Join Us in Paso Robles, SLO County!

We are very pleased to bring the Wine Tourism Conference in its fourth year back to California. An estimated 250 wine and tourism leaders are expected at the November 12-14, 2014 conference in Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. Registration for WTC14 is open now and space is limited due to the size of the conference facility.

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Wine Business Management at Sonoma State University


Sonoma State University has been a Wine Tourism Conference advocate for many years.  This University’s involvement in the world of wine is deeply rooted and their academic wine programs, offered through the Wine Business Institute, represent the academic and forward thinking relationship between the university and the wine industry.  The WTC recently chatted with Ray Johnson, Director of Sonoma State’s Wine Business Institute , about their flagship Wine MBA program and the 12-month, online certificate program in wine business management and what these programs mean for the global world of wine tourism.

MBA in Wine Business

Sonoma State’s MBA in Wine Business was the first masters degree program in wine business in the United States.  Founded in 2008 in order to “meet the demands of the growing business of wine”, according to Johnson, the MBA in Wine Business at SSU remains the only university in North America that offers this kind of degree program.  Ray offers:

More and more people are working in the wine industry and in all different aspects of the business.  The wine industry is a highly competitive environment – the MBA in Wine Business services a niche in the wine business world and allows students to sharpen their skills.

The core program content of this wine specific MBA doesn’t differ from SSU’s other MBA programs.  It builds upon it’s other educational platform and focuses on themes and issues pertinent to wine:  wine industry compliance and law, sustainability in the wine hospitality industry, global wine business, global marketing strategies, international supply chain management, and marketing and sales strategies for wine.

Wine Tourism and the MBA in Wine Business 

An additional focus of the MBA in Wine Business is hospitality and wine tourism management.  Ray highlights that “wine tourism is an economic driver for regions and can have tremendous benefits.” While there are, literally, hundreds of wineries within 25 miles of the Wine Business Institute, Ray is quick to note that the “wine industry of California, as a whole, is in collaboration with each other and not in competition.  All of us involved in wine desire to promote wine country as a whole.”

In regards to the upcoming Wine Tourism Conference in Paso Robles:

We (at Sonoma State University) are very supportive of Allan and the team that organizes the Wine Tourism Conference.  The conference is a way for people to take time out of their daily activities to reflect and study and share best practices for growing the (wine tourism) pie.

Wine Business Management Certificate

The Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State also contributes, educationally, to the ever-important role of wine tourism with their online, yearlong certificate in Wine Business Management.  This program began in 2011 and to date, people from a dozen countries have participated in the certificate program.  Johnson further adds that:

Our online program allows people interested in getting into the wine industry to access important wine industry business principles from wherever they live.  We are very excited about the results of this (relatively new) program and look forward to it’s continued success as an accessible yet robust program.

As Ray points out, “The business of wine is not always as glamorous as the tasting of wine and the Wine Business Institute offers many degree and certificate programs for the seasoned wine industry professional and those who have the “wine bug” and desire to test out their interest into getting into the business.”

Combine wine tourism with a formal olive oil tasting in Oregon.

Combining wine tourism with a formal olive oil tasting in Oregon.

One of the wine tourism topics of conversation Ray looks forward to diving into at this year’s Wine Tourism Conference in Paso Robles is how to create better wine experiences for wine region tourists.  “It has to be so much more than just tasting the wine….how do we create an experience for the customer that is truly memorable?”  The organizers of the conference have also identified this as a critical topic of conversation for 2014 and are offering a pre-conference Workshop titled, “Creating Engaging Activities & Events”, which aims to spark new ideas regarding how to turn “just tasting” into an equitable and memorable experience for wine tourists.


The planned Wine Spectator Learning Center at Sonoma State University

The Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University also has other news to celebrate:  the Wine Spectator magazine has gifted them the generous funds for the new “Wine Spectator Learning Center” which will house the new home for all wine degree and certificate program offerings at Sonoma State University starting in late 2016.


Thank you, Sonoma State University, for your participation in and support of the Wine Tourism Conference.  We look forward to seeing you in beautiful Paso Robles, CA this November 12-14!




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Creating and Growing a Wine Tour Operator Business

We are excited to offer a pre-Wine Tourism Conference workshop titled “Creating and Growing a Wine Tour Operator Business”. The workshop will take place at the Paso Robles Inn on Wednesday, November 12th from 8:30 – 11:30 AM.

The Workshops at the WTC are designed to provide more time for in-depth presentations and discussions of specific topics. This topic, naturally, will be of interest to anyone already running a wine tour company or thinking of entering the business.

We have six great presenters in this workshop, each of whom brings a different viewpoint to the discussion:

  • Coy Barnes, The Wine Wrangler: The Wine Wrangler is a very successful traditional local wine tour operator, providing transportation, access to wineries, and guides for tours of the great Paso Robles area.
  • Larry Martin, Food and Wine Trails: Larry’s destination tour company takes more than 3,000 wine lovers a year to over 25 different countries. He’s designed wine education trips for over 100 wineries and has been recognized for three years as the “World’s Best Wine Travel Specialist” by the editors of Conde Nast Traveler.
  • Laura Gurreau, Central Coast Food Tours: While Laura’s company does run tours focused on wine, her primary focus is on food tours of the local area, including walking day tours of San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. Laura will be able to bring this varied perspective to the presentation.
  • Virginia and John Flaherty, Central Coast Outdoors: Virginia and John run kayaking, biking, and hiking tours of the Central Coast region of California. They do have Wine Country tours as well but bring to the table a very unique perspective that will be interesting for those in the wine tour business.
  • Sarah Wolcott, Zephyr Adventures: Zephyr Adventures is not only organizer of the Wine Tourism Conference but has been running active tours around the globe for the past 17 years, including active wine, beer, and food tours. Zephyr is increasing its emphasis on this area with the launch of the upscale Taste Vacations brand. Sarah will serve as moderator of the workshop.

The Workshop will include these veteran tour industry members providing their experiences  but will also consist of group discussion, so participants should be prepared to contribute with their own perspectives and questions. Topics will include:

  • Deciding on a niche
  • Determining your target customer
  • Creating a business entity
  • Getting insurance
  • Creating a website
  • Creating tours
  • Hiring guides
  • Keeping and using a customer database
  • Marketing

We think this is a unique opportunity and hope you can join us! The Workshop costs $125 and you do not need to be registered for the conference to participate. Just visit the Register page of this website to sign up.

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Pre-Conference Workshops at the Wine Tourism Conference

The Wine Tourism Conference is a chance for anyone involved in the business of wine to meet with and learn from industry peers as well as from professionals whose knowledge is pertinent to tourism.  The Agenda and Program Content for the 2014 Wine Tourism Conference in Paso Robles is robust and full of detailed workshops and sessions that will spark new ideas, cement ideas that have been percolating, and positively impact your wine business.

The Optional Pre-Conference Workshops at the 2014 WTC are additions to the regular Agenda.  These Workshops, happening on Wednesday, November 12, offer four, separate sessions:  two in the morning and two in the afternoon – participants can choose one workshop to go to in the morning and one to attend in the afternoon.   Cost is $125 to attend one workshop and $200 to attend both a morning and an afternoon session.  Consider adding on to your Wine Tourism Conference learning by participating in these smaller, educational and hands-on Workshops.

Wednesday, November 12

8:30-11:30 AM  Optional Pre-Con Workshops

Creating Engaging Activities and Events

Events create revenue in and of themselves but, more importantly, often create long-lasting relationships with your customers. Have you been struggling to create something beyond the ubiquitous winemaker dinner?  This workshop will dive deep into what other cutting-edge events are being done by wineries, restaurants, hotels, and wine regions around the country or world.  In addition to hearing from our experts, please come prepared to share your creative ideas so everyone who attends can go home with a raft of new events to consider.


Creating and Growing a Wine Tour Operator Business

If you are interested to start a tour company or wishing to grow the one you already started this is the workshop for you!  You will learn from several established tour operators about selecting a niche, identifying your target market, marketing, insurance, employees, and more. In addition to presentations by established, successful operators this session will include significant group discussion as we share ideas, talk strategies, and make friendships.

1:00-4:00 PM  Optional Pre-Con Workshops

Mobile Marketing

According to Pew Internet Research, as of May 2013, 90% of US adults have a mobile phone, 63% of adult mobile phone owners use their phones to go online, and 34% go online mostly using their phones, not some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer. This means – as of May 2013 – 31% of adults in the US are primarily surfing and shopping the web using their cell phone. If you are not engaging in the mobile world, you are falling behind. This workshop will cover mobile web sites, apps, tablets, geo marketing, and some of the newer social media platforms targeted towards mobile.


Excelling as a Wine or Wine Tourism Association

In this session, seasoned non-profit association professionals will share their secrets to success.  You should come away knowing better how to promote your region, including funding, growing membership, partnering with area businesses, gaining public exposure, working with the press, and more. This session replaces the Industry Track sessions of prior years and is the best place to meet and greet your fellow association professionals.

* Please note:  lunch is not provided on Wednesday *

Cost is $125 for one workshop or $200 for both a morning and an afternoon workshop.  You can register for the pre-conference workshops at the time you register for the conference or by using this separate Wine Tourism Conference Event Registration Form.

We look forward to seeing you in Paso Robles, CA, for the 2014 Wine Tourism Conference this November!





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Paso Robles Rocks Wine Bloggers Conference

The 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC14 on Twitter) took place two weeks ago in Santa Barbara County with great reviews about the Santa Barbara area and wines.  Blogging guests experienced wine country to the fullest, learning about the area, people, and wines behind vibrant Santa Barbara wine country.  350+ bloggers and industry representatives attending the conference.  One social media recap  from WBC14 attendee, Hilarie Larson and via Twitter sums up the takeaways:

My head is still full of ideas thx to #WBC14. Now to find more time in the day.

Pertinent to the Wine Tourism Conference, the WBC14 pre-conference excursion took wine blogging guests all through the Paso Robles area for a day and a half.  The Paso Wine pre-conference organizer, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance Communications Director, Chris Taranto, estimated attendees had the opportunity to taste 150 wines from 50 different wineries during the excursion.  More important to the wine country guests, however, was the warm welcome they received from the regional wine industry – the pre-conference excursion was highly rated and speaks to the organization, authenticity and great vibe in Paso Robles wine country.  Please read about the pre-conference tour on this blog post on the Wine Bloggers Conference website.

Each year at the Wine Tourism Conference, a neighboring region hosts a pre-conference excursion, providing meals, winery visits, talks, and tastings. Paso Robles, which will host this year’s Wine Tourism Conference, took on that task.

We are looking forward to experiencing the same great hospitality and experience at the 2014 Wine Tourism Conference!

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A Snapshot of Paso Robles Wine Country

The Paso Robles wine region in California is in the middle of a renaissance.  Or, rather, the Paso Robles wine tradition is now on the radar of many wine enthusiasts and travelers who are looking outside their normal haunts for authentic wines and locales.  The 2014 Wine Tourism Conference will be held in Paso Robles this November 12-14, 2014, and we are enthusiastic to convene in this exciting wine region.

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 2.06.14 PMThe history of the Paso Robles wine region, like many great wine areas in the world, has religious roots.  The Franciscan Friars who served at various missions in the area in the late 18th Century are originally responsible for planting grapes for sacramental wine production (although they did make brandy for export, too, and perhaps just a little for personal consumption).  These vineyards were abandoned after Mexico secularized the missions in the 1830′s and it wasn’t until the 1850′s that wine production in the area was revitalized and after California’s statehood.  Many Europeans arrived in the 1850′s and with vinifera plantings from their home countries, including imported Zinfandel.

Zinfandel is the region’s heritage wine grape variety.  The Paso Robles AVA is well known for its Zinfandel prowess although Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties make up 55% of the total planted acreage in the AVA.  There are over 40 different varieties produced in the AVA and proprietary, non-traditional blends of Bordeaux, Rhone, Zinfandel and Spanish varieties are also particularly well regarded.  Curiously, the genetic origin of “California Zinfandel” has been a bit of a mystery until recently – the Wine Institute reports that the grape used in California Zinfandel probably originated in Croatia.  Cheers to this Balkan country for giving us Zin!  And thank you Paso Wine for all the great information on your AVA.

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 1.59.09 PM

The Paso Robles AVA was officially designated in 1983 with just a handful of charter wineries and 5,000 vineyard acres.  Fast-forward to today:  it is California’s fastest growing American Viticultural Area, with over 200 licensed and bonded wineries and over 32,000 acres in winegrape production.  Because of the maritime influence over the AVA, there is a distinct variation in daytime and nighttime temperatures.  This affords fruit maturation during the day and balanced acidity levels at night. Paso Robles itself is just 40 minutes from the ocean and the westernmost boundary of the AVA is just 6 miles from the sea.

The AVA roughly forms a rectangle 35 miles from east to west and 25 miles from north to south.  It’s proximity to the ocean and the sheer variability contained with the AVA give the Paso Robles wine region the ability to produce a dynamic set of wines and all with their own unique expression.  The AVA encompasses 614,000 total acres.  Within these confines are:  30 distinct soil series (primarily bedrock derived marine and volcanic from the Miocene Age Monterey Formation), many microclimates, and topography that includes river bottoms, rolling hills, flat lands, and mountains.  11 sub-AVAs have been proposed for distinction within the Paso Robles AVA; the region awaits final word regarding these proposed sub-AVAs.  Experiencing the wines from this region is exciting – so many different styles and varieties!


Nestled halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles along California’s Central Coast, the “City of Oaks” is charming with a population of just 32,000.  But don’t let the small-town feel fool you:  the wines and wineries are sophisticated, the dining options are hip and delicious, and the region’s more laid-back approach to their wine industry is awesome.  We are pumped to host the Wine Tourism Conference in this sizzling, original wine region!

Registration for the Wine Tourism Conference is open and we look forward to seeing you in Paso Robles this November.



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New Community Manager of the Wine Tourism Conference

We at Zephyr Adventures, organizers of the Wine Tourism Conference, are changing up roles of some of our employees and assigning a new Community Manager.

Cindy Molchany, who is currently the Community Manager, is moving to the tour side of Zephyr Adventures to handle our tour marketing. As you might know, Zephyr Adventures is also an adventure travel company with a specialty in active food, beer, and wine tours. We are doubling up on this by creating a whole new travel company brand, Taste Vacations, that will launch in early June. Taste Vacations will run food, beer, wine, and spirits tours around the world – without the active hiking and biking component.

Both Zephyr Adventures and Taste Vacations will have a program for the wine industry where wineries and other organizations can host private tours for their audience – if you are interested in this, please let Cindy know.

Sarah Wolcott will be the new Community Manager of the Wine Tourism Conference.  Sarah has a wine marketing background, is already one of the Zephyr Adventures team, and attended the Wine Tourism Conference last year. You will get to know her as she handles the WTC social media and sends out newsletters and emails about the conference. She will also be at WTC in Paso Robles in November.

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Wine Tourism Industry: List for Your Success

Early this year we announced we have compiled and published a list of wine tourism related organizations. This list is curated and managed by Zephyr Adventures, and we offer it as a free resource for the wine tourism industry.

The following are the three lists we have collected and published:

  • Wine Tour Operators
  • Wine Associations
  • Tourism Associations

We hope these lists help you collaborate with others in the wine tourism industry and helps consumers find these key resources. You can access these lists via our Industry Page.

WTC Industry Graphic1

There is no charge to add or edit your listing to these directories and we encourage you to make sure you’re listed by searching within your category. Since January, we have added over 50 wine tour companies, wine associations, and tourism associations. The lists are manually updated and checked for accuracy before being posted (and to limit spam).

Also offered for free to the wine tourism industry is an invitation to participate in Wine Tourism Day. Wine Tourism Day is scheduled for November 8, 2014 this year, and we encourage you to visit the website and add your events to the growing list.

Wineries, hotels, restaurants, and other wine tourism businesses across North America are offering special events to the public on this day to celebrate the importance (and fun) of wine tourism.


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Wine Tour Operators Expect 21% Increase Worldwide in 2014

In a survey of wine tour operators located throughout the world, responses indicated they expect a 21.4% increase in customers served in 2014. 70 tour operators from 12 separate countries took part in the survey conducted December 30 – January 3 by Zephyr Adventures, organizers of the annual Wine Tourism Conference and Wine Tourism Day.

In fact, all but one operator predicted an increase in the number of customers, indicating the optimism for growth in organized wine tours is pervasive.

At the same time, when asked “what is the biggest challenge you face as a wine tour operator?”, 56% responded “Finding Customers”. One anonymous respondent explained “My sole concern lies in marketing, in finding the proper clients who have the time, interest and money to participate.”

The world of wine tour operators is diverse. Zephyr Adventures currently has a list of 280 wine tour operators around the world on the Wine Tourism Conference website broken into the sub-groups Wine Tour Vacations, Day Tours, Custom Wine Travel, and Wine Area Transport. The tour operators on the list are located in 20 countries and 26 US states.

Other tidbits from the survey include:

  • When asked to label their customers’ wine knowledge, tour operators say 30% are “oenophiles”, 48% are “wine fans”, and 22% are “novices”.
  • Most wine tour customers travel as a couple or with friends; there are slightly more females than males; and the bulk of participants’ ages is spread equally among the 30s, 40s, and 50s.
  • The average wine tour company was founded in 2006, meaning it is entering its eight year of doing business.
  • 86% of wine tour companies are owner operated and 54% have no full-time employees.
  • The size of wine tour operators ranges dramatically, from a few per year on high-end personalized tours to over 50,000 customers taken on day tours or simply winery transport services.
  • Vacation Tour Operators cite “Location” and “Quality of Wineries” as the two most important factors on how their customers choose a tour.
  • The average group size of wine tour vacations is only seven-eight persons and 85% of these operators will take a group consisting of only one or two people.

55% of respondents indicated an interest to attend the 2014 Wine Tourism Conference, so consider reserving your spot today to meet these front line advocates of wine tourism!

Full Disclosure: Zephyr Adventures runs wine, beer, and food tours around the world in addition to organizing the Wine Tourism Conference, Wine Tourism Day, and Wine Bloggers Conference.


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Wine Tourism Conference – Call for Content Suggestions

It is time to start planning content and speakers for the 2014 Wine Tourism Conference in Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County!!

WTC call for content imageIf you have suggestions for topics and speakers, please complete the form below by February 14, 2014.

Suggestions can be for you to provide content yourself or for other speakers or topics. Please complete one form per suggestion.

Below are the types of sessions we will be having:

Keynote: This is your conference and we want you to suggest who should provide the one conference keynote.  Our Advisory Board and staff will review all suggestions and select the best speaker for achieving the goals of the conference.

Pre-Conference Workshops: Back by popular demand, these 2.5 hour sessions will be offered as a complement to the conference main agenda on Wednesday morning and afternoon (additional registration is required).  Is there a topic into which you would like to more deeply delve?

Breakout, Group and Panel Sessions: These 50 minute sessions are the chance for you to hear from experts in the field. We will assemble for some of these sessions as the entire conference and break into smaller groups for others.  Do you have suggestions for breakout session/panel  topics and speakers?

To provide suggestions, please use the submission form below. If you have any questions, please contact Dennis Agnos at

Registration for the 2014 Wine Tourism Conference is open. Click here to secure your spot.

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