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Mt Boucherie Wine Shop
Wine lovers line up for a tasting at the Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery, one of eight wineries who make up the Westside Wine Trail. Operators say the wine trail concept has helped increase visits at all of the wineries in the region. As well, other businesses in West Kelowna are benefitting from partnerships, such as staging craft shows at wineries, or catering events like the recent Sip With Your Sweetheart on Valentine's Day.
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Sarwan 'Bobby' Gidda of Volcanic Hills says the Wine Trail marketing is helping wineries do business in the slow winter months.
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Wine Tasting at Rollingdale
Preparing a pour at the Rollingdale Winery.
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Kalala Organic Estate Winery
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Little Straw Vineyards
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Quails’ Gate Estate Winery
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Beaumont Family Estate Winery
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Volcanic Hills Estate Winery
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Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery
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Mission Hill Family Estate
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Mission Hill Family Estate Entrance
The concept of marketing 'wine trails' within the Okanagan has taken off over the past five years, but the big question is, does it really help bring more customers to the wineries?
To find out, Orchard and Vine took a look at the experience of one of the Okanagan's more recently established regional wine associations, the Westside Wine Trail.
The answer, according to winery owners, is that the wine trail is bringing more people into the region, and it's likely helping smaller wineries the most.
Sarwan Gidda, owner of Volcanic Hills on Boucherie Road, says establishing the Westside Wine Trail helped both tourists and locals realize there's much more to the area than just the 'big guns' like Mission Hill and Quail's Gate.
"The more people know it's not just one winery, the better," Gidda says. "Mission Hill is a great asset for us, and so is Quail's Gate, because they have always brought in a lot of people. But now, we at Volcanic are becoming a real destination."
Part of the reason is that every winery is stocking a rack card that highlights all of the other wineries in the area. When people visit one winery, the staff will tell them about other wineries in the area. In fact, if one winery doesn't have a particular type of wine, they'll direct them to a nearby winery that does have it.
Marketing done by Westside Wine Trail emphasizes the region as a daytrip destination, and Gidda says this has been very successful.
"I think with the advertising they are doing more people are aware of it and more people are coming," Gidda says. "When we were advertising on our own it was not as successful.
"You see, the more good wineries we get the more people are going to come here to his area," he adds. "Yes, it is competition, but it's good to have that competition. If we were by ourselves here we wouldn't get even half the traffic we are getting now, because people go to Volcanic, then to Mission Hill, then to Mt. Boucherie and so on.
"Now, they make it an all-day event, not just a 10-minute event dropping into one winery."
Steve Dale at Rollingdale says the Wine Trail concept became a necessity after winemakers saw the success others were having in places like Summerland, where the 'Corkscrew Drive' concept has drawn thousands more people to that region.
"All the other areas of the Okanagan have grouped together," Dale says. "There is the Corkscrew Drive in Summland, there's Naramata Bench wineries, there's the Fab Five in Kelowna, so the Westside had to get its act together and put up a trail of our own. So, we have a rack card with all the wineries on it, and tourists pick that up as they go."
Dale says the key is creating an image or brand for each region, so it becomes a destination in its own right.
"It helps to have a regional identity," he explains. "In the Okanagan we are all in this together to a certain degree, but there definitely are these clusters of wineries. Just as you see car dealers all together on one corner, you're better off if you can work together to attract customers to your area."
A good example of the Westside Wine Trail's success was the annual Sip With Your Sweetheart event, staged around Valentines Day during the ordinarily slow winter months.
"We didn't think we would get that many people, but we were amazed," says Gidda. "We started at 11 o'clock and we didn't finish until 5.
"We lost count at 400 people. It was probably over 500 in the end, and that is in one day, and you know it's the middle of winter, it's after Christmas when people are a bit broke, and then boom! There's 500 people in your winery!"
Westside Wine Trails marketing director Salina Petschulat-Curtis says that ability to market in a group is key to creating a sense of destination. "So often people will come to an area, and they might go visit one place like Quail's Gate, and not realize that there are actually eight wineries in the area around it," Petschulat-Curtis says. "Through this initiative they become aware that the wine trail is a destination they can go to."
One of the most important things about the Wine Trails concept, in the Westside and elsewhere, is that it allows the wineries to bring in more business during the traditionally slow winter months. Events like the pre-Christmas craft shows in the Westside Wineries, the Sip with Your Sweetheart event in February, or the Christmas lightup event in Summerland, all examples of events that increase business in the hard months of winter.
"In the summer time we are really, really, really busy," says Gidda. "But, come November to April I actually wish we could do more events.
"I think people would come," he adds. "Maybe some people don't like skiing, and there's no golfing, so people look for other things to do in the winter. If we had more events I do think local people would come, and so would the people from out of town."
Petschulak-Curtis says that is a decision that will be made by the winemakers themselves.
"Right now the plan is to grow our three current events, but there may be an opportunity for another event in the future," Petschulak says. "One of the reasons I like working with the wine trail is that everything is done by group consensus, and everyone is totally dedicated to making it work, because this is their life and their livelihood. They're in this for the long haul, some of them for generations of their family, so people make decisions quickly and work hard to make them successful.
"It's been good so far. I think it's just going to get better in the future."
Dale agrees the concept of Wine Trails has become very important for the Okanagan industry, because it has allowed each region to market effectively as a destination in its own right.
"Our real competition is the rest of the world," Dale says. "First, you want to get people to come to the Okanagan, but if you can get them to the Okanagan, then the next thing is you want them to come here. And that's what this does." ■