Dani Golakova: Doing Wine Tourism Needs Soul and Heart
Yordanka (Dani) Golakova is the undisputed doyenne of the Bulgarian wine tourism, who paved its path back in the mid-80s, in times of limited opportunities, but with inspiring enthusiasm, passion and self-devotion.
Between 1982 and 2011 Dani Golakova worked at Vinprom Lyaskovets, where she gradually shifted from her main duties to the labor union’s library and the reception of international delegations of wine specialists to “opening” of this very old and very sizable of its time for Bulgaria wine-producing enterprise towards visits of tempted in the magic of wine non-professionals such as the wine tourists.
For the last eight years Dani Golakova has been living in Australia, where her daughter Elena Golakova-Brooks graduated as an oenologist from the University of Adelaide in 2001 and currently runs her family-owned winery with 24 ha of vineyards.
Dani Golakova was a special guest at the 8th Balkans International Wine Competition (7-9th June 2019) in Sofia, where we were lucky to have this talk with her.
As a person with a great experience in the wine tourism in Bulgaria, would you give a short definition of what the “wine tourism” actually is?
I am not an oenologist, though I have learnt a lot about the wine in my professional practice. The technological knowledge of the oenologist would be certainly important and necessary for conducting a serious wine-tasting with industry experts. When we speak about wine tourists, however, such a highly professional presentation would rather bore the audience or even worse – it could turn the people away from the topic.
The wine tourists are very little interested in the technology – they mostly want to learn what kinds of grape varieties are used in the winery, how generally proceeds the fermentation, how much time does the wine age in the winery, when and where it is bottled, and where they can buy the wine. The tourists choose “wine destinations” to try wines from local varieties, to see the vineyards, to learn more about the beauty, history, way of life and habits of the people, who live in that same region.
I am very much convinced that for the development of the wine tourism in Bulgaria it would be of paramount importance to work with the local grape varieties – Dimyat, Pamid, Gamza, Mavrud, Rubin, etc.
Why does it make sense to do wine tourism?
Firstly, because it helps presenting the wines of a given winery to their potential consumers in the best possible way. A wine trader could not describe and present the wines of any winery in such a quality manner, at least because he or she has not participated in their making, and furthermore, because in his/her portfolio there are numerous other wines that have to be sold too. The trader could not be so emotionally attached to those wines.
Secondly, the wine tourism is yet another channel for revenue generation of the wineries. And much more to that – this revenue comes in right away, on the very day when the sale is done.
If the efforts are expanded and the winery begins working with tour operators in the establishment of particular touristic routes that combine the visit to the winery with other places for sight-seeing in the region, the value added would be much bigger.
For instance, when I worked at “Lyaskovets”, I planned in advance and in details, and kept a good contact with the tour companies in the region. Together, we were able to create a local touristic route which included, besides the visit to our winery and vineyards, also a horse ranch nearby, the dairy-processing plant in the town of Elena, the buffalo farm near the Yovkovtsi dam, where the tourists were offered buffalo yogurt with wild raspberries, as well as a vegetable greenhouse, where the tourists could prepare on their own a shopska salad. You may trust that the experiences we were delivering to our tourists were unforgettable, indeed.
These additional activities, however, come with the time and one has to first find out what could be well combined with another.
I have never felt any jealousy that tourists might visit other wineries in the neighborhood. Quite the opposite, I have offered the colleagues to join in the touristic route, but I did not see a burst of enthusiasm in them at that time.
Now I can see that in Bulgaria many more wineries have grown up to embrace the wine tourism. I can also see, however, an excessive luxury at some of these places. In Australia, for example, where the wine tourism is a well-developed activity, there is no such lavishness among the wineries.
What is the quickest and easiest thing that the wineries can do to attract more visitors on-site?
In order to do a wine tourism, a winery needs to have a dedicated person for this activity, who has a soul and heart for the job. It must not put a clerk-minded person on this job, who will be always frowning as if everyone is disturbing him, and would do nothing beyond his working hours. Furthermore, if you want to do a wine tourism with the idea to make easy money, you would better not bother with it at all. Otherwise, you will harm the reputation of your winery and possibly of your country, especially when working with foreign tourists.
All the visitors take something with them – memories, experiences. I will give you another example from my own practice. On my initiative, we included the traditional Bulgarian banitsa in the degustation menu. The wine-makers were initially skeptical, but I explained them that I have found the right wine in the cellar to pair with banitsa. It is useless to say that this local culinary specialty, in combination with our good wine, has been leaving wonderful impressions with our guests for many years since then.
It is also important to provide enough of quantity from each kind of a snack you are serving at the wine-tasting. You should not save on this light but very important ingredient of a quality wine-tasting.
You are familiar with the wine tourism in Australia. Would you give some pieces of advice on what from their approach could be applied here as well – in Bulgaria and on the Balkans?
In Australia, a quite significant share of the revenue – especially of the smaller wine-producers – comes from on-site sales.
Almost all of the wineries have the so-called cellar door (a specially designated premise for wine-tastings and sales of wine, located on the site of the winery), where it is also allowed to prepare and serve food, and is usually open seven days a week.
The Government also supports the wine-producers, who possess such special merchant premises, with a grant of up to 100 000 Australian Dollars per year, which is a sufficient amount to redeem a new investment in a cellar door for approximately five years.
Furthermore, the on-site sales of the wineries are treated with certain tax reliefs.
The one thing I must definitely say, however, is that the people in the wine business of Australia are very friendly and helpful to each other. The producers in a given micro-region are collaborating on a daily basis, and they jointly create and foster their traditions.
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