Who’s Who in Spain

Spanish specialist Jürgen Mathäß sees both continuity and change  for the most important players in the Spanish wine business. In some areas, the economic crisis has also given an impetus to refocus on new priorities.

José Peñin, Luis Gutiérrez, Josep Roca
José Peñin, most influential person; Luis Gutiérrez, influential journalist; Josep Roca, significant sommelier

Three key aspects are shaping developments in Spain’s wine industry. Firstly, Spain remains the largest wine-producing country in terms of area, even if the harvest yields do not match those of France and Italy due to lower yields per hectare. The country also remains heavily focused on domestic production, with well over 95% of the wine market limited to domestic production. Imports play almost no part, despite the fact that interest in foreign wines and sparkling wines has increased in the high-end segment. The significance of the wholesale trade is also similarly limited, as most producers supply the retail trade directly.

The second factor affecting the industry is the economic crisis, which has now been ongoing for five years. This has led to higher unemployment, lower disposable incomes and less willingness to spend on food and wine. The crisis has no doubt further ­intensified the trend towards less wine consumption, already worrying this important wine-producing country. According to the latest findings, per capita consumption by the Spanish population is probably less than 15 L per year. (Precise figures are difficult to calculate due to the large number of tourists who contribute to domestic consumption.) In the area of wine marketing, the crisis has also resulted in suppliers in the lower price segment becoming more important – both with regard to producers and in the area of distribution. ­Finally, the media has not been immune from the crisis either. Special inte­rest magazines have disappeared from the market and the ­Internet is becoming increa­singly important.

Another factor affecting the sector relates to a kind of generational shift in wine production. Whereas a few years ago, it was still the large, prominent companies who determined the ­direction of technological progress, it is now often young oenologists and consultants, as well as inventive owners of small family businesses, who are going in search of new ideas. Names such as Sara Pérez, Fernando García, ­Rafael Palacios, Daniel Jiménez-Landi, Raúl Pérez or Telmo Rodriguez are synonymous with the search for old vines in almost-forgotten regions, with the endeavour to create characterful single-vineyard wines and with a new understanding of the phrase “small is beautiful”. 

Most important generic body

Exports are becoming increasingly important. In addition to the activities of the bodegas themselves, this requires coordination by the national foreign trade institute ICEX España Exportación e Inversiones. The organisation’s wine department has many years of experience of international wine marketing. It has offices in the most important export countries and is the producers’ point of contact in the export markets. Also very important with ­regard to internal matters affecting the sector and statistical documentation are the Federa­ción ­Española del Vino and the Observatorio Español del Mercado del Vino (OeMv). The Consejos reguladores of the regions should not be overlooked either, as they are highly influential, both in the development and marketing of their region and in terms of political debate within the sector.

Significant wine media

The print wine media in Spain is having a hard time. Even José Peñin has had to close down his journal Sibaritas, after 18 years. MiVino-Vinum also suffered the same fate. Only Andrés Proensa has been able to maintain his bi-monthly journal ‘PlanetaVino’. It is a different story for traditional internal trade newsletter La Semana Vitivinicola, which has endured for decades ­despite the crisis, and could therefore certainly capture the most important position with regard to print media. Whether it is the crisis or gro­wing competition from the Internet that has had the strongest effect on the decline of the print media is difficult to say. Internet portal El Mundo Vino has now become the most important source of information about Spanish wine. In terms of printed guides, Peñin remains unchallenged ahead of Guia Proensa.

Most influential wine journalist

For many years, everyone in Spain, along with the wine media, would have assigned this position to José Peñin. This may well have changed since Spaniard Luis Gutiérrez, the renowned journalist and co-founder of El Mundo Vino, became head taster for Spain and South America for Robert Parker. Since then, in spite of all the turbulence of the previous years and despite the change in status of The Wine ­Advocate following the sale, it has probably been Gutiérrez’s opinions more than any other that have been influential at the heart of the Spanish wine industry.

Most significant retailer/online retailer  

Shops selling wine, spirits and, in some cases, accessories and gourmet products too, exist throughout Spain. Yet none of these outlets have national importance and a genuinely relevant network of shops. On the other hand, bricks-and-mortar retailers also offer their products on the Internet. Among the online providers, two are worth highlighting. Vila Viniteca – which also has a bricks-and-mortar retail operation with two shops in Barcelona and one in Madrid – is the leading supplier of high-quality wines.  Among the 200 producers whose wines are stocked are wineries from France, Portugal, Hungary, the US and Italy. Other offerings from the company include a wine club, wine tastings and courses, as well as a comprehensive and well-attended pre­sentation timed to coincide with the Alimentaria trade fair in Barcelona. The wine club Vinosele­cción, founded in 1973, and also ­active abroad, is the largest wine club in Spain with 100,000 members.

Significant supermarket

The most prestigious large sales outlet is ­undoubtedly still the El Corte Inglés group. The renowned department stores with their legen­dary gourmet food department are ­unmatched in Spain. The group also owns other sales channels, such as Hipercor, Opencor and ­Supercor. However, as prices have been forced downwards by the crisis, competitors with large outlets, such as Carrefour or the rapidly ­expanding group Mercadona have increased in significance.

Best sommelier

A new generation of well-trained sommeliers with international interests have grown up in Spain. However, no one has managed to achieve the significance of Catalan Josep Roca who, with his three brothers, runs one of the top restaurants in the world, the El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, where he presides over an ­extremely well-stocked cellar.

Best restaurant wine list

Top-end restaurants are not having a good time, due to the crisis. Yet the best establishments are still booked up. There is no doubt that Josep Roca has an exceptionally well-stocked ­cellar, including a large number of international wines. However, absolutely unrivalled in terms of the range of major old Spanish­ wines is still the Rekondo in San ­Sebastian, where 150,000 bottles of excellent wine from many different decades, sold at surprisingly affordable prices, make it well worth the trip for many wine-lovers.

Most influential person

This all-embracing category is for people who have more than one professional mainstay. ­Despite the fact that he is now 70 years old, José Peñin is probably still the most prominent and influential person in the Spanish wine ­industry. This is partly down to the fact that he works both in the field of publicity and in consulting. His wine guide Guia Peñin, which is published annually, is a Spanish institution.

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