In California, tourism is essential to the wine industry, to the point that purists blame the beautiful Napa Valley, not the largest, but the most prestigious production region in the United States, for having become the Disneyland of the United States. wine. According to the trade association Visit Napa Valley, 3.85 million visitors, attracted by high-end properties and their rich offer of services, flocked, in 2018, in this narrow strip of land 40 kilometers long and 6 kilometers wide (a region seven times smaller than Bordeaux), located 130 kilometers north of San Francisco.
If the pandemic halted the increase in the number of visitors in 2020, it has been constant since 2016 (+ 4.4% per year). Above all, tourists spend more there each year: 2.23 billion dollars (1.88 billion euros) in 2018, 15% more than in 2016. On average, visitors stay forty-eight hours on site and spend $ 247 a day ($ 405 if they stay overnight). With nearly 16,000 employees, tourism is Napa’s second largest employer, behind viticulture.
California, the wine cellar of the United States, has a long wine tradition. The first vines were brought by Catholic missionaries, for the manufacture of mass wine. Then, in the middle of the XIXe century, operations have multiplied in the wake of the gold rush and the arrival of European immigrants. Today it alone concentrates 85% of the country’s production – the states of Oregon, Washington, New York and Virginia providing the rest.
Napa Valley owes its worldwide reputation to the “judgment of Paris” in 1976: during a blind tasting by a jury made up entirely of French people, Californian wines “dethroned” the French, as much for the whites (chardonnay) than for the reds (cabernet sauvignon). Since then, visitors have flocked to this valley which offers 18,600 hectares of vines in a Mediterranean setting. In the early 1980s, Napa had around 50 operators. They are now over eight hundred.
The symbol of wine tourism in Napa is the Wine Train, a train made up of cars from the early 20th century.e century, which serves some of the main wine relays – no equivalent exists in the world. Tourists can watch the countryside roll by from the dining car, where they are served California cuisine inherited from the movement. farm-to-table (“Farm to Fork”) from Chef Alice Waters. It is less a question of visiting the cellars or learning the intricacies of grape fermentation than of living a high-end experience, designed for wealthy customers. Best wineries in the region offer resort hotels amid olive groves, golf courses, spas (taking advantage of the thermal springs of Calistoga, in the north), and bottle sales to visitors represent up to half of their annual turnover.
In 2020, Napa Valley was hit, like all tourist regions, by restrictions related to Covid-19. The operators have tried to retain customers with online tastings, organized by videoconference around bottles previously shipped to the consumer. But it was the fall fires that were the most devastating: 27,000 hectares of Napa burned down, and around 30 estates were damaged, including the Castello di Amorosa, a reconstruction of a Tuscan castle that cost 40 million dollars. dollars, and Castle Boswell, destroyed by fire.
This year, the improvement in the sanitary situation and the lifting, on June 15, of the compulsory wearing of the mask in Califonia encourage professionals to believe in the return of Disneyland wine to the valley.