Monday, 1 June 2015

The Perfect Match of Vineyards and Tourism

An interesting article in today’s La Voz Digital by Jesús A Cañas

The countryside of Andalucía is bathed in blood and sweat. Toil is expended and mixed with every clod of soil in this land peppered with vineyards, like the tanned faces of the day workers who live and breathe for its prosperity and that of the rest of the province. They have always bound their existence to the preservation of a trade which struggles not to languish, not to die, besieged by ferocious competition and the policy of grubbing up vines. Meanwhile this landscape of thousands of vineyards, of green slopes as far as the eye can see is witnessing a viticultural apocalypse which everybody wants to stop, but nobody knows how. Yet it is here that the latest effort of the public administration is being drawn up. At the Environment and Planning department of the Junta in Cádiz they understand the complicated reality the trade is going through in the province, and are looking at the only possible way to get the bodegas to diversify what they offer without abandoning their roots: vineyard tourism.

The administration has produced a meticulous study of the existing vineyards in the Sherry zone and the rest of the province, analysing ways to develop this new form of tourism which is still to materialise in Cádiz. At the very start, the document contains one figure which invites serious reflection: the vineyards of the province have shrunk from 32,000 hectares ten years ago to only 7,000 now.

Rafael Martín Ballesteros is chief of Rural Development and author of a study which he rates as complex and includes many aspects of wine tourism. Federico Fernández, from the Environment department explains the motivation for the study “To identify needs, proposals and avenues of assistance, we are acting to invigorate the process.” The key to this proposal is to match up the private and the public, as Fernández says in his study. “The idea is to provide the fabric and each bodega can make a suit” he explains.

Classic vineyard with vineyard house/winery (casa de viña) foto:lavozdigital

This fabric is no more and no less than a diagnosis in which a series of strong points are established and which the bodegas can exploit. It rests on two pillars: the vineyard landscape and the vineyard houses. The idea is that the bodegas take a step further and don’t just settle with offering tourists a visit to a bodega, but take them to the vineyard and show them the winemaking process, following the grape from vineyard to wine. Martín has identified ideal vineyard areas in Jerez, Sanlúcar, Trebujena, El Puerto, Rota, Chiclana and Puerto Real. Of these the ones that stand out are those around Jerez because of the number of them and their buildings which create interesting landscapes with their slopes of albariza soil and the vineyard houses at the crest of the slope. “They are very unusual in that in many cases the vineyard houses survive. This is where they used to make the wine."

Nowadays many are just used to store vineyard tools, where they are still standing. Some feature very interesting vernacular architecture from the late XIX or early XX centuries, with valuable timberwork. There are some 20-30 still standing, but many are abandoned and have suffered deterioration and theft. The study has also revealed that many vineyards themselves are suffering neglect and will disappear making it easier for new housing construction on the land. Now “the vineyards are close to a lot of housing, and a singular landscape has been lost” says Martín.

This is the case in places like Chiclana where the wine trade was always associated with small proprietors who worked their own vineyards. But the grubbing-up of vines led many to sell parcels of their land for construction of housing, much of it illegal.

Martín hopes to protect the vineyard landscapes which are facing such threats. “Our countryside is the patrimony of us all.” And he points out his weapon which is the Plan for the Governance of the Land as a useful tool for protection. It is a tool which the private sector can use and which can be modified so that they can be included.

The whole purpose of this study is to attract the tourist into the country. It also raises the need to improve rural roads to make this possible. Tourism is evolving in a province where not all visitors are looking for sun, sea and sand. “It is about a business which doesn’t yet exist, one which could offer more to attract tourists inland. These tourists are looking for something different, and this would offer a complementary experience to that of buildings and nature to foreign moneyed tourists who love culture and are not necessarily seasonal visitors.”

To make all this possible it will be necessary for the bodegas to take the lead. To that end the administration is agreeing every step with them, organising meetings, conferences and lectures to encourage them to seek the necessary changes and investment. The Junta promises in exchange to provide any necessary assistance or grants using tools like the Rural Development Plan and the Integrated Land Initiative. All this will be needed to change a situation where there is “no programme, no corporate image and no offer”, according to Fernández. Now the ball is in the court of the bodegas. The bottle of the finest product of Cádiz is open, it is now up to them whether to pour a glass and toast this perfect match.

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