It was Jancis Robinson MW, who first identified Spain had a difficulty with marketing wines from regions other than Ribera del Duero, Rioja or Jerez.
But increasingly, quietly , steadily and now with a positive following wind Spain’s wine regions are learning to market their regional varieties – and are seeing International sales taking off. On Wednesday 2 November DO Utiel-Requena took the next step in its campaign to promote their wines and specifically the regional variety Bobal. A forum was convened in Requena , attended by around 200 wine professionals with Pedro Ballesteros,Master of Wine, as Guest speaker.
This was just the latest in a series of events where Bobal has replaced the name of the DO as the marketing tool, events which have seen the variety take top billing in Madrid, the United States, Mexico, China, Germany and wine fairs in Barcelona and Ciudad Real.
The event commenced at 09.30 with a tasting of 30 individual Bobal wines from as many producers, each demonstrating the qualities and characteristics in the different styles in which they were made, Alta expresión, Joven, Crianza, Reserva and even a Gran Reserva from 2001! All were red (or Tinto) there were neither whites nor rosado wines.
The wines included examples from Cooperatives such as Coviñas, Bodegas Utielanas, Cuevas, and Requenense. Individual growers with bodegas the size of garages made up a large part of the roll-call, (e.g. Torres-Carpio, Noemi Arroyo, Pigar, Vibe).
Small bodegas such as Proexa, Aranleon, Ernesto and Carlos Carcel´s individual El Rebollar bodegas, Pasiego, Emilio Clemente as well as better known artisan bodegas such as Dominio de la Vega, Picaraza, Nodus, Hispano Suizas, Latorre and Murviedro.
Ballesteros who is also a Master in Viticulture and Winemaking offered a telling and masterful contribution opening the debate drawing on his own vast experience. Firstly he touched on the age-old but very relevant issue of the price paid for grapes. Requena has many family plots of vines, the owners being weekend farmers who sell their product and are not wine makers themselves. For them selling the maximum they can produce presents the best income….although the opposite is almost certainly true.
The better the quality the price rises but this comes with smaller production. Cheap grapes are associated with cheap ( and thus low quality ) wines. The price of grapes should reflect the quality positioning of the wine that you desire and expensive wine is equally associated with better quality. His most telling example was that in AOC Margaux in Bordeaux, there are no cheap wines. The very high price of Chateau Margaux has dragged the price of lesser wines up, riding on its coat-tails.
His second point was that simply marketing Bobal as Bobal is a double-edged sword. Yes, Bobal as grown in Utiel-Requena is undoubtedly a quality product… but what is to stop someone planting it in Italy and marketing it as Bobal to take a share of the prestige with a lower quality product. His view was that it has to be tied to its original territory such as `Bobal de Tharsys´ and if you can add old-vine, non-irrigated, and other adjectives this all adds to the unicity of the product and thus its potential branding.
Controversially perhaps he disclosed that he does not think blending Bobal with other varieties adds anything, going so far as to suggest that some other varieties are not entirely suited to the soils of the Region.
He was joined on stage at this point by Dani Exposito, winemaker at Dominio de la Vega and winemaker for Primum Bobal who explained the raison d´etre of the Association to produce quality wine from Bobal and which brings together seven producers dedicated to understanding the variety better and the wine produced.
Ballesteros went on to describe and explain some of his champions, people such as Pepe Mendoza at Bodegas Mendoza in Alicante and Toni Sarrion of Mustiguillo who have gone out on a limb, producing high quality `Vinos de Pago´ outside of DO norms but supporting the regional varieties and marketing them in a way which has led to their becoming better known worldwide and thus providing the staircase for other producers to climb. He also included fellow MW Jancis Robinson whose reputation and contributions are capable of changing the fortunes of a variety and DO overnight.
Following this thought-provoking contribution there was a round table discussion chaired by Albertina Torres who with her partner Zev Robinson produced the visionary documentary `Bobal Revisited´.
She was joined by Diego Morcillo, (Technical Director at Coviñas), Dani Exposito, Noemi Arroyo, Victor Marques, (Technical Director at Murviedro) and Santi Vernia (owner of Bodegas Cerrogallina) in Campo Arcis.
This covered a wide range of items on winemaking, quality, marketing and the future of DO Utiel-Requena and its flagship variety Bobal.
At the end of the session Albertina summed up by quoting Ballesteros ¨Origin is the unique element that you cannot remove¨.
At the close of the event talking to a number of Sumilleres, wine makers, fellow communicators and vine growers the consensus was that this had been a most successful event, one which had been thought-provoking but which had a high level of support for the points discussed. We dont think this will be last such event on this theme!