The wine industry is in the entertainment industry and needs to wake up to what needs to be done to offer a lasting impression, says New Zealand's Montana MD Peter Hubscher.

Montana is the largest wine company in New Zealand and exports a large part of its stock, particularly to the UK. The company also hosted the First Wine Tourism conference in Marlborough on Monday (20/11/2000).

"We are in the entertainment business," Hubscher told delegates. "We have to ship our products offshore because we are a small domestic market. This is where entertainment comes in. If we bring people here to enjoy our hospitality and scenery, we create something people will take away as a special experience."

"If they have had a good time they will want to relive that experience by buying our wine when they get home. It is something they will talk about when they get back to New York and they will talk about their trip here. That is good for us as a company and good for the country but we need to work with the tourism industry to provide the full range of interests while tourists are in our regions."

According to Professor Michael Hall of Otago University wineries that opt to develop tourism can reap many benefits. "It is an opportunity to try new products at very low cost. It creates brand loyalty. If tourists can meet someone from behind the scenes who is involved in the winemaking process they will tell their friends because they are pleased to tell you that they are part of an insider's club. It allows you to cut margins selling at the cellar door and also creates an education opportunity to teach about our market."

He added: "Another big advantage is that if you take details and email or send regular updates it generates repeat business."

Hall also said it was important for countries to look at the benefits of tourism because it was becoming an increasingly common strategy developed in other winemaking areas.

He noted that Australia, South Africa and even England are encouraging wine tourism. The US is so concerned about European Union subsidies for wine tourism that it is considering labelling it a farm subsidy.

"People involved with tourism see wine tourism as a perfect marriage but the wineries are yet to be convinced."

But to the shock of wineries another academic, Steve Charters from West Australia, said research found that it was not the wine that determined the reaction to a winery visit. By far the most important thing was service and this was the main area identified by speakers at the conference that needed working on because wineries were treating tourists as an "add on" rather than a separate business.

One of the ideas that wineries could develop to provide tourists with a more rounded experience of their facilities is a restaurant.

Seagram vice president Evan Goldstein believes this is an area where wineries in Europe and Australasia beat the Napa Valley and the other California wineries hands down.

"Because of our rules we are not allowed to have restaurants with wineries but it is a really great opportunity for you. It is an important area for creating an emotional attachment because often people won't remember the specific wines they tasted or the food they ate but providing the whole dinner table thing is what creates lasting memories. After all, who has heard of a magazine called 'Food and Scotch'?"

Goldstein also believes the internet can be of huge benefit to wineries in developing tourism and subsequent sales. The internet can provide regular updates to customers from around the world and encourages repeat sales.

"People love to be part of a club and have access to information that their friends might not have. The internet is a very low cost way of providing that and internet users are the perfect demographic as stats show that they are wine drinkers who are happy to make use of e-tailers and buy over the net."

Despite the upbeat feel of the conference there was a conspicuous lack of wineries present, as most delegates seemed to come from the tourism industry.

This reflected a trend that developed throughout the conference; people involved with tourism see wine tourism as a perfect marriage but the wineries are yet to be convinced, as they are largely interested only in making more sales.