wine cellar, or at least to come just to visit and taste,” says Rosenberg. Wine tourism represents a small proportion of the turnover of wine producers since “Romanians are still not used to the notion of oenotourism, going to the cellars to visit and taste as happens in the New World countries,” she says. “In countries where wine tourism is strongly developed, things are just the other way round, people go to visit, taste and buy wine and after this they eat, for example in a restaurant. This does not always happen in Europe but can almost always be seen in New World countries.”
Romania is still at an incipient stage. It ranks alongside Bulgaria but comes behind neighboring countries Hungary and the Republic of Moldova in wine tourism. “There are countries with very low wine-growing potential such as Slovenia which have managed to perfectly exploit this sector,” says Rosenberg. “If we were to compare Romania with France or Italy, we are still far away. They are also countries with a wine tradition but they have had more years to convince.”
It will take another five to six years for the wine roads to gain prominence, says Constantinescu. The company opened the gates of the Urlateanu manor in 2000, before the initiation of the Wine Road program, and in 2004 it opened the Rhein & CIEAzuga cellars.
Only 2.5 percent of Cramele Halewood's total income is derived from wine tourism. The wine producer posted last year a turnover of EUR 12 million and a profit of EUR 550,000 with an increase rate of 4.6 percent.
The Rhein& CIEAzuga cellars have been entirely renovated. They were erected in 1892 and became the “Supplier of the Royal Court of Romania” and since April 2006 “Supplier of the House of His Majesty King Mihai I,” being considered the oldest location in the country which produces sparkling wine using the traditional method Champenoise.
The cellars were built on the surface with double walls and natural ventilation and it is there that a tourist interested in the road that a wine takes from start to maturation can find out details about its history. They can have a tasting session of two sparkling wines and, should they wish, they can also have a breakfast or dinner. Visitors are accommodated at the three-star Rhein Boarding House which has 15 rooms and separate bathrooms and two saloons where 90 people can take their meal at a time. The rooms have names of wines and a view of a two-hectare park. By making a trip to the cellars, tourists can find out how the process of wine aging progresses and how bottled wines are kept, and they also undergo an initiation into the knowledge and technique of tasting the wine and feeling its bouquet. It is also an appropriate occasion for wine aficionados to update and make new additions to their wine collection.
Last year Cramele Halewood was visited by approximately 8,500 tourists, 70 percent of whom were Romanians. The rest came from the United States, Germany, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Austria, Japan, Israel, Canada, Thailand, Turkey, Sweden and Finland.
Seventy percent of tourists in the visiting program (meals and wine tastings sessions included) were customers of tour operators while 20 percent were companies and about 10 percent individual tourists. The boarding house was occupied 30 percent through tourism agencies, 40 percent by companies and 40 percent by individual tourists.
An all-inclusive five-day package at the boarding house amounts to EUR 160 per person and a visit to the cellars and wine tastings both at the Urlateanu Manor and the Rhein cellars costs EUR 4.5 per person.
So far, approximately EUR 300,000 has been invested in revamping the cellars while the next two years' attention will be given to the accommodation structure of the Rhein Boarding House which will translate into EUR 50,000 of investments going into increasing accommodation capacity from 15 to 25 rooms, conference rooms and leisure space.
Opened just three months ago, the Clos des Colombes Domains located close to the Olimp seaside resort has received visitors – amateurs, wine connoisseurs, as well as some professional specialists – the majority of whom were Romanians since “there are fewer and fewer foreign tourists at the seaside,” says Rosenberg.
The overall investment amounted to around EUR 1 million which includes the vineyard, the renovation of the cellar and also the restaurant. “I wish to renovate a building to set up a luxury pension, in the sense of comfort not conspicuous luxury, which will be located in the middle of the vineyards and will have a spa for relaxation. I do not know when I will be able to make this project happen, it is a matter of financial possibilities and since prices are constantly increasing it is hard to say what sum would be necessary, but I think we are talking about at least EUR 500,000,” says Rosenberg.
A visit to Cotnari vineyards would include sites such as the Cotnari castle, the Carjoaia castle, the Latin school and the ruins of Catalina citadel, but it would have to take place in groups of at least ten people who would pay approximately RON 80-100 each. “We are visited by approximately 600,000 people every year, 40 percent of whom were foreigners. We were visited by specialists in oenology but also prominent foreign figures such as consuls, ministers and the Rotary Club in Europe,” says Catalin Grecu, marketing manager of Cotnari.
However, wine tourism is “not much” of this business. Last year Cotnari posted a EUR 24.5 million turnover and for 2008 company officials estimate EUR 28 million.
“We have set aside in the medium-term investment plan around EUR 3 million for the modernization of the Carjoaia compound which includes accommodation and leisure spaces and a cellar,” says Grecu.
So far, large investments – EUR 5 million two years ago and an additional EUR 10 million this year – have already been made in technology and modernizing the production unit, plus in vineyard equipment.
Participation in international fairs and competitions translated last year into 36 medals and another 37 so far this year.

By Otilia Haraga

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