Bad Economy Could Help Wine Tourism
The sour economy may be sweet news for Illinois’ 70 wineries.
With Midwesterners looking for less expensive, closer-to-home getaways, the wineries — displaying increasingly savvy marketing — are pulling in vacationers looking not just for wine, but also for entertainment.
“We’ve seen a lot more people from St. Louis. They’re taking a three- or four-day trip instead of a 3,000-mile plane ride,” said Brandi Nance, marketing director for Blue Sky Winery and Vineyard in Makanda.
The wineries – which blanket Illinois top to bottom and side to side – offer activities such as vineyard tours, live music, gourmet dinners, wine tastings, murder mysteries, cooking classes, holiday galas, dances, auctions, winemaker seminars and art festivals, according to the Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin.
Some have on-site chefs; a few are bed-and-breakfasts. Many have expanded their retail shops to include fresh fruit in season, cheeses, chocolates, jellies, snacks, specialty foods and wine-themed gifts.
And then there are the wine trails, marked routes that connect wineries in close geographic proximity. (Another draw: free non-alcoholic beverages for designated drivers.)
Some of the state’s winemakers, who converged on Springfield, Ill., recently for the annual conference of the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association, are seeing a slight drop-off in business, making creative marketing even more essential.
“Business is down,” said Donna Walters, an owner of Shawnee Winery in Vienna, “but I don’t think it’s as bad as everyone thinks it is. We get a lot of interstate traffic. Instead of buying a case, they’ll buy three or four bottles.”
Keith Powell, an Albuquerque, N.M., business consultant who spoke at the conference about wine marketing, said the economy bodes well for more reasonably priced wine. Link that with entertainment opportunities, he added, and the industry will thrive.
Illinois had just 12 wineries in 1997. Along with 70 wineries today, there are 450 vineyards. For a list of wineries and wine trails, go to www.illinoiswine.com.