Post-Franco freedoms combined with the benefits of EU membership have led to rapid change in Spain's domestic drinks landscape, reports Harold Heckle
27 August, 2008
Spain's boom came as no surprise. After 36 years of dictatorship its economy was ripe to explode with a joie de vivre typical of its lively people. What has come as a bit of a shock is that, since Francisco Franco's death in 1975, Spain has surged from a mainly agricultural and tourism-based society to overtake Canada as the world's eighth largest economy (World Bank). To boot, Spain is on the verge of surpassing Italy in per capita income. Yet, with the cheer of success comes some of the hangover of responsibility.
Trading in alcohol is inevitably linked to complex social issues. Producers used to proudly cite what they called a "Mediterranean" way of accompanying drink with food. Even a small glass of beer or wine would be served with a tapa. This, they argued, made Spain an enlightened consumer society. A recent study has shattered this image: affluence has created a blasé attitude towards drink.
Around 31 per cent of young men and 18 per cent of women "binge drink" on a regular basis, says an academic paper published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, the official journal of the Research Society on Alcoholism. The study group monitored 12,037 people aged 18-64 between 2000 and 2005. "Younger generations are acquiring new behaviour patterns," says Joan Ramon Villalbí, of Barcelona's public health agency.
"We are dealing with a pattern which, up until recently, was not habitual here [in Spain] and which is extensively found now among the young and people with high educational levels," José Valencia Martín, of the department of preventive medicine and public health at Madrid's Autónoma university, is reported as saying.
The European Union aims to reduce fatal road accidents to 25,000 by the year 2010. However, according to transport commissioner Jacques Barrot, Spain is not performing well. In the Czech Republic only 5 per cent of road deaths in 2006 involved drunk-driving . Spain, where 30 per cent of fatal accidents involved at least one driver over the legal alcohol limit, has the highest drunk-driving rate in the EU .
An illustration of the difficulties faced by those promoting safe consumption came in May, when former prime minister José María Aznar drew criticism for defending his right to drink as much and drive as fast as he wished. "I don't like it when they tell me 'You can't drive at that speed, you can't eat that many hamburgers,' or 'It's prohibited to drink wine'," Aznar said after receiving an award in the northerly wine region of Ribera del Duero.
Spaniards work and play hard - and harder than many expect. Nationally in 2005 and 2006, GDP grew 3.5 per cent, and per capita GDP stands at 98.2 per cent of the EU's average. The EU has benefited the country in two major ways. Spain has received nearly E60 billion (US$85 billion, £42 billion) in structural funds since 2000, money invested wisely in a massively improved infrastructure. It has also made good use of low interest rates set by the European Central Bank. The economy's growing sophistication is reflected in the drinks industry.
Environmental predictions conclude that Spain is likely to suffer agricultural damage if global warming gathers pace. Fortunately, 2007 has been milder and wetter than sweltering, drought-affected 2006 which left low-rainfall vineyards suffering the aftermath of anhydrous stress. Northern regions such as Bierzo, Cigales, Ribera del Duero, Rioja, Rueda and Toro are hopeful of a good vintage . Rioja forecasts 430-450 million "good quality" kilos, while the regulatory councils for central La Mancha and easterly Utiel Requena anticipate 10-20 per cent reductions in volume with good quality.
Bullas, Jumilla and Yecla in Murcia expect a rise in volumes. "Thanks to some late summer rain, we're looking at a 10-20 per cent increase in crop," says Lorenzo Baños, export director of Casa de la Ermita in Jumilla. "Vines have recovered well from last year's high heat and drought," says Baños, adding that the harvest in Murcia was running two weeks late for Monastrell. "We can see the harvest continuing to the first week in November for varieties like Petit Verdot."
Canaries back in vogue
One area that is largely free of the vagaries of the weather and has made remarkable progress is the Canary Islands. Famous in Shakespeare's time and for decades exploited by British merchants, Canary wine fell into decadence until the onset of tourism in the 1990s.
Today eight DO s produce an extraordinary array of styles that includes some of Spain's most interesting dry white wines. At least 33 ancient grape varieties, including Gual, Verdello, Marmajuelo and Bujariego are grown ungrafted (the phylloxera bug never reached the islands) on mineral-rich, organically poor volcanic soils. U NESCO has declared some Canary Islands vineyards sites of special interest, such as those in La Geria, set in black obsidian ash on Lanzarote. Camels are used during the harvest here.
Unctuous Malvasía and port-like Listán Negro provide sophisticated Canary sweet wines. Reds are also improving in quality. Winemaker Juan Jesús Méndez Silverio, of Viñátigo, harvested red Baboso Negro grapes on the island of El Hierro in 2004 and made a rich, deeply aromatic dry red wine called Tanajara.
"The hard work has to be done in the vineyards," says Loles Pérez Martín, who makes Crater, a mineral-nuanced red, in Tenerife. Even wine writer Oz Clarke has been impressed, saying: "It's incredibly important that we take the Canaries' phylloxera-free condition seriously."
Beer in healthy state
Spain's major producers are Mahou-San Miguel, Heineken, Damm, Hijos de Rivera, La Zaragozana and Compañía Cervecera de Canarias. According to generic body Cerveceros de España, Spain's beer industry is the third largest in the EU after Germany and Britain and the ninth largest globally. Figures published by the Spanish government say per capita beer consumption for 2006 reached 59 litres, 30 per cent of which was drunk by tourists. At E5.1 billion (£3.5 billion, US$7.2 billion), the sector contributed 0.7 per cent of Spain's GDP, according to Ernst &Young.
Most beer is lager, normally served as cañas (on tap in small glasses) with two fingers of foam head. Spain is 98 per cent self-sufficient in hops, most grown in Carrizo de la Ribera.
The spirits industry employs 140,000 people and contributes 0.5 per cent of GDP, according to Spain's Food & Drink Federation, dealing mainly in whisky, brandy, rum, gin, vodka and liqueurs. Growth from 2004-5 was 8.8 per cent, equivalent to E1.9 billion. A total 245 million litres of spirits were sold in Spain during that period, led by whisky, which represents 46.6 per cent of the market. Spanish brandy is 28.8 per cent. Among important events, Pernod-Ricard sold Larios (to the Domecq group) and acquired Beefeater, launching a publicity campaign to fix the British brand in the minds of consumers.
----=== Spanish wine in numbers
(Aug 2005-July 2006) ===Size: 680,472ha of vines, up 8.6 per cent
Wine production: 13,370,530 hl, up 1.8 per cent
Registered growers: 169,106 supplying 4,367 wineries, of which 2,928 bottle wine
Sales: 11,077,109hl, down 5.2 per cent
Domestic sales down 7.3 per cent to 6,502,697hl, 59 per cent of total trade (export sales reached 41per cent of production)
Significant sales rise for vinos de aguja (lightly sparkling wines), up 95.4 per cent to 9,838hl
Rosé up 15.3 per cent to 688,195hl
Sparkling wine up 2.6 per cent to 1,722,481hl
Source: ICEX (Covers Andalusia, Aragón, the Balearic Isles, the Canary Isles, Castilla & León, Castilla La Mancha, Catalonia, Extremadura,
Galicia, ÙMadrid, Murcia, Navarra, the Basque Country, Rioja and Valencia compared with 2004/2005.)----=== Spain: total spirits retail sales by category
(million euros) ===2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 % 06/05
Whisk(e)y 2,359.5 2,428.8 2,453.6 2,523.1 2,577.5 2.2
Brandy and Cognac 616.4 609.8 611.8 621.8 629.3 1.2
White spirits 994.3 1,003.1 1,031.2 1,074.9 1,116.4 3.9
Rum 677.6 793.9 891.9 1,002 1,096.8 9.5
Tequila (and mezcal) 31.7 35.2 38.4 38.7 38.8 0.2
Liqueurs 742.2 745.9 735.1 757.1 778.7 2.8
Other spirits 593.5 632.2 657.4 695.5 727.7 4.6
Source: Euromonitor International
----=== Spain: drinks sector sales, total retail value
(million euros) ===2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Alcoholic drinks 21,974.7 22,961 23,825.5 24,915.3 26,075.4
Beer 11,352 11,992 12,551.7 13,166.5 13,871.9
Wine 4,211.4 4,304.3 4,412.2 4,578.7 4,763.8
Spirits 6,015.3 6,249 6,419.2 6,713.1 6,965.2
Other 396 415.7 442.4 457 474.5
Source: Euromonitor International