October 26, 2008

Provence: Smells Like Team Spirit

Blandine%20Michael%20Azzura.JPG Wines%20at%20dinner.JPG
Participants from New York, Cape Town and Taipei; wine steward at dinner

We were a rolling United Nation: two dozen travelers from 15 countries speaking 18 languages on our little bus. All but one spoke English, all but one spoke French. Everyone else averaged (averaged!) three-plus, and not just "Where is the train station?" travel-speak, but well enough to transact business. From Swahili to more-than-passable German (the same man), from Mandarin to Italian (the same woman). It's the new face of Maison de la France, the tourism marketing arm of the French Government.

This particular trip through southern Provence preceded the 2008 edition of Destination Vignobles, a biannual promotion for tourism professionals. Far fewer North Americans this year (only 11), far more South Americans and Eastern Europeans, 36 countries, all in this together.

Globe%20w%20fiery%20angel%20in%20Avignon.JPGSurprisingly, given France's status as the world's leading source of premium wines, it wasn't until seven or eight years ago that MDLF started promoting its vineyards as a travel destination, and not until four years ago was there even a formal program. (Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhone have been the three destinations so far; Alsace in 2010.)

The big news this year is the creation of a joint commission to think of new ways to promote the concept, variously called Oenotourism and Vitivinitourism; nothing as simple as "Wine Tours", to be co-chaired by the ministers of agriculture and tourism. (In France, nothing is simple.) It took a German journalist to suggest putting every winery and vineyard in the country into a GPS database to help tourists navigate the back roads. And a Brit to point out he didn't need every damn one of the country's 100,000-plus vignerons to participate, just the good ones with the willingness to welcome visitors and provide them with decent wine.

Thankfully, at the closing ceremonies at the imposing Papal Palace in Avignon, the French tendency to complicate and over-intellectualize was muted. The six-course closing dinner featured seven bottlings, followed by a tasteful, politically correct aerial ballet & pyrotechnics display promoting international understanding. YouTube link here. Merci à tous!

Posted by Ronald Holden at October 26, 2008 10:00 AM | TrackBack

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