spanish wines

Jeff Morris

Spainish Wineries and Problems Within Their Industry

Spanish wine is as old as winemaking in France or Italy, but without the recogniton

When you peruse the wine selection at your local grocery or wine store, chances are you're not thinking about the effort made by hundreds to simply be one of the dozens upon dozens of choices that sit on racks before you across all categories of wine.

Right now in countries like the Czech Republic, or Australia, or any country across the globe that grows grapes, there are winery owners who are dedicating serious thought and resources toward cracking the mystery that is a 23-year-old American's purchasing habits. Millennial consumers are the target. Millennials are young, they're peer influencers, and they spend their disposable income on personal entertainment, which includes food and beverage. Most importantly, because many of this demographic are just now becoming of legal age, they have not yet developed brand loyalties and are not steadfast in their purchasing decisions when it comes to wine.

Enter: Spanish wine.

Winemaking as a timeless craft can trace its Spanish roots back to the same approximate timeframe as winemaking in France and Italy. But for most of the wine drinking world, while Spain ranks third globally in wine production, Spanish wines fall considerably behind their French and Italian counterparts in the perception and pricing pecking order.

In recent years, Spanish wineries have attempted to leverage this perception to appeal to the global market using a value proposition. Amongst the opinions of critics and discerning palates, the quality of Spanish wine is worthy of the same consideration that their notable neighbors receive, but still they remain at a price point that is far less. Quality wine at an inexpensive price point is perfect for an emerging demographic with no strong ties in any direction. Perhaps, perfect for millennials.

"I wish we weren't such an amazing value for money," Felipe Gonzalez-Gordon, director of D.O. Ribera del Duero and D.O. Rueda, said. Felipe is essentially the wine ambassador to the U.S. market for the Ribera y Rueda wineries. "To consumers I always say, try Spain. You can pay 15 dollars for a California central valley industrial product, which are just concoctions, or for the same 15 dollars you get an amazing bottle of wine from Spain. If we're talking about value in terms of quality and quantity, take advantage while it lasts, because there's a good chance it won't be like this forever."

Combined, the wine making regions of Ribera del Duero and Rueda have formed "Ribera y Rueda," which consists of wines from two separate Denominación de Origens, or D.O.s for short. The Ribera y Rueda region spans across five provinces, Valladolid, Burgos, Soria, Segovia and Avila, and more than 150 cities, towns, and villages. Ultimately, Ribera y Rueda numbers 336 wineries and more than 80,000 acres of vineyard. In a nutshell, this is a relatively small area in a country that is wine and food obsessed.  They're trying to find their space in your wine store, on your personal wine rack, and be the next Bordeaux, or Tuscany, etc.

Across Spain alone, there are more than 60 D.O.s. Globally, these regions exist in every country where winemakers want to ply their trade or try their hand at making wine. Within the Ribera del Duero and Rueda regions the past two decades have been about trying to answer the most important question: How do you separate yourself in a world where there are so many options that are readily available?

Wine consumption in Spain is hyper-local. If you live in Spain, chances are that you not only drink Spanish wine, but you drink Spanish wine that is grown and crafted in your specific region or area. For generations, a Spaniard's dinner table was accented with Spanish wines and only Spanish wines. Spaniards have known for centuries about their quality wines, but until recently, they haven't been too interested in sharing. The supply met the demand of the local market, but as Italian and French wineries were building impressive exporting operations, Spanish wineries became increasingly isolated and remained content to exist as such. Areas like Burgundy, Tuscany, and Bordeaux become icons in the global wine lexicon while their Spanish equivalents continue to exist in relative obscurity. To remain viable globally, D.O.'s like Ribera y Rueda must not only make up lost ground, but differentiate themselves from the pack.

The belief among the wineries within the Ribera y Rueda cooperative is that differentiation comes through education.

"We have everything we need to become one of the most important wine regions in the world," explains Miguel Sanz Cabrejas, Director General for the Ribera del Duero D.O. "We have history, we have expertise, and we have resources. The challenge is for people to know about these grapes. Right now French and American wineries, they are on the same path. We are doing something different. To let consumers know that this is something different.  You have to try it just to know."

The grapes Cabrejas is referring to are specifically the tempranillo and verdejo grapes. While other notable grapes like sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot are grown and bottled in the region, tempranillo and verdejo are the prized jewels of Ribera y Rueda.

The story of tempranillo and verdejo begins at ground level, and when you begin to look at the wines they produce, you are given a window to peer into a Spaniard's psyche. The ground in the Ribera y Rueda regions is dry, topped with sand, bottomed with clay, and relatively rocky along the way. It's not exactly the most forgiving terrain for growing plants or fruits.

"When you have a limitation and you are able to overcome, this is Spanish," said Cabrejas. "(Spaniards) love to suffer, to be taken to the limit. Here in the winter it's four degrees below zero (25 degrees F) and 40 degrees (105 degrees F) in the summer and no rain. So it's difficult to produce anything here. And if you can produce something that is unique, like these wines, I tip my hat to them."

After spending time in Spain speaking to the owners of numerous wineries, artisan wine makers and dozens with various roles embedded within the Spanish winemaking industry, you begin to see similarities between their wine industry and tech start-up entrepreneurs. While it may seem odd to compare an industry with a vast history to up-start tech, the parallels and efforts are remarkably similar. Growth in Silicon Valley is largely dependent on a great idea, investment capital, strategic market placement and the acute awareness of an ever-shrinking planet due to a global economy. Ribera y Rueda wineries have innovation through tempranillo and verdejo grapes, and are attempting to find their place in the market, specifically toward, but not exclusive to millennials.

That said, like up-start tech, the market is flooded with entrepreneurs attempting to do exactly the same thing. Right about now, a few tech companies are uploading their great idea to the App Store in hopes that it catches fire and makes the Top Downloads list. Similarly, every wine making region in the world has its own unique version of tempranillo and verdejo. Every region has an interesting story, a quality product, and a strong desire to find themselves on your wine rack and in your heart (read: wallet).

Whether or not you care for the modern global economy in which we currently exist is insignificant; it's here, we're here. We have access to global products that didn't previously exist. We buy ripe strawberries in December. Our choices are legion. And like the 80's Pepsi campaign, the wineries of Ribera y Rueda want to be the choice of the "new generation."

Gonzalez-Gordon believes one way to enter the conversation is to simplify and knock down some of the barriers that currently exist within the wine community. Tilt your glass this way. Swish that way. Pair this wine with that food. Your "nose" is what you hang your handlebar mustache on, not a complex array of scents and sniffs. To a new consumer these perceived rules and customs can be prohibitive. No one wants to feel like they're "doing it wrong," especially when eating and drinking.

"I think at times we become too obsessed with specific food pairings. Just buy a wine and eat what you're going to eat. With an everyday occasion, don't worry about it. Steak with a white, fish with a red. Don't complicate your life, enjoy your wine and appreciate and learn. It's a journey and a discovery."

For Cabrejas, the plea is passionate. It comes from his heart, which is also where he believes great Ribera y Rueda wine originates.

"We have to make them try our product and discover our wines.  Our wines are not just about a grape. It's something different. Something personal. It's the passion, the tradition, the history. We have the best quality, for the best money, which means the best value in Spain and the world."

Whether or not Ribera y Rueda wines will hit the metaphorical tech-lottery and become the Instragram of the wine world remains to be seen. Chances are, if you start to see them in your local grocery or actually on Instragram, then it's a good bet that the strategy is working.

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