Teaching Hospitality to the Locals
His eyes light up the moment you mention a tasting room and immediately he harkens back to his semester in Santa Barbara. Perhaps more than the formal education he received there, he remembers the vivacious, dynamic wine tasting culture in California.
Many do. Here, we think of wine tasting as heavily informal—but very experiential. It takes more than a walk-up tasting bar to make us fall in love with a brand. We want to roam the vineyards, spend the night on the property, meet the winemaker—essentially, interact with a brand on a more personal level. It’s something that attracts visitors and locals alike.
For Gustavo Balducci, the capability to immerse oneself in a brand became apparent as one of the most important offerings a winery can provide. He came back to his family’s winery with fervor; Vina Balduzzi was going to become a destination for wine lovers and non-wine lovers alike.
Hospitality in Chile
The first generation of the Balduzzi family moved to San Javier in the heart of the Maule Valley in 1906. The Italian family traveled through Argentina and Chile, eventually falling in love and settling in the small town. Patriarch Don Albano Balduzzi planted 30 hectares at the winery facility and now the family owns a total of 150 hectares. For a long time the family sold their grapes to larger producers and while they still sell a portion of their grapes to the likes of Concha y Toro or Canadian wineries looking to beef up production, Balduzzi started its own label in the early 1980s. Exports to the United States, Brazil and a number of European countries began not long after.
All that said, less than 2 percent of his sales are made direct-to-consumer and 85 percent of the tourism at the winery is from foreigners--he wants to change that.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle to reaching Balduzzi’s goal is the local mentality. Maule has the most wineries in Chile, but the surrounding citizens feel that tourism isn’t profitable.
To be fair, they have a point. Gustavo points out that tourists do buy some wine, but not in the amounts they would like. In addition, the infrastructure of San Javier wouldn’t necessarily support a thriving DTC/tourism business—yet. There are a number of hotels looking to provide a more luxury stay nearby. Balduzzi is working with the municipality’s “Red Bus” to facilitate free rides for locals to the winery on September 4, 2017, which is the Chilean National Wine Day.
On that day, Vina Balduzzi will offer a tour, tasting of four wines and a souvenir glass for 9,000 Chilean pesos (about US$14), hoping to show residents nearby that tourism can be a viable option. For them, price is a sensitive subject. They aren’t the type to spend frivolously and Balduzzi takes care to offer good value at an economical price.
For now, Balduzzi will hang its hat with adventurers—backpackers are his most frequent tourists. The winery offers tours with no appointment needed and English and Spanish speaking guides and attendants. It’s a great start toward a great future.
*Photo Credit: www.balduzzi.com