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Château de La Rivière

Le boom de l’œnotourisme

In office for 22 years, general manager Xavier Buffo has worked various owners since his arrival at Château de La Rivière, the largest wine estate in Fronsac, a captivating, majestic fortress, planted on a hill overlooking the valley. Here, the traditional visit and-tasting has given way to rather original initiatives ...

Of course, his widow remained marked by the tragedy and never returned to Fronsac, but she did not sell it and kept the team in place. The initial project to turn La Rivière into a luxury hotel was abandoned, but not the desire to open the chateau to wine tourism. I go once a year to visit the owner, who also owns other luxury resorts, 5,000 hectares of tea plantations on the Burmese border, the idea being to begin to bring together the two cultures wine and tea. When I present to the group the results of the estate, the development of its wine tourism offer, we feel their pride, the stone chateau, the park ... it remains magical for them.

How did you stand out with your wine tourism offer?
To give an idea, we increased the number of visitors from 4,000 in 2013 to 15,000 in 2018. This represents 15% of the turnover and the goal is to increase up to 25%. Apart from the traditional guided tour, we offer an escape game in the 25 km of underground white limestone galleries where the wines are aging in barrels; concerts, open air cinema, the “Confluent Arts” festival launched in 2017 in partnership with the City Council of La Rivière; tastings of fine teas, resonating with the nationality of the owners; a typical ephemeral restaurant that seats 40 people, in the galleries; not to mention our 5 luxury rooms and the pool.

It is thanks to the implementation of all these initiatives that our progress has been colossal. Out of 23 employees, 4 are dedicated to wine tourism.
What is the strategy for your wines and their distribution?

One fifth of the production goes to China. For the rest, we have a particular clientele still loyal and since 2017 we are back in the Bordeaux trade to build up a commercial strategy. The estate covers 100 hectares out of which 65 of vines on the hillsides and produces 400,000 bottles each year, with 2 cuvées: ‘Château de La Rivière’ and a second wine ‘Les Sources du Château de La Rivière’ and a little bit of white and rosé wine. Of course we are constantly looking for quality improvement. The image of the Fronsac appellation remains fragile, not very promising, with a reputation of rustic wines that must be laid down. We are still building it. On the other hand, our Château de La Rivière brand remains strong. We have an aura that we have been able to refine thanks to the development of the wine tourism offer, which remains a tool to sell our wine.

Interview by Bénédicte Chapard