Who's Who in the Spanish wine industry

Barnaby Eales looks at the major figures behind one of Europe’s most diverse and exciting wine countries.

Salamero Laorden, Javier Ruiz de Galarreta, Amaya Cervera
Salamero Laorden, Javier Ruiz de Galarreta, Amaya Cervera

While the quality of much of Spain’s wine once trailed behind that of its chefs and restaurants, the modern Spanish wine industry is now home to renowned wine producers. Once mostly known for a business model centred on the production of large volumes of low-cost bulk wines and must for export, Spain is now widely viewed as one of the world’s most exciting wine countries.

Industry bodies

Despite the changing profile of Spanish wine, conflicts of interest between artisanal and industrial producers persist, as shown by the emergence of splinter wine groups in several regions. In a bid for unity, the Spanish government in 2014 set up the Organizacion Interprofessional del Vino de España (OIVE) to bring wine producers and grower organisations together. Producers contribute financially to the OIVE, which is led by president by Ángel Villafranca. He is also president of the Agro-Alimentarias Cooperatives of Castilla-La Mancha, which produces half of Spain’s wine and as much as 5% of the world’s wine. OIVE aims to take up the challenges of ramping up domestic wine consumption, dealing with the effects of climate change and globalisation, and of bringing added value to exports. Its members include Spain’s Wine Producers Federation (FEV), which is chaired by Miguel Torres of Familia Torres.

Spain’s DO (PDO) wine boards

Spain’s 69 denominación de origin (DO) regulatory wine board umbrella organisations protect the origin and minimum quality levels of wines and promote them worldwide. Rules allow producers to mix grapes within each DO to make blends of wines but some of them, including Rioja and Priorat, have adopted classification reforms to adapt to producer demands. The wine board of Rioja, the most widely known Spanish wine region, makes decisions through a majority voting system, dominated by the Grupo Rioja association, founded in 1968. Grupo Rioja producers generate 75% of the sales. They buy grapes from more than 11,000 growers directly or through cooperatives, employing more than 2,700 people in the production area. Chairman Fernando Salamero Laorden is also chairman of Rioja’s Consejo Regulador wine board, and chairman of the Organizacion Interprofesional del Vino de Rioja, which includes the region’s producer and grower associations. Grupo Rioja’s objective is to promote competitiveness while increasing the value of sales in traditional markets and accessing new markets. 

The ARAEX Rioja Alavesa group was created in 1993 to represent nine small and medium-sized independent producers. Its success prompted founder Javier Ruíz de Galarreta to broaden the membership to represent premium wine producers from other Spanish regions, leading to  the creation of ARAEX Grands Spanish Fine Wines in 2001.The Asociación de Bodegas de Rioja Alavesa (ABRA) was founded in 1990 and represents smaller Rioja Alavesa producers.

Globalisation and foreign investment

The financial crisis of 2008 prompted Spanish producers to increase exports, a move reflected in the creation of the OEMV, the Spanish Wine Market Observatory, the same year. Directed by analyst, author and former FEV director Rafael del Rey, the OEMV writes regular industry reports on international markets and Spain and the consumption of Spanish wine. Spain continues to be the largest exporter of wines globally in terms of volume, with two out of every three bottles of cava, for example, now exported. In recent years, internationalisation has taken a step further with several Spanish wine companies buying vineyards in Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and the US. 

In the past decade, online retailers have emerged with international sales rather than domestic sales generating the majority of turnover. Barcelona-based Vinissimus, for example, will ship more than 6,800 Spanish wines across Europe; Uvinum, also based in Barcelona, has become a European e-commerce site and was acquired by Pernod Ricard in 2018. 

There was further foreign investment in 2018 when the country’s two largest cava producers were sold: Codorníu to US-based private equity firm The Carlyle Group, and Freixenet to Germany’s sparkling wine giant Henkell. Those sales followed the 2017 acquisition of Juvé y Camps by Scranton Enterprises, another private equity group. Together with capital investment in Jerez in recent years, these acquisitions highlight a growing investment appetite for Spanish wines.

Importers and distributors

Spain’s major distributors are also importers of wine. Quim Vila, a key figure who has championed quality Spanish wines within Spain for the past 25 years, is owner of Barcelona-based Vila Viniteca. One of Spain’s largest distributors, it was the first company to launch en primeur sales in the country. Cuvee 3000, owned by Joan Valencia, has grown considerably over the past ten years to become Spain’s leading distributor for natural wines. Alma de los Vinos Únicos in Burgos has developed a solid reputation for championing new terroir-driven quality wines. Familia Torres ramped up distribution competition with the launch of Excelsia Vinos y Destilados in 2017. It distributes numerous key Spanish wine brands as well as its own wines. Established by Thierry Servant and Pascal Chevrot in 1999, Lavinia is a wine store, international online retailer, distributor and importer which helped transform Madrid’s wine culture. Lavinia has flagship shops in Madrid, Paris and Geneva as well as operating stores at Madrid and Barcelona airports. It is now run by Servant’s daughter Charlotte and her husband Matthieu Le Priol. 

Government agencies

ICEX, Spain’s institute for foreign trade, plays a key role in promoting Spanish produce in key markets through its Food and Wines from Spain agency; it has embarked on a mission to increase awareness of the diversity and excellence of Spanish products and the strong bond that Spain’s gastronomy has with its culture and history, as well helping push Spanish wines beyond listings in Spanish restaurants. 
Home to the biggest vineyard area in the world, Spain received €2.17 billion ($2.4bn) between 2001 and 2017, from both the EU and the central government, to grub up and replant vineyards; half of this has been allocated to vineyards in Castilla La Mancha. This year the Spanish government pledged a further €163.9m for the Spanish wine industry over the next five years for the redevelopment of vineyards and the promotion of wine in markets outside the EU. 

Sommeliers, critics and influencers

If sommeliers once stood in the shadows of Spain’s great chefs, dozens have now risen to prominence including Ferran Centelles, manager of Barcelona wine school Outlook Wine. He has been involved with elBulli Foundation, which was set up by Ferran Adrià, since 1999. Centelles judges in international competitions such as Decanter World Wine, of which he is the regional co-chair together with Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW. He writes for Barcelona’s daily newspaper La Vanguardia and is the Spanish wine critic for Jancis Robinson; he is also beverage director at elBulli Foundation, for which he is co-writing a wine encyclopedia for future sommeliers. In 2016, Centelles published a food-and-wine pairing book, “Qué Vino Con Este Pato?” (“Which Wine Goes With This Duck?”).

Online journal Spanish Wine Lover, published in English and Spanish, is the work of journalist Amaya Cervera, who has played a key role in covering emerging producers. Author and writer Luis Gutiérrez reviews Spanish wines for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Veteran journalist and wine producer Víctor de la Serna Arenillas not only created the wine section for El Mundo newspaper but also established the Grandes Pagos de España, a private organisation of single estate vineyards. 

The Guía Peñin, compiled by José Peñin, is Spain’s most influential and comprehensive wine guide. Its rival in Catalonia, Guia del Vins de Catalunya, champions Catalan wines made from local varieties, without the use of oak. 

The number of Spanish MWs has increased to four in recent years. They are Almudena Albuerca, who was the first Spanish woman to become a Master of Wine in 2018. Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW, an agricultural engineer by training, is a well-respected authority, consultant and wine judge. Fernando Mora MW is a CEO and winemaker and Andreas Kubach MW is the co-founder and managing director of wine company Peninsula.

Other notable Spaniards include Pau Roca, director-general of the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), and Ignacio Sánchez Recarte, secretary general of the CEEV (European Wine Companies Committee).

Wine fairs

Spain is home to a number of wine fairs and major tasting events including trade fair FENAVIN, held in Ciudad Real in May. Alimentaria is a major food and wine fair, held in April in Barcelona, which includes international exhibitors; it has also just launched Barcelona Wine Week, to take place in February 2020. Vella Terra wine fair in Barcelona is dedicated to natural wines, while Guía Peñín’s Best Wines of Spain fair (Salon de los Mejores Vinos de España), which takes place in October, showcases Spanish wines which the guide has scored highly.

Barnaby Eales

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