The Barossa comes to Italy!

Robin Shaw is excited to bring her vast knowledge of Australian Wine Tourism to this years Conference in Perugia, Italy!  A catalyst for Australias tourism industry, she is changing the landscape of wine tourism in Australia as we know it, and paving the way for an enhanced market in Australia.

As one of the speakers at the 2012 International Wine Tourism Conference, we had the opportunity to speak with Shaw about wine tourism in Italy.  Below are Shaw’s responses to our questions:

1. Robin, can you tell us about your background and what got you interested in the wine and tourism business some 18 years ago? 

After travelling around Australia for a few years working in various roles, I settled back in Melbourne to play hockey and landed a job selling canoes and kayaks.  Eventually, I decided it wasn’t a lifelong career (although I’m still a keen recreational paddler) and a new direction was in order, so I applied for and got a position with leading family winery De Bortoli (who, ironically, are Italian).  My parents had been “into wine” – or at least that’s what I thought when I was young – and had a collection of Eisweins they purchased during a trip to Germany in the mid-70’s.  They ambitiously laid all of it down for my 21st but they didn’t know much about cellaring, and most of it was undrinkable by the time the event occurred 15 years later… I was more of a bourbon girl in my early 20s, but that quickly changed when I attended my first wine appreciation course and suddenly wanted to discover all the amazing styles out there.  De Bortoli was famous for its production of sauternes styles and I still have a collection of Noble One wines from the 80s and early 90s – I suspect I will need to drink them with suitable company soon.

After a year with De Bortoli, I was offered an opportunity to manage Australia’s largest wine club at the time, which meant sourcing wine from producers all over Australia. This necessitated visits to the wine regions and I remember being overwhelmed at the generous hospitality and camaraderie among the winemakers.  So much so, I wanted to be part of it, and moved to the Barossa Valley to run a small cellar door facility. Eventually I joined Orlando Wines (now part of global giant Pernod Ricard) and in 2002 launched the newly created Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre. Set up as a dedicated wine tourism facility, it was a first for the Barossa, and continues to lead the way, having been inducted into the SA Tourism Hall of Fame.  (I will be showcasing the centre during my presentation).

This led me to think more about the tourism element and in 2003 I joined SA Tourism as the state’s Wine & Food Tourism Adviser, responsible for developing the capacity and capability of the wine regions from a tourism perspective.  During a conversation with a colleague, I lamented that we had no real information available regarding world’s best practice wine tourism. She suggested I consider applying for a Winston Churchill Fellowship, so I looked up the website, realised applications wouldn’t be open until January 2004 and diarised to look it up again in a few months time. As luck would have it, a national position opened up in early 2004 and I joined the Winemaker’s Federation of Australia as their tourism development manager – about the time my diary note popped up reminding me to check criteria for the Fellowship. So I conducted some brief research among my industry colleagues and applied for a 9 week tour of some of the world’s key wine tourism regions, including South Africa, France, Canada, Napa/Sonoma and New Zealand.  It proved to be a turning point for me personally and for the future direction of Australian wine tourism, as I applied the knowledge I had gained to Australia’s cellar doors and wine regions.

Since then, I’ve been fortunate to be invited to places like Chile and South Africa to work with their wine industries, although my main focus has been on developing Australia’s wine tourism capability.

2. What is Australia’s National Wine & Food Tourism Strategy and how has it evolved over the past decade?

Australia has been at the forefront of wine tourism development at national, state and regional level, since the release of the first national strategy in 1998.  The original strategy – which I was employed to implement – was quite ambitious and I made a decision to focus on industry development first; we needed ‘product’ in the market place before we could actually ‘market’ wine tourism successfully.  Most wine producers were very ‘production-oriented’, so the initial focus was to convince winemakers that by hanging up a ‘cellar door’ shingle they were in fact now in the ‘tourism’ business – not just the wine business. By utilising case studies, consumer research and tourism development resources, we were able to develop dedicated resources for wine producers to assist them in developing their cellar doors – including business planning, infrastructure development and visitor experiences.

Wine and food are not usually regarded as drivers for tourism by tourism agencies, so the challenge has been to demonstrate the value of providing rich visitor experiences at cellar doors in regional Australia. The current strategy recognises the synergy between wine and food and the value of providing experiences that combine both – also in conjunction with other experiences and services on winery properties – and the imperative to position Australia as a global culinary tourism destination (an honour shared by countries such as Italy, France and Spain – and not something Australia has been known for in the past).

The strategy is actually a ‘framework’ for states, regions and individual wineries to implement at their relevant levels, rather than a directive from the national organisation.  This approach allows greater relevance and buy-in by industry and organisations and ensures everyone is ‘singing from the same hymn-sheet’.

3. You have travelled extensively all over the globe researching food and wine tourism, are there any dramatic similarities or differences between the Australian and Italian markets as tourist destinations?  

I cannot yet comment on the Italian experience as this will be my first visit! But there are certainly big differences between the old world and new world approach to wine tourism – which is to be expected.  The old world destinations have the benefit of centuries of tradition and culture while the new world destinations tend to be more tourism oriented, with some very sophisticated offerings.  Australian wine tourism offerings tend to reflect the attributes of their individual regions and proximity to major cities. Upmarket winery restaurants are more common in regions near Melbourne and Sydney and major wine tourism destinations such as Margaret River, whereas regions such as the Barossa tend to focus on more intimate food experiences that reflect local culture and produce.

4. We are less than 2 weeks away from the 2012 International Wine Tourism Conference, what are you most looking forward to at this years event?

As this is my first visit to Italy – and my first time at this event – I’m very keen to share the Australian story and learn how wine tourism is being developed in other countries and regions. In particular, I’m looking forward to meeting people from across the globe who are as passionate about wine tourism as I am!

5. What is your favourite Italian wine and/or wine region?

I really love bubbles and Prosecco (the dry versions) are among my favourites.  There is a strong Italian wine making community in Australia, and the winemakers of the King Valley are producing some terrific examples of Prosecco and traditional Italian varietal wines.  I intend to visit Tuscany and Piedmont on this trip – so I’m looking forward to learning about the wines from those regions.

Join the International Wine Tourism Conference and network with Robin and 200 – 300 more attendees. Robin will be delivering a talk at the Wine Tourism Conference on January 31, 2012 at 12:00 titled: Wine in Tourism – The Australian approach to wine tourism development

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