FRENCH CONNECTION

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SupAgro Summer 2011:
Value-Added Agriculture and Agritourism Internship Case Study

Chateau de Flaugergues

Their enterprise demonstrates the cultural preservation of the southern France lifestyle and shares this with tourists from all over the world.


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By Kathryn Kota

Michigan State University

SupAgro Summer 2011:
Value-Added Agriculture and Agritourism Internship Case Study

I. A Taste of Southern France at the Chateau de Flaugergues:

In Montpellier, France, the Chateau de Flaugergues provides guests with the opportunity to stroll through typical French and English gardens. Guests get the opportunity to tour the chateau that showcases antique furniture, tapestries, paintings, and books, grab a delicious lunch at the café in the courtyard, and end the day with tasting seven different wines made on the property. At this tourist hot-spot, the tourists and locals continue to return over and over for the unique wine the family, the Colberts, produce from the grapes of the vineyards over hundreds of years old on the property. Their enterprise demonstrates the cultural preservation of the southern France lifestyle and shares this with tourists from all over the world.

II. Key Words:

• Wine
• Tourism
• Terroir
• Cultural Preservation

III. Context:

The chateau has been in the Colbert family for ten generations. The family has strived to preserve the natural beauty of the property amongst the growing city life of Montpellier. The city is located within a few miles from the Mediterranean Sea and attracts many tourists due to the beach and city life offered. Montpellier is only a few hours via train to Spain and Italy. Many northern Europeans also come down to southern France for the sun and active city. A major downfall in Montpellier is the only real industry in the area is tourism. This makes it difficult to provide residents with secure jobs outside of tourism, which is effected by the global economy, terrorism, weather, etc. However, many of the residents have taken advantage of the attractive city to guests.

The Colbert family did just this with the historic land they have preserved and reside on today. The family decided to showcase their family history and property to the public to help create funds for the upkeep of the gardens, preserve the antique mansion, and provide the necessary tools to continue making wine. These activities are very expensive and with the help of visitors their culture preserved with a small flow of financial support from guests. In a city that is constantly being built up on, trying to preserve the history and culture a site has is expensive and challenging to maintain the authenticity the culture has. This is the goal of cultural preservation the Colberts try to achieve.

The unusual fact to Americans and other tourists is the family still lives in the chateau yet it is open to the public throughout the year. Visitors walk through the mansion while the family may be eating lunch in the secondary kitchen or upstairs in the study while people tour the library. Many guests have asked, “why does the family allow visitors to tour the property even though they use the house as a secondary home?” The current owner’s son explained that the family has always enjoyed showcasing the family history and hard work from past generations that allowed them to have this lifestyle. However, it also allows a small income for the family to help maintain lower costs on taxes, employee expenses, and most importantly, the tools needed for the wine processing. He continued to explain that they only charge a small fee of five euros to tour the gardens, but every little bit helps. The real income comes from large events.

In June and July, the family hosts large group tours, wine tastings, garden sculpture events, music concerts, and other exciting summer opportunities available to locals and tourists. The family also holds a wedding every weekend in the summer. With all these large events, the family does not need to worry about many low income issues because these events also allow an opportunity for guests to purchase the wine and return again for a formal visit of the property.

IV. Entrepreneurial Activity

At the Chateau de Flaugergues, the mission of the family is to provide a historic experience that demonstrates the family’s passion for wine and their family history. Their goal is to preserve and, if need be, restore the property to what it once use to be. For instance, the family replanted over twenty olive trees to provide a true sense of what the gardens looked like back in the 1600s. They want to be able to illustrate to visitors what this land once signified back in time, since much of Montpellier is now devoted to new development that does not represent the true age of the city.

With the family goal of preservation comes the preservation of the role of family within the business. This aspect is incredibly important to the family. The family demonstrates that everyone plays an essential part of the enterprise regardless of their age. Even the younger grandchildren provide a sense of atmosphere when you hear their laughs and screams from playing in the fountain. Nowadays, the owner’s son, Pierre, oversees most of the chateau’s departments. Pierre went to college to learn how to improve the family business. He then returned to help his father and settled his own family in another house behind the chateau. The son does all of the wine processing on his own, which is the family’s main focus of the business.

The father and owner of the property, Henri, pays attention to the financial aspects of the business. He no longer cares for the grapes, but does still participate in the wine tasting and testing. Mr. Colbert is not always at the chateau taking care of business. His son is the lead manager and oversees the other employees’ responsibilities.

The son’s wife also plays an important role in the business. She manages all of the events that take place in the gardens, terrace, and courtyard. She also manages the restaurant, Folia, when it is open for lunch.

As observed, family plays an important part because they are the main employees. There are only a few other employees that manage the wine store, cooking for the restaurant, gardeners, and maintenance people. Other than that, the family is responsible for continuing operations from the events, wine, and tours.

The other staff members were only given minimal tasks to do. For instance, to manage the wine store it is necessary to wash the glasses, stock wine, and greet guests. The gardeners were given a to-do list daily and were expected to be in and out earlier than normal working hours. The maintenance staff also worked similar hours and had jobs like painting the doors, vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms, and other tasks that did not require much supervision or skills. The family seemed to only trust those employees who worked side-by-side Mr. Colbert.

The chateau’s market was any person interested in wine, seeing the history of an aristocratic family and lifestyle, strolling through the gardens, or just wanted a taste of French wine. Tourists came and went, but some even returned just to pick up some more wine. Some tourists even have come year after year on their annual vacation to Montpellier. Many locals continued to return every few weeks to refill their wine jugs and restock their refrigerator. The loyalty to the family’s wine showed the family their hard work and passion put into the wine pays off not only in money, but seeing others enjoy their wine. The enterprise has also tried to expand their market by providing discounts for families with children and translating their printed information in other languages such as English, German, and Chinese. The chateau already has a strong customer relationship, but they continue to expand to reach new customers.

V. Assessment

The Chateau de Flaugergues strives to provide a genuine experience to guests, but there is still room for improvement.

The preservation of the property is also an asset. It is refreshing to tourists to escape the commercial enterprises in the expanding city of Montpellier to a hidden gem between the construction and freeways. With the lack of signs posted, some tourists enjoy the serenity and lack of outlined directions to navigate the site. It provides the illusion to the guests that they were the first to walk through this site and maintains a sense of normality to the family. The family has not turned their home into a commercial center and destroyed the natural beauty of the property.

Another asset the chateau provides to guest is their wine and passion to promote the terroir of their land. Terroir is used to denote the unique characteristics the product has due to the geography and climate of the area it is produced in, which cannot be reciprocated in a different region. When a guest comes to visit, the owner indulges in the wine tastings with them. He provides them with as much information he can with just as much pride that details his son incredible amounts of work. The regular return tourists and locals are proof that the chateau’s unique wine and invested time has really touched their customers. People return over and over to experience the interaction with the owner and his son, and restock their empty bottles.

The family also strives to improve their wine. The son went to college to bring back skills in business management and wine processing. He has provided his father with valuable knowledge that will be useful for future generations. Pierre Colbert has taken these skills and his networking to expand the quality of the wine. He participates in a variety of conventions to receive feedback on the quality of the wine. The family has also submitted their wine in multiple competitions and received medals from the American Wine Spectator magazine, voted as the best wine of Montpellier, and other outstanding rankings.

This has allowed the family to promote their wine, family name, and the chateau’s reputation for providing an exceptional experience in all aspects of the organization a visitor can experience at the Chateau de Flaugergues.

One observation was the chateau does not cater to the visitor. For instance, when a guest goes to a tourist spot in the U.S., there are signs detailing where to go, where the bathrooms are, the hours of operation, etc. Visitors are not expected to hunt for the welcome desk. At the chateau, it is difficult for guests to find the correct entrance when they walk in. Visitors look around and go to every door until someone runs out to greet them. There are no signs to the bathroom either. This preserves the natural beauty of the property, but seems unfriendly to visitors. When tourists do not see signs to guide them, it makes them feel like they are unwanted since they cannot find where to even go to purchase tickets. However, this requires employees to be attentive for guests at all times.

This may also cause a loss of guests if they are frustrated with the set up to search for the welcome desk. Tourists are also turned away with high visiting fees. To some, five euros to walk through the gardens is extremely expensive because it is not guided by someone. Many visitors turned away when they saw the price to enter.

Another difference for visitors they struggled with adjusting to was the hours of operations. Many visitors from northern Europe came on their holiday in August to see the chateau. The French usually take their holiday in August and closed the chateau to the public in this month. Many northerners were disappointed to make a trip to the site, but could not go inside the actual mansion. However, the chateau still provided free wine tastings and discounted walks through the gardens.

Also, their regular hours include a two hour lunch break. Many visitors were not use to this because no one was working the welcome desk to allow for visitors to enter and could not see the site. In America, businesses do not close for such long periods of time. This is to provide constant assistance to customers and fulfill their wants and needs. This kind of customer relationship does not exist at the chateau and many other French businesses; however, this allows for employees to have enough time away from the workplace and relax. Many French commented on how all Americans do is work until death, and find this unnecessary. If the standard is to allow for longer breaks, then people will lower their expectations for 24/7 hour of service.

These are differences that the American tourist would expect versus what some other cultures may want. This provides the enterprise with room for improvement to welcome other cultures to the site.

Overall, the authenticity and preservation of the family history and land is truly what draws guest to come and see the gardens. The wine follows the French belief of terroir and continues to attract locals and guests to return. It is unique that guests get the chance to talk one-on-one with the family and wine maker. Visitors experience the passion for wine and their history when they get to meet the Colberts personally. For other tourist hot spots, visitors do not always have the opportunity to meet the owners and have the chance to see, taste, and feel the passion the family has to put into their products, gardens, and chateau. The Chateau de Flaugergues offers all guests an authentic experience of the Clobert history, the land’s original use, and wine made from the land’s grapes.

For more information, see: http://www.flaugergues.com/US/index-en.html.