Barcelona Wine Week an Antidote to Wine Pessimism

More than 21,000 wine professionals flocked to Barcelona, to a show that can’t stop growing. Felicity Carter paid a visit.

Reading time: 5m

BWW 2024
BWW 2024

At a time when the wine world is filled with gloom, it’s nice to be in a place that’s buzzing with optimism.

The Barcelona Wine Week (BWW) fair, held in the first week in February, was packed. Every booth space was taken, and the noise from excited visitors reached ear-shattering levels.

Founded in 2018, the fair is so successful that next year it will have to move from its home at Fira Barcelona on the famous Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina, to an exhibition centre that’s further away.

The wine enthusiasm wasn’t confined to the fair. An evening spent at the iconic Vinya del Senyor wine bar showed groups of young people showing up and ordering bottle after bottle of quality wines.

Spain’s wines are increasingly of exceptional quality, yet exports decline.

And Spain’s wines are increasingly of exceptional quality, at every level.

Yet, according to ICEX, the value of Spain’s wine exports declined 2.7% in 2023, while volume dropped 3.5%. Last October, angry French winegrowers went on a rampage against cheap Spanish wine, which sells for as little as €1 a litre, compared to the €3 a litre wine of similar quality costs in France. With some notable exceptions, Spain’s wines simply aren’t attracting the price or the prestige that their quality demands.

The fair offered some insights into why that is — and how to change it.

Interesting discussion at BWW 2024
Interesting discussion at BWW 2024

Wine takes centre stage

Céline Pérez, the Director of BWW, says the concept of the fair is “that the product is the protagonist”; walking the fair is an immersive journey through Spain’s wine regions. Most of the booths are simple and uniform, so the bottles themselves catch the eye.

Many of the labels reward a closer look. Spain is, after all, home to some of the world’s most powerful fashion brands, like Zara, Balenciaga and Desigual; Spaniards understand design.

The BWW tastings are well worth the €25 ticket price; the Cava tasting, for example, paired rare and vintage Cava with chef-prepared seafood dishes.

More than 100 experts, but many talks – and talking - were in Spanish, with no translation offered
More than 100 experts, but many talks – and talking - were in Spanish, with no translation offered

The talks did indeed look interesting — but many were in Spanish, with no translation offered. And this seems to be a key problem. Many of the smaller wineries offering artisanal wines had nobody on the stand who could explain their work in English.

Not, of course, that people should be expected to speak a foreign language in their own country. But the level of ability to communicate with foreigners was much lower than at Vinitaly, the other major country-specific fair.

As Pérez says, “Small wineries are full of treasure. One of the main problems of Spanish wineries is small production,” which means they don’t have the resources to visit major markets.

Spanish officials who work in the food and wine sector are well aware of these issues — and they have some interesting ideas about how to tackle them.
 

An international wine education programme

Maria Naranjo Crespo is the Director of the Food & Drinks Sector of the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX), and she says while it’s clear that Spanish gastronomy is widely recognised for its culinary achievements, this wasn’t being formally recognised.

“We saw what the Italians had done with Ospitalità Italiana, which they started back in the 1960s,” she says, referring to the hospitality quality seal that’s backed by the Italian government. “We couldn’t afford such a big project, but we wanted to construct a seal that was trustable.”

The Certified Restaurants From Spain scheme was launched in 2020, “the year of the pandemic — the worst year to launch a programme”.

It recognises restaurants that use Spanish food products, where more than 60% of the wine list is Spanish, and where staff understand Spanish ingredients and how to use them.

It recognises restaurants that use Spanish food products, where more than 60% of the wine list is Spanish, and where staff understand Spanish ingredients and how to use them.

Naranjo Crespo says there are many Spaniards living abroad who have created remarkable restaurants, “who love and are really betting on Spanish gastronomy. We verify that these restaurants really are using Spanish products. And to see that the gastronomy is up to the standards that we have fixed.”

She says they’re not trying to be the Michelin guide, but are focusing on the authenticity of the products. The UK has already had more than 40 restaurants recognised, because “the boom in Spanish gastronomy in the UK is really unique.” Altogether, 150 restaurants were recognised last year.

The Spain’s Pantry Certificate offers courses in everything from cheese, cured meat and vinegar to wine. Much is done online, which turned out to be a bonus in the pandemic, because so many people were trapped at home, bored.

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Ambassador for Spanish wine

Selected participants then receive training in Spain itself, and travel to different regions to understand ingredients at first hand. There are also courses for wine specialists and wine educators.

The programme has also been translated into Chinese. “We immediately saw the Chinese are a group apart,” she says, because they will immerse themselves in education and want to receive a diploma at the end of it. They also need tastings included in the course material, because they may have less experience with wine in general than people elsewhere.

The Spaniards are learning a lot from watching how people in different countries interact with the courses. “What they appreciate, what they need to know, what the best pairings,” says Naranjo Crespo. For instance, it turns out that Americans have a huge appreciation for vinegar, while the Germans are not really interested.

And everybody who goes through the different courses ends up being an ambassador for Spain.

The take up has been, not surprisingly, extremely enthusiastic, even though Naranjo Crespo says they have been “late to the world stage.” But it’s the start of a real push to get people to understand the value of Spain’s food and wine heritage.

BWW is now managing its expansion

“We are facing a very big success, and this is forcing us to grow,” says Pérez. “We want to grow, but in a way that can keep all the benefits and premium value we have at the moment, This leads us to think very carefully about the next step.”

In 2024, 952 wineries exhibited, hitting the limits of what the current venue can accommodate. “We know that in Spain, there are more than 4,300 wineries, so this is the potential market.”

As word spreads, organisers expect far more visitors, as well, given that Barcelona itself is such a major draw. “I mean the infrastructure, the hotels and the climate, the gastronomy and food are our best ambassadors worldwide,” says Pérez.

It may also be easier to attract those all-important American buyers and journalists in future, because BWW has positioned itself in the calendar just before the increasingly attractive Wine Paris/Vinexpo Paris that takes place a week later.

For Americans suffering through the tail end of winter, a chance to visit Barcelona and Paris and call it a tax-deductible business trip is probably going to be irresistible.

There’s no doubt that the Spanish wine sector has everything — great wines, plenty of enthusiasm, new international programmes and good timing. It just needs to tell more people about them.

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