Alejandro Aznar: “Marqués de Riscal will break into Italy for the first time in 2023”

Marqués de Riscal, one of the oldest wineries in Rioja, produces more than ten million bottles a year and just a few days ago it was chosen as the second best vineyard in the world in the World’s Best Vineyards. The winery, which has just presented its new wine ‘Tapias’ with a historic tasting, is also outlining an ambitious wine tourism project in Rueda

– How is the year going? Does the sector improve after the ravages of the pandemic?

– We have clearly taken flight. It was already noticed in 2021 and this year, 2022, the recovery trend has continued. In 2020, a very important part of the market disappeared, which is the Horeca channel. Household consumption grew, but it was not enough to offset the losses in the hospitality industry.

– Curves coming?

– Now we are doing well, but we will see when and how activity slows down if, as they suggest, a crisis or recession breaks out in Europe or in the world. We will also have to see if it is deep or temporary. We are holding out for now, but this is a consumer sector and, in the end, logically, it will affect us.

– Exports are essential in the winery’s business model. They always have been…

– The foreign market has been key for Marqués de Riscal since its origins in the 19th century. Cuba and Mexico were, for example, two very important countries in the early years. Currently, we export between 60% and 66% of our production. The rest is national market.

“Marqués de Riscal produces between 10 and 12 million bottles a year”

– And with a strong position in different continents.

– We are present in about 120 countries. In some we have very relevant volumes and in others, more testimonial. We are, for example, in Germany, Switzerland, Colombia, Peru, Japan, etc. All over the world. The United States is one of our first markets. Italy, curiously. Marqués de Riscal is going to break into the Italian market for the first time and shortly, in 2023, which is complicated because, like Spain, it is an eminently producing country. We have found a good distributor there and we are making a firm commitment to this country, in which we have good expectations. Croatia is also another new market that we are going to be in very soon.

– And they continue to sell wine in the Ukraine which, in the current context of escalating warfare, has its complexity, I suppose.

– We are currently selling in Ukraine, yes. It is true that our distributor had a very serious problem, but it seems that it has been overcome and we continue to take our wine to that country, which seems incredible to me. It has its merit, I think.

– To what extent is the wine sector being sensitive to the current increase in production costs?

– The rise in component costs is being brutal. In some cases it is 30% and in others it reaches 60%. Very high, in any case. Raise the price of glass, wood, cardboard, cork. Electricity has also gone up a lot, as we all know. This increase eats up margins.

– And the price of the grape?

– We expect it to be at levels similar to those of last year. It is still early because we have just finished the harvest, and there may still be price fluctuations, but we believe that we will be in line with 2021. We also start this year with significant wine production. It might have been thought, at one point, that the drought was going to give rise to lower production, but then occasional storms came and similar figures have been reached in Rioja. And in Rueda production has been even higher than in other years.

“In the historic tasting for the presentation of our new Tapias wine, 19th century bottles have been opened”

– These are the two denominations of origin in which they put all their efforts…

– Yes. We are in Rioja and Rueda. We have been in both denominations of origin since their creation. At Marqués de Riscal we have always been concerned with attending to the entire wine pyramid. We cover all types of wines in the different categories -whites, rosés and reds- and we have wines both at the base and at the top of the pyramid. This is our priority and it is, in my opinion, much more important than being in many denominations of origin.

– And in both denominations with some hectares owned and others, I imagine, that belong to suppliers.

– In Rioja Alavesa, Marqués de Riscal has a heritage of 500 hectares owned and 150 under total control, which we manage under long-term leases, to which must be added another thousand hectares of suppliers that are linked to us for generations, extending the relationship of grandparents to parents and of parents to children. And in Rueda, we have some 350 hectares of our own and another 500 with suppliers.

– In total then about 2,500 hectares that give rise to an important production of wine. How many bottles can they put on the market each year?

– Marqués de Riscal can produce between ten and twelve million bottles of wine a year, logically depending on each vintage. At Frank Gehry we do the same with 500 bottles; in Barón de Chirel, between 15,000 and 20,000 bottles, and in gran reserva, we can reach 30,000. It depends on each product.

– What is the commitment to the high-end?

– Marqués de Riscal has always made a very clear commitment to high-end products, but obviously when you are a global company, present in more than a hundred markets, you have to supply your suppliers with all the ranges. You have to be a profitable company for them in their portfolio.

– The company has recently experienced a milestone. He has just presented a new wine called ‘Tapias de Marqués de Riscal 2019’…

– It is a unique Rioja. It is a wine that comes from the Las Tapias estate, one of the most historic in Marqués de Riscal. It is located on the terraces of the Ebro and continues to produce the best wines every year. It is an estate wine that we are going to distribute through the Plaza de Bordeaux system. And it will be a chosen series of five Bordeaux négociants who will be in charge of buying it, and then selling it exclusively. That is why we say that Marqués de Riscal returns to the Plaza de Bordeaux, to which it has felt so closely linked since its origins. This is how the winery marketed a part of its wines in the 19th century.

– And they have celebrated it in style with a historic tasting.

– It is a beautiful and special occasion. That is why we thought we had to do a historic tasting, which is something that Marqués de Riscal does every many years and in which experts and personalities related to wine from all over the world are invited.

– And there are surprisingly old wines to taste, authentic jewels for connoisseurs…

– A careful selection of thirty historic vintages is made. On this occasion we divided them into two categories: the pre-phylloxera -from 1862, when our wine began to be bottled, until the year 1900- and the post-phylloxera, from then to the present day. Of each selected vintage, one or two bottles have been opened for the historical tasting.

– A few days ago the winery came out extraordinarily well in the annual list of the World’s Best Vineyards

– Very good stop. Marqués de Riscal has been chosen as the second best vineyard in the world in this contest. And it is, moreover, for the second consecutive year. No year since this ranking exists have we been out of the top-10. It is a recognition that fills us with pride.

“Our wine tourism complex in Elciego has reached 100,000 visitors in one year”

– Bottled wines were then opened in the 19th century…

– That is what Marqués de Riscal has that very few wineries have in the world. We are probably the only ones who can organize a tasting of these characteristics. Not even the French cellars. No one has kept them for so long in a historic collection that preserves bottles year after year since their first vintage. And all preserved in the same bottle shop that we call here Cathedral. There are more than 140,000 bottles.

– I understand that these credentials are what have led you to invest in wine tourism for years. What is Marqués de Riscal’s commitment to this field?

– About twenty years ago, Spanish wineries had closed doors. The people did not come. We had not yet joined a phenomenon that was already a reality in many countries of the new world. It was then that we decided to take the leap and we did it through architecture with the creation of the City of Wine in Elciego. A consolidated project today that offers visitors a whole world of experiences: restaurants, shop, spa, wine therapy, etc. The icing on the cake was the Hotel Marqués de Riscal, designed by Frank Gehry, who had the idea of ​​creating a chateau of the 21st century and of combining the historical with the modern, mixing art and nature. Its titanium and steel panels have become a symbol. This complex has reached the figure of 100,000 visitors in one year.

– It is a tourist and economic attraction for the area…

– The important thing is that the area prosper. Our example has spread and that is what is important. If together we could have a Napa Valley, through which eight million visitors pass each year, it would be great for everyone. As a novelty, I anticipate that we want to do something similar in Rueda.– Another wine tourism project of this magnitude?

– If something like. In Rueda we have a new plan to update the production of the winery and an ambitious wine tourism project that will promote the winery and the vineyard, which already has all the organic farming certifications. We have it very advanced, but we are aware, as always in this country, of the bureaucracy. Oddly enough, we have been fighting with licenses for five years now. If it depended on us, we would start now and it would be finished as soon as possible.

– The business depends on water and land. It is logical that there is a growing environmental sensitivity in the sector.

– Yes. It is necessary to advance in the circular economy. In Rueda work began ten years ago and all the hectares have been certified, as I said. And here, in the Elciego winery, a lot of money has also been invested, for example, in photovoltaic panels that provide the hotel with an efficient self-consumption system.

– In 2010 they bought the Marqués de Arienzo brand from the French company Pernod Ricard. Is Marqués de Riscal committed to organic growth, creating new brands, or to inorganic growth, acquiring them?

– We are committed to organic growth, launching new brands as in the case of Tapias or as in the case of Barón de Chirel, at the time; This does not mean that if an opportunity such as that of the Marqués de Arienzo presents itself, which interested him above all in his agricultural heritage, it will not be taken advantage of.

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– The PNV defends that there be a denomination of origin of Rioja Alavesa, what is the position of a winery like Marqués de Riscal, which is based on Alava soil, towards this proposal?

– He created it. Another thing is that you have to wait to see if it goes ahead because it also depends on various procedures. I don’t see a future for it. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would renounce the heritage represented by a brand like Rioja, which has taken so many years to make and to which many wineries in this area have contributed. Within the Rioja denomination there is already a sub-zone that is Rioja Alavesa. The spectrum is already perfectly covered.

Alejandro Aznar: “Marqués de Riscal will break into Italy for the first time in 2023”