Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake Working together

Eager to capture more market share of the wine and culinary tourism market? Better adapt: one of the keys to success is working together as a region and not as an individual player. Andrea Kaiser, Proprietor Drea’s Wine Co. presents the case of Niagara-on-the.Lake

You state that The ‘Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake’ is a self-funded collective marketing group that was established in Ontario, Canada in the early 80’s. How has this initiative evolved since then?

While the marketing collective has evolved over time and shifted when necessary in response to changes in the marketplace, the group is very unique in the fact they have never wavered from two key principles within the organization. Number one, the organization was founded and still operates on the basis that each winery has one vote, equal to all all others, so that all winery member opinions are valued equally. Also while all decisions are based on majority vote, the group is very collaborative in seeking consensus whenever possible. The second key principle that has kept our organization grounded is our steadfast commitment to one key mission, to drive visitors to member wineries in shoulder season. It is only recently that we have begun to have conversations around complementing this with a secondary mission, to establish our destination as premium wine producing region.

Presumably, at some point the regional tourist board has been involved in promoting the destination? That being the case what have they done/doing and how good of a job have they done or are doing?

The formation of our organization was rooted in the fact that our regional tourism board was lacking finances and was largely focused in the past on promoting historical attractions and theatre. Wineries were not identified as a primary driver of visitation until recently. Furthermore while our organization sought to work with the regional board and align strategies when possible, it was not until recently that a change in leadership has provided a renewed faith in the regional tourism board.

How successful has the project of encouraging all year round wine tourism been? Can you give us some figures on number of day visitors and number of visitors that stay and sleep?

The example of Reif Estate Winery, where I work as Marketing Director, demonstrates the significant impacts that our organization has had on member wineries since its inception. The winery was one of the founding member wineries of the marketing collaborative and has experienced exponential growth in shoulder season, primarily due to the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake marketing initiatives. When the organization was established, summer visitation from June – September, provided for bulk of cellar doors sales and accounted for 90% of visitation to the winery per annum. Now peak season has been extended from May through November, bookended by Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake Sip and Sizzle tasting program in May and Taste the Season in November. Furthermore visitation during the ‘peak season’ now only accounts for approximately 75% of visitation to the winery in the course of the year, as Icewine Festival in January and Days of Wine and Chocolate in February are now key drivers in winter. Furthermore at that time of the organizations inception visitors to Reif Estate Winery would have been approximately 15,000 visitors per year. Visitation to the winery has grown to over 300,000 visitors per year. 

Reading through your abstract of your talk for the 2020 edition of the International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC) it feels like most of the wine tourists the region receives are Ontario based? Can you give some % numbers of where wine tourist are coming from and if they are DIY tourists or organized by tour operators and travel agents.

Each winery member has a very different business plan in regards to accepting organized tours. We have some very small members who are simply not able to host group busses due to limited facilities and others who choose not to accept large groups from abroad  and focus instead on domestic independent travellers. This is in part because visitors who arrive by air are hindered in making wine purchases due to restrictions in liquids in carry-on luggage and the costs associated with heavy weight and additional bags during travel. There are however particular markets that are desirable for Icewine sales and therefore those member wineries who specialize in Icewine  production target groups of all size from Asia Pacific. Many offer order fulfillments of wines from private warehouses in Asia, when the customer returns home from travel. We also have members who target bus groups (not air travel) from the U.S. who also have an interest in Icewine and also Quebec, as their Province enjoys wine of the highest wine consumption rates in Canada and are also within driving distance. 

I would estimate all member wineries receive approximately 60-80% of their visitors from Canada (depending on their own winery strategies), for all weighted heavily from Ontario. That being said, because of our proximity to the world famous Niagara Falls, there are a significant amount of International visitors in our wine growing region as compared to other wine regions in the province who might instead rely on 90% domestic travel.

Can you tell us about a Niagara-on-the-Lake wine you are particularly fond of?

My father loved to make wines with good structure and strong backbone of acidity so I have grown to love cool climate wines. In particular, I love white wines, especially sparkling wines from Niagara, but I also have a great fondness of our Sauvignon Blancs and dry Rosés. While I am not generally a red wine drinker, it is worth noting that Niagara-on-the-Lake is a designated ‘specialty crop’ area with the most growing degree days in Ontario, and as a result gaining recognition for its red wines as we are able to successfully grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, unlike some grape growing regions in our Province.

Join Andrea at IWINETC 2020 where she will be delving deeper in the topic of marketing collectives.

Andrea Kaiser