I have just finished a tour of wineries in California.   Of course it would take a lifetime to visit all.  The Napa Valley alone has more than 500 wineries.  I did see the American Viticultural Areas (AVA) of Calistoga, Dry Creek, Napa Valley, Sonoma, Oakville, Russian River, Rutherford, Carmel Valley, Monterey, Paso Robles, and Santa Crus. 

One quickly realizes that with so many wines, literally thousands from California alone, not to mention other states and imported wines, it is very hard for any one wine to actually reach the shelf of your local wine shop.  Even such big shops as Total Wines cannot carry more than 1500 wines.  So how do so many wineries manage to stay in business?

The answer lies in wine tourism.  All of the wineries I visited offered visits to the winery, tastings and other events, even  including amusement rides for kids, to attract aficionados touring the area to their farms.  And the roads are filled with these fans looking for their favorite label or new discoveries. 

When one comes to the winery he is treated to a brief tour of the facility and then a tasting.  At the tasting he is encouraged to buy what he likes and most come away with a bottle or two or a case.  The visitor is also urged to join the winery’s club that offers price discounts on the wines and other services.  Typically a club member will also buy a series of selections of wines sent by the winery periodically.  All clubs also offer special events at the winery, usually an annual harvest party.

The wineries compete with each other to present a special experience to the visitors.  Some have elaborate gardens, some very attractive tasting rooms, some very informative presentations on making wine and some, as I mentioned above, amusement rides for kids. 

The wineries usually establish themselves on a “Wine Trail” that leads from one winery to another who have banded together to attract more visitors than they would on their own.  The Napa Valley trail was the first one and it is the model for all others. 

And while the “Wine Trails” were invented in California, they now exist in many other states.  Last year I followed two “Trails” in Texas. 

I always told my staff when I had the wine importing business ten years ago that we were in the entertainment business, not the beverage business.  Our wines were meant for people having dinner parties for friends or at restaurants, not everyday drinking.  It is now clear that entertainment is an even larger part of the wine business, with wine tourism leading the way to exploring and discovering new wines.