A new generation emerges at Torres

An interview with Miguel Torres Maczassek by David Schwarzwälder

Miguel Torres Maczassek
Miguel Torres Maczassek

Miguel Torres Maczassek is a member of the fifth generation of the Torres wine dynasty. Born in 1974 to a German mother, the Catalan studied business and economics at ESADE in Barcelona and oenology at Tarragona University. Torres Maczassek began his career at Danone and at Carolina Herrera perfumes, before joining the Torres wine group in 2001 as managing director of the Jean Leon winery. In 2004 he became marketing director of Miguel Torres SA, where he was responsible for product development, communications and product launches.

Projects included Celeste from Ribera del Duero, Salmos fom Priorat and Ibéricos from Rioja. In 2009 he assumed the post of executive president of Miguel Torres Chile, where he distinguished himself as a crisis manager after the 2010 earthquake. He became general manager of the Torres Group in 2012, succeeding his father, Miguel A. Torres.

 

MEININGER’S: Your father made a significant contribution to the modernisation of the Spanish wine sector. What do you see as your task?

TORRES MACZASSEK: Each generation represents an important step. My grandfather represented the conversion to bottled wines, my father represented, among other things, the modernisation of winemaking techniques. For the fifth generation, to which I belong, the emphasis is on the premium wines based on singular vineyards.

MEININGER’S: What are you focusing on in this area?

TORRES MACZASSEK: What were initially varieties of Cabernet or other international varieties for my father are the indigenous varieties for us. We have studied 40 old varieties in detail, from which we have picked out seven that, in our opinion, have enormous potential. For example we are already using the red grapes Querol and Garró in the Grans Muralles wine. 

MEININGER’S: Is the awareness of old varieties a trend or a necessity? 

TORRES MACZASSEK: Both. It is certainly not a half-hearted fashion measure. We must learn to live with climate change. There is no getting around it. Studying old Mediterranean varieties that are well adapted to the new climatic conditions is essential.
Some of these recupertated varieties like ‘Moneu’ and ‘Gonfaus’ have important characteristics like higher acidity that can help us especially in light of the increasing warming.

MEININGER’S: Is climate change causing the new Torres generation to rethink its strategy?

TORRES MACZASSEK: Climate change is only one aspect. We are especially concerned about environmental compatibility and sustainability. My father recognised the urgency of these issues. In Spain we are gradually converting to organic viticulture on a large scale, and likewise also in Chile. You need patience and a capacity for careful planning as well as a long lead time to prepare for what is coming. Torres has thus planted vines in the foothills of the Pyrenees at an altitude of 950 metres and is experimenting in 100 ha of vineyards in the Aragonese Pyrenees at an altitude of 1,200 metres.

MEININGER’S: Would it be true to say that the Torres Group is reorienting itself?

TORRES MACZASSEK: In many ways, yes. Our commitment to organic farming is certainly a key aspect. However, our efforts are not ends in themselves. We are not going organic because organic is in fashion. Even with organic cultivation, everything has to make sense. It is also possible to contaminate a vineyard with copper and cause more damage than your neighbour who is using conventional cultivation methods. The current requirements for certification do not go far enough. We have to act in a more comprehensive and far-reaching way.  It is important to remember that the CO2 footprint during the production of organically grown wine is not taken into account. This is a major shortcoming. For this reason, we are investing in several research projects with which we are pressing ahead ourselves in order to achieve a balanced CO2 output. Overall, we reinvest 95% of our profits back into the company.  
 
MEININGER’S: Isn’t sustainability also a marketing concept? Do you want to use it to carry on expanding?   

TORRES MACZASSEK: No. The reorientation we have just been talking about also means that, for us members of the younger generation, volume is no longer the main priority. We are very clear about reorienting towards premium wines. Our aim must be to combine respect for the enviroment with top quality.  Today’s customers do not just want to drink a good wine. They also want to know how it is made.  One thing to remember is that you cannot necessarily taste sustainability in wine. We must be able to convey certain values.  Or, to put it another way, the type of wine a customer buys reflects their values.  It’s all about credibility. And who better to convey this credibility than a family business like ours?

MEININGER’S: Do you believe that your commitment to sustainability is shared by enough other members of the wine industry – including distributors? Are consumers reacting to your initiatives? (The research says that consumers assume wine is sustainable and therefore it’s not a selling point.)

TORRES MACZASSEK: The concept of sustainability is being seriously pursued by many competitors. I personally believe that society ultimately rewards companies that are serious about sustainable values, so I do not look at surveys. It is not about superficial commercial considerations. We see very clearly that customers are increasingly valuing a commitment to sustainability. There is no question that the regulation still needs significant improvement and the confusion regarding certification is certainly not helpful. 

MEININGER’S: Although the emphasis is no longer on growth in terms of production volume, in recent years the Torres Group has also been very active beyond its home location. What is your aim?

TORRES MACZASSEK: We have been involved in areas such as the Ribera del Duero, Rueda and in Rioja. The production volumes there are not large, comparatively speaking. We want to learn from growing wine in these areas. Both are high-class cultivation areas with great potential. It’s a way for our team to broaden its horizons.  We are also planning on investing heavily in our own vineyards in these top appellations over the next few years.  Working in these top areas enables us to keep our finger on the pulse and play our part in the development of the Spanish wine industry.

MEININGER’S: Why has Torres recently decided to produce Cava?

TORRES MACZASSEK: This project is also not about large production volumes, although this may be surprising to some of our competitors. We are talking about 2,000 to 3,000 cases of very unique, high-quality sparkling wines where the terroir is of key significance. The decision to make Cava can be understood as an homage and a tribute to our homeland of Catalonia. The Torres family has been deeply rooted in its home region for many generations.

MEININGER’S: Torres was also one of the major pioneers in Chile. You yourself managed Torres Chile for a few years. Are you still satisfied with this project?

TORRES MACZASSEK: You have to see the big picture. We have benefited enormously from working in the so-called “New World”. It is important to state clearly that the overseas philosophy is, generally speaking, more pragmatically oriented and completely tailored towards consumers. An invaluable experience, I would say. Nevertheless, we also invested in a very unique projects, like the “País” grape recovery and like  in Valle de Empedrado near the coast in the cool south of Chile, where we are cultivating 25 ha of Pinot Noir on slate slopes. Escaleras de Empedrado is a highly distinctive and characterful wine, that shows that Chile still can surprise.

MEININGER’S: Back to your home country. Spain is still stuck in a horrendous crisis. What is your view of the situation? 

TORRES MACZASSEK: The crisis has made us all think about things that we had not previously questioned, and that’s a good thing. However, the pressure has made the Spanish wine sector very competitive. Spain has enormous natural resources and the quality of our agricultural products is world class. We have the largest area of land devoted to organic wine cultivation. Now it is necessary to put all this in higher value. 

MEININGER’S: In terms of distribution, Torres was a pioneer in China. How are the clampdown on government extravagance and the more recent stock market falls affecting your business. And what do you see in the future there and elsewhere in Asia?

TORRES MACZASSEK: Of course, profitability has fallen due to the exchange rate problem, but we will continue to focus on the Chinese market in the long term. The off-trade is growing in China, which is very interesting for us, and consumption by Chinese households is also increasing, with “gifting” no longer in first place. Torres is also going to intensify its activities in Japan, where we are seeing good growth.
 
MEININGER’S: How are your restaurants in Barcelona, Shanghai and Santiago doing? And how important are they to your business?

TORRES MACZASSEK: We naturally also see the restaurants as a “window display”.  The restaurants continue to play an important role for us. We choose the locations very carefully and study all the options, and each project is completely independent. This is the real key to success. It is not a franchise system. The Torres restaurant in Abu Dhabi opened recently and has been selected as the most important new restaurant to open in the region. And we will be taking on other restaurant projects that meet our strategic objectives.

MEININGER’S: Torres’s success has come from its brands like Viña Sol and Sangre de Toro which don’t rely on denominations. More recently, the company has moved into regions like Rioja and Priorat. Is this because of the challenge of selling super premium wines without a well known denomination?

TORRES MACZASSEK: My sister and I asked my father to go into appellations already established for especially red wines. We had the expertise and were convinced that we could make great wines. This venture has been a great success. In Ribera del Duero, our wine constitutes  7% of the total export volume of the DOP, thus confirming our decision. 

MEININGER’S: You have over two dozen different wines – more than in the past. How do you manage the marketing and sales of all these individual products?

TORRES MACZASSEK: It’s all down to the team. Torres works with highly qualified and motivated employees who make this possible. We, the fifth generation, believe in product diversity and see it as the way forward.

MEININGER’S: Viña Esmeralda was a very clever introduction, in the form of an off-dry white blend. In the US, red blends with residual sugar like Apothic are doing very well. Does that offer an opportunity to launch something similar? 

TORRES MACZASSEK: No, absolutely not. A wine made from Muscat grapes is traditional and is an exception, but we stick to the dry classics when it comes to red wines. In my opinion, residual sugar in red wines distorts the character, so this type of wine is out of the question for us. 

MEININGER’S: Which are your biggest markets by volume and value?  Eight years ago, your father described the US as a sleeping giant buying 100,000 cases. How is it doing now?

TORRES MACZASSEK: We have recently switched to a new importer, Ste Michelle Wine Estates, with whom we are redefining our strategy. We will focus much more strongly on the on-trade. We are restructuring and are increasingly focusing on restaurants. Our growth is slower, but more sustainable.

MEININGER’S: The UK is a big market for you (it was 400,000 cases in 2008), but it’s a notoriously hard place to make a margin. How do you confront that?

TORRES MACZASSEK: We do most of our business with Viña Sol and Sangre de Toro of course, but we want to increase our growth in the on-trade, where the margins are not as tight. Our product diversity should be beneficial there.  We still see great potential in this channel in the UK.  

MEININGER’S: A few years ago, you launched the Club Torres as a means of talking to consumers directly. How are you developing that concept?

TORRES MACZASSEK: Torres wants to have a presence on digital media because, as a family firm, it is very important for us to be able to communicate directly with our customers. The club now has 27,000 members and we have 300,000 fans on Facebook.

MEININGER’S: When Meininger’s interviewed your father in 2008, he said that he expected the Catalunya DO to grow in commercial importance. Is that happening?

TORRES MACZASSEK: In retrospect, we can see clearly that it was the right decision to co-found the DO Catalunya. Today, 203 producers are enrolled, exporting 35m bottles – a great success from a commercial point of view. But it is also necessary to look at the strategic aspect. The registered producers can buy from the whole region of Catalonia, meaning that they can compensate for a bad vintage. You could say that they are able to minimise the risks. This is very important for wines in a particular channel or price bracket.

MEININGER’S: How are your experiments with screwcaps and PET bottles developing?

TORRES MACZASSEK: There is not a great deal to say in this regard. We are still using screwcaps in non-wine-producing countries, with the exception of Germany. We only use PET bottles where there is a safety risk involved in using glass. I do not think that PET has much future for quality wines. 

MEININGER’S: Torres is a member of PFV (Primum Familiae Vini, an association of up to 12 notable family-owned wineries). Do you think there has been a concrete benefit to such an initiative, and do you think it could be good for other winemakers to think about building these sorts of alliances?

TORRES MACZASSEK: Our assessment of the alliance is entirely positive. We see the other members as being like our own extended family. There is lively discussion between the members of the upcoming generation. They learn from each other and work in the companies of other families. It is also a way of teaching values to the younger generation. We all know that a prophet has no honour in his own country. In this respect, the network and the discussion with each other are invaluable to us wine families.

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