Hunter Valley winemakers have urged the NSW government to match the investment in wine tourism by states such as South Australia, where taxpayers underwrote a landmark vineyard building that has attracted international acclaim.
Declining exports sales, uncertainty around China as the industry's foremost overseas market and the ban on international tourists have emphasised the importance of domestic wine tourism with almost seven millions Australians visiting wineries and other similar attractions last year.
Christina Tulloch, president of the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association and chief executive of Tulloch Wines, said the NSW wine industry doesn't enjoy the same funding support as other states, representing a "massive lost opportunity".
The South Australian government is understood to have invested $2 million in the distinctive McLaren Vale-based d'Arenberg Cube building.
d'Arenberg, the winery that houses the Cube, was recently named in the US as being in the top 50 vineyards in the world, along with two other South Australian wineries. No NSW vineyards made it to the list.
"A landmark, iconic feature of Australian wine would be an incredible drawcard for the Hunter Valley and an introduction to Australian wine for those millions of travellers who normally arrive in Sydney each year," said Ms Tulloch.
"The potential for wine tourism in Australia is massive, and while we have seen some states like Victoria and South Australia really capitalise on this, NSW has the proximity, in-destination offering and the story to be the flagship Australian wine destination."
Robin Shaw, founder of the Adelaide-based consultancy group Wine Tourism Australia, believes wine tourism is well-placed to prosper in the pandemic as the importance of "escaping from the confinements of one's home" cannot be underestimated.
"Wine regions offer a unique blend of vast natural vistas combined with the indulgence of enjoying great wine and food while generating happy memories with friends and family," she said. "The pandemic has provided wineries with the opportunity to introduce paid tastings, seated tastings and reservations, which many were reluctant to do."
Chris Tyrrell, chief operating officer of Tyrrell's Wines in the Hunter Valley, said that his label, founded in 1858, will accelerate plans made before the pandemic to expand its wine tourism offering, including an increased emphasis on food..
"The longer the international border is closed the more heightened the importance of domestic wine tourism will remain," he said. "Any support and investment we can secure from governments would welcome."
The effect of the pandemic has highlighted the importance of wine tourism to many businesses in the Hunter Valley, which attracts 1.4 million visitors annually and is worth $502 million - more than the region's actual wine exports - to the economy.
Ms Tulloch believes the local tourism market will continue to be vital to the NSW wine industry with competition set to be fierce once domestic borders reopen. He says NSW needs to invest in destination marketing now to ensure it isn't left behind by better funded destinations in other states.
The NSW Tourism Minister, Stuart Ayres, said Destination NSW continued to work closely with the NSW Wine Industry Association through a $2 million partnership to identify and support growth opportunities.
"Wine-related experiences are an important pillar of the state's tourism landscape and the NSW Government will continue to promote and advocate for the industry to ensure all visitors and wine-lovers know what NSW has to offer," he said.
DROP IN CENTRES: WINE TOURISM BY THE NUMBERS
5.9 BILLION Amount in dollars spent on winery visits
6.8 MILLION Number of domestic day trips
5.7 MILLION Number of domestic trips
19.4 MILLION Number of overnight stays
3.4 Average number of nights
Source: Tourism Research Australia. Figures also include brewery, distillery and farmgate visits.