Wine Tourism in the United States
People travel around the world for different reasons. Some travel to different parts of the world to explore new cultures, learn new languages, admire unique locations, and some to drink wine. Among several types of tourism, wine tourism is a new concept with a focus on exploring wine cultures around the world. Wine tourism includes traveling to a wine-producing region. In addition to buying, tasting, and consuming wine; wine tourism includes visits to wineries and grape gardens. Recently, wine tourism has attracted an increasing number of wine tourists since the tourists can participate in the local grape harvesting and pressing practices.
Wine tourism is a new form of tourism, developing due to the growth of the wine industry and the interest of individuals to explore the wine-producing process. People have been flocking to the wine-producing regions where wine is widely produced and consumed. The experience that comes with exploring wine-producing areas has led to the growth of the overall wine and tourism industries. Regions like Bordeaux, France, and Napa Valley, California, have become synonymous with wine and are top wine tourism destinations.
Did you know? The wine industry in United States has experienced steady growth since prohibition was repealed in 1933.
Each state has its unique history and association with wine tourism. These states produce wine of varying styles and tastes, reflecting the American spirit. However, California state takes a more prominent role in wine tourism due to its dominance in wine production of the country. California’s wine tourism was boosted in 1975 after it was formally organized, leading to its growth. In addition, the 1976 Judgement of Paris set the state and country on the world map for the production of high-quality wines, contributing to its wine-producing and tourism growth.
The past two decades have seen significant growth in the number of leisure travelers engaging in wine-related activities across American wine regions. Besides America, wine tourism growth has also been observed in European countries, contributing to large revenues for these countries. The wine regions across America and activities during wine tourism are described below:
The United States’ wine regions extend from the western part covering California’s sunny coasts and Oregon’s cool climate to the eastern part, including Virginia’s pride-filled regions, New York’s Finger Lakes region, and Long Island Vineyards; these regions offer so much to explore to the wine lovers. The regions offer sights to see and experience both historical and young wineries. The United States’ wine industry has been evolving and attracting a large number of wine tourists, motivated by the American spirit of freedom and experimentation, adding to the diversity of wines. Due to these developments, leisure travelers are accorded the chance to taste local wines produced with different approaches and unique tastes. Increasingly, people recognize how good the experience is as the number of tourists continues to rise.
One may wonder what activities take place when touring a wine region in the United States. In most regions, such as Napa Valley, the wine tour organizers guide the tourists in exploring the wine regions. Tourists often get a chance to enter the establishment where wine is produced. Due to direct feedback from the tourists, the wine regions have improved their wine-making processes and started to offer guest services to their visitors. Therefore, visitors do not need to worry themselves when visiting these locations.
Tourists learn about the history of the winery or vineyard at the sites, experience how wine is produced, and then taste the wines inside the wineries. Additionally, some tourists can also engage in some the activities such as pressing and grape harvesting. Tourists can also buy wines produced at the premises. It is estimated that annually, up to 33% of wine sales are made at the wineries. “In the United States, it is estimated that wine tourism generated nearly $20 billion in revenue, with Mintel estimating increases between 10 % and 15% just three years later in 2016.” If the site is small, owners can offer the tourist a walk through the vineyards and surroundings, explaining the place’s history and uniqueness.
Meals are offered in wine production sites with the sole aim of showcasing the wines. In addition, tourists can experience vertical and horizontal wine tastings. With the continuing rise of wine tourism, wine locations are diversifying their activities to ensure maximum leisure for tourists.
Points to Note
- The wine industry in the United States is relatively young and continues to grow with society’s enlightenment.
- Wine-producing regions are not the sole benefactor of wine tourism; other businesses unrelated to the industry, such as physical attractions, restaurants, and cities, also benefit. Therefore, wine tourism boosts the wine industry and wine regions as a whole.
- The rising number of leisure travelers to wine production regions will ensure continued success and contribute to challenges such as crowding and rising tasting room fees. While this can negatively affect wine tourism, each region should ensure they adopt positive policies that promote the industry’s growth.
This Day in Wine History
21 June 1981: The first Auction Napa Valley was held. A bottle of wine, “Jeroboam of 1969 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon,” was sold to Calistogan Alex Dierkhising for 6000 dollars. It was the first auction to be held in the United States. The auction was founded by small winemakers, including Robert Mondavi and his wife. The introduction of the wine auction business set Napa Valley into the leading wine auction region in the United States. Since its inception, Auction Napa Valley’s proceeds have been used for charitable events. These proceeds are distributed “to local nonprofits and strategic initiatives that emphasized prevention and early intervention in the areas of community health and children’s education.” Wine auctions continue today in Napa Valley, contributing to its wine tourism business.
12 October 2004: Sideways film was released. The film is about two middle-aged men, Miles Raymond and Jack Cole, that take a trip to Santa Barbra Wine County for a last single-guy bonding before Jack’s marriage. Miles is a Pinot Noir enthusiast, and his character influenced many people to drink wine. Since its release, the film has shaped the wine industry, creating a tourist boom in the San Ynez Valley, the film’s setting. Besides, wine grape production and wine production in California has significantly increased since the film was released. However, the film decreased Merlot consumption and, subsequently market declined. In San Ynez Valley, Merlot consumption reduced by 20 percent, while it declined by 7 percent in California. The film’s effect on the United States wine industry continues to be felt today.
11 May 2013: North America celebrated its first Wine Tourism Day. The day commemorated the rising wine industry. During this day, many wineries, restaurants, hotels, and businesses participated in offering a variety of events promoting visitation to wine-producing regions. The day brings to light wine-producing regions and the economic impact of wine production. Most travelers book reservations in these hotels, eat in restaurants, and buy wine from cellars directly. Wine tourism day is particularly important for the United States since it enlightens the population about the wine industry boosting the rising number of visitors.
Want to read more? Try these books!
 Becca, “Wine Tourism in the United States: Profiling the American Wine Tourist and Wine Tour Operators,” The Academic Wino, May 18, 2017, http://www.academicwino.com/2017/05/wine-tourism-united-states.html/.
 Winetourism.com, “USA Wine Regions – Wine Tasting & Tours | Winetourism.com,” www.winetourism.com, 2022, https://www.winetourism.com/wine-country/usa/.
 Becca, “A Journey into the Mind of a Wine Tourist: What Keeps Them Coming Back for More?” The Academic Wino, November 1, 2018, http://www.academicwino.com/2018/11/wine-tourism.html/.
 Sideways directed by Alexander Payne (IMDB, 2004) 02:06:00. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0375063/
 Kristen Hartke, “‘The Sideways Effect’: How a Wine-Obsessed Film Reshaped the Industry,” NPR, July 5, 2017, sec. The Salt, https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/07/05/535038513/the-sideways-effect-how-a-wine-obsessed-film-reshaped-the-industry.