Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Never on a Sunday.

This is a new version of a previous post that included direct quotes from the winemaker to whom I refer. While I took pains to ensure that his identity would not be apparent to any reader, I respect his objection to my quoting his words. I still believe the subject to be of interest, however, and for that reason have taken the trouble to rewrite it.

A winemaker in Southern France recently went on Facebook to complain about a request from a couple who’d had a recommendation to visit his estate, but regretfully would only be able to do so on a Sunday.

The vigneron said he’d agreed to the visit but feared that it might be a waste of his time and effort because visitors from that part of the world rarely buy more than a couple of bottles (and often none), his wine is not available in their region, and most pertinently “some visitors see the experience as being all about them”.

I responded as follows

Robert Joseph It IS all about them. It certainly isn’t about you. Be grateful that they want to see you and be grateful someone suggested it. One more post like this and I'll be tempted to spread the word advising people not to waste their time visiting the grumpy guy - however good his wine. (I know there are plenty of your neighbours who'd be glad of a visitor who might - who knows? - help boost sales in a market where their wines are currently unavailable.
And by the way, when these people do find their way to your domaine never forget that they are giving you their time. They could be having fun doing something else.

To which the winemaker thoughtfully pondered whether craftsmen/artisans/creators should welcome visitors into their workplaces. He also reasonably pointed out that there is more than one reason for anyone to visit a winery, and questioned his own readiness/ability to provide what they might want.

In the event, the couple arrived. He welcomed them graciously, offering salami, bread and olive oil and – quelle surprise! – they bought a dozen bottles of his wine.

Most Californian or an Australian winemakers would find this story surprising, to say the least. Obviously, some producers in those countries and elsewhere in the New World refuse visits, or have a rule of not accepting them on weekends – as is entirely their right. But the majority understands the value of meeting the people who might not only buy their wine (if only a bottle or two) but also spread the word about it. Many, quite reasonably, charge for visits – and then make sure that they deliver value for the visitor’s dollar. It’s the European attitude that “I’m an artist in my studio” that gets me. We live in a world where restaurants increasingly allow diners to see what’s happening in the kitchen and where even Chateau Margaux is opening a visitor centre. Say you can’t offer a visit, by all means, or offer one without chewing yourself up (or going onto social media) over it.

As I might have pointed out to that winemaker, just down the road from him, there are several potters – real artisans  in my book - who happily open their doors every Sunday and would be absolutely delighted to have people cross their thresholds.


  1. Anonymous3:40 p.m.

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    1. To Florian Boisselet, thank you for your comment which, as you request, I have not published. Your points are fair, but they reflect a traditional Gallic view. If French independent wine estates were generally doing as well as their counterparts in the New World, I'd agree with you. But they're not. Andit's time for them to evolve. Charging for visits - and giving something worth paying for is a sensible route to take.

  2. Staying in Burgundy, we've had the pleasure of coming across many such "grumpy men and women" ourselves! It's not until you assure certain producers that there is a definite chance of a sale will they entertain you, and not very happily that too.

    It seems to be a case of a majority of French winemakers not needing tourists to sell their wine and hence ignoring them, and in the process leaving a bad impression for themselves and their peers. Wonder how soon the tune will change when that comfort is not there anymore, especially given that countries like NZ, Aus, US, and even Spain are actively welcoming tourists who at the end of the day are going to talk about their experiences, post pictures, and ultimately make purchases back home.

    1. Thank you Anand, you know we are on the same page.

  3. Domaine de Mourchon6:03 p.m.

    Good subject for discussion Robert. In today’s competitive world service is paramount and to us Sunday or lunch time closure ( if we are absent from the caveau we leave a contact number) is a demonstration of arrogence ! We have more American visitors at our domaine than any other nationality and although their average purchase amounts to €40 we are pleased to spend time with them explaining our viticulture and viniculture activity together with the appelation system. Naturally we tell them where they can buy Mourchon wine in the United States and with this strategy we have, over the past years, built a strong following in that country. Wine tourism is a growth business and it is important wineries recognise the potential in order to augment their revenue. When are often asked why we open on Sunday’s we qoute the Windmill Theatre wartime publicity ‘We are never closed’

  4. Cathy Henton6:05 p.m.

    We have the same problem here in the Loire. Practically everyone is shut on a Sunday with the exception of one or two growers and the big sparkling houses. Even during the week we can have issues with taking Americans - one well known grower in the Layon asked me if our clients would buy wine or not. when I replied that I couldn't guarantee that they would like the wines (despite us loving them), the owner said 'well I could be doing better things with my time then'. As we show a range of wines from lots of different producers ourselves we are always busy on Sundays during the season - for us, during the season, every day is a working day. There is time during the winter months to take a breath. Just makes commercial sense I'd say.

    1. Thank you, Cathy. Evolution is a slow process in France.