COCONUT CREEK, Fla. -- French Wine Explorers here is uncorking a
new product. The 2-year-old firm, which previously customized its
itineraries, expanded its operation to include prepackaged tours,
the first of which ran this month. According to founder and
president Lauriann Greene, the company's small group tours are an
"affordable alternative" to the customized product, thus accessible
to a wider market of wine aficionados.
"Most people realize that custom-design tours are an expensive
proposition, and some people don't want that -- they want to be
with other people," Greene said. Certain featured activities that
are negotiated for groups are not feasible to arrange for a few
couples, she added. That includes a wine tasting at Chateau d'Yquem
in the Bordeaux region, producer of Sauternes dessert wines and one
of the most famous wineries in the world, Greene said.
With the expansion, French Wine Explorers started advertising in
such magazines as Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. Greene said
she also hopes to work more regularly with travel agents, who
generate about 10% of bookings. "I expect in a few months it will
be 30% or 40%," she said, adding that most agents find the company
via its Web site, at www.wine-tours-france.com.
French Wine Explorers pays 10% commission on its prepackaged and
tailored itineraries. The company offers seven prepackaged tours
for 2002, with two departures in May and October, and one each in
June, July and November. Most tours are limited to 14 participants,
and all but one are priced between $2,295 and $2,695 per person,
double, land only.
The most expensive plan, the five-night Wines and Chateaux of
the Loire Valley, features four-star accommodations and a maximum
of six guests. Priced at $3,995, the tour departs Oct. 22. "We want
our tours to be accessible for all wine enthusiasts, and because we
offer many of the same hotels and restaurants the other [wine tour
operators] offer, we feel our tours represent a great value," said
An American wine expert who doubles as translator, Greene hosts
each trip with her French husband, Jean-Pierre Sollin, also a wine
expert and president of Les Explorateurs de Vins, a Paris wine
school. Another tour -- a six-night excursion to the Rhone Valley
and Provence in June -- is led by Robin Garr, a wine journalist and
founder of the Wine Lover's Page, an independent wine appreciation
Web site, at www.wineloverspage.com.
Greene said her clientele mainly hail from the U.S. and Canada,
and are professionals ranging in age from 35 to 65. "Because we're
wine professionals ourselves, we attract a lot of fellow wine
professionals and wine tasting clubs and societies," she said.
Itineraries include accommodations in three- and four-star
hotels, chateaux or country inns; daily continental breakfast, and
most lunches and dinners with regional wines. Additional highlights
include vineyard tours and tastings as well as introductory wine
tasting sessions. All trips except a Beaujolais Nouveau tour in
November include at least one meal at a Michelin star-rated
restaurant. Extensions in Paris -- with sightseeing by day and wine
activities at night -- can be added to each tour. Each Paris stay
includes accommodations at the four-star Hotel Bedford and a
six-course, six-wine dinner at the Bistro du Sommelier.
All but one extension are for two nights and priced at $399 per
person, double. A one-night extension for the Beaujolais Nouveau
Celebration tour in November costs $249 per person. Asked about her
cancellation policy, Greene conceded it is strict, with a $500
nonrefundable deposit, all money due at 90 days, 50% of the tour
price charged between 90 and 61 days and 100% of the tour price
charged at 60 days and less.
"My feeling is it's up to people to insure themselves," she
said. "If we make it that everybody has very lenient policies,
there will be no more small tour operators, and people like me will
no longer be able to operate." For more information, call (877)
261-1500 or e-mail [email protected].