Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 2

At the Ramada Waterfront Hotel in Geneva, right on the shoreline of Seneca Lake, our group met Zach Cutlip, owner of Winewagen Tours. The Winewagen – a 1971 Volkswagen Westfalia – is Zach’s brainchild and labour of love.

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

winewagen tours

Winewagen Tours / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Winewagen Tours is a family owned and operated tour company that provides transportation between wineries, breweries, distilleries, eats and sights throughout the Finger Lakes region. If Zach had his way, he would play Grateful Dead tapes as he drives between the wineries, however he does have a Bluetooth sound system if guests would like to play their own music.

We learned how Zach loves his work while delivering a “wow” experience. He explained that he started out expecting only to book a few tours during a season. He soon learned that his Volkswagen bus is in high demand, and he has taken dozens of tour groups around the Finger Lakes.

Zach acknowledged that he fills a niche tour product area that serves groups who do not want the typical limo or tour bus experience. This was the first time Zach had been asked to prepare a presentation about his business, and he answered several questions from our group. When he asked if anyone wanted a ride to the next stop, a forest of hands went up through the motor coach.

Winewagen Tours / Photo: Hayden Dooney

Winewagen Tours / Photo: Hayden Dooney

After the tour, Zach emailed this message to Norfolk County:

“I had a blast talking with your group and giving some of them a taste of the Winewagen. There were so many things that I could of shared, I just hope your group came away with something from my incoherent ramblings. I guess one thing that has been essential to our growth has been us just being us. Also one of the hardest things has been trusting our own train of thoughts. 

‘I know we like this, but should we change or do something different to appeal to the masses?’ Absolutely not! This has been tough for us but surprisingly has worked. The ones that find us, love us. The ones that don’t, well just don’t and at the end of the day don’t really affect us. We know we aren’t for everybody and that really isn’t our goal either.

Sure, we could have went out and got a stretch limo and could possibly be making way more money, but that was not ever our intention. We don’t share nearly the same passion for a limo and money as we do for our VW bus and the Finger Lakes. We can taste it in a dish at a restaurant or in a glass of wine, the ones that are truly doing what they love will triumph every time. We are truly doing what we love and this translates well in our customers’ experience.   These were just some thoughts I had reminiscing about our meeting and I just needed to remind myself of a few things. Best wishes and we hope to get up to your neck of the woods soon to check out your operation as well.”

On the topic of Winewagen Tours, one of the tour participants said: “Would love to encourage and promote an independent tour operator(s) similar to the WineWagen Tours. This is something that I believe would go over extremely well in our area as the beverage experiences are not centralized and you need some kind of transport to get to experience them. Wonder what that would require in terms of licensing and/or approvals from Norfolk County.”

This was just one of the stops along the way on the Norfolk County Finger Lakes Study Tour. Watch this blog for more chapters in the story. See photos of the trip on the Invest in Norfolk facebook page.

(c) Clark Hoskin 2015

Finger Lakes Study Tour blog posts

  • Part 1: Wine & Culinary Centre | Technology Farm
  • Part 2: Winewagen Tours
  • Part 3: Weaverview Farms | Milly’s Pantry
  • Part 4: Yates County Arts Centre | Finger Lakes Ec Dev
  • Part 5: Climbing Bines Hop Yard & Brewery
  • Part 6: Wiemer Vineyards | Glenora Cellars
  • Part 7: Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel | Ice Bar
  • Part 8: Finger Lakes Distilling
  • Part 9: Cornell Lab of Ornithology | Ithaca Commons
  • Part 10: Americana Vineyards
  • Part 11: Seneca County Army Depot
  • Part 12: Seneca Falls
  • Part 13: Warfields Restaurant
  • Part 14: Debriefing at The Combine