28 September, 2012

Lucy Britner finds Spain’s best-known wine region is flying the flag for its country with exports up and investment sound

Spain’s banks might be looking to someone else to pick up their tab, but its most famous wine region is in good shape and still dining out on 2011’s export success. 

In 2011 Rioja exports hit a record high with an estimated value of Ä370m. Exports made up 35% of Rioja sales over the 12 months from May 2011 to April 2012, a 2% increase on the previous 12 months – so 2012 looks set to be a new record breaker. 

Earlier this year, the DOCa announced a Ä7.4 million investment campaign for its top markets to “consolidate the historic export figures achieved in 2011”. 

Although it’s a Ä2m reduction on what it invested in 2011, the Consejo Regulador (Rioja’s regulatory and promotional body) is confident that consumers still have an appetite for Rioja. But whether the appetite is for young, fruity wines from the famous Tempranillo grape or older, perhaps more complex wines from lesser-known varieties is another matter. 

Then there’s the question of home or away – in a country stricken by financial uncertainty and major export markets facing duty hikes and minimum pricing, has anyone still got money for a drink?

Consejo Regulador marketing director Ricardo Aguiriano says: “In difficult economic times, and against a backdrop of challenges to the wine trade from duty increases and talk of minimum pricing [in the UK], our challenge is to maintain and grow value for the Rioja category, and maintain and increase our average price.”

That figure currently stands at £5.72 a bottle. According to Nielsen figures, this is higher than the average in Spain and in the UK, £4.59 and £4.78 respectively. 

Although the UK is Rioja’s most thirsty export market, with 34% of total exports heading there, it is not set to receive the largest slice of the Ä7.4m. That bounty – Ä2,915,353 to be precise – is to go to the US because it shows the greatest growth potential. 

The Consejo says: “This year, the United States moved up to third place among Rioja importers, so the campaign will be based on an ambitious programme of point of sale promotions, with 75% of the budget to be spent in the off-trade and 25% in the on-trade.”

Miami hosted a Rioja tasting for trade and consumers in April and New York, Texas, Chicago and California are all focal points for the brand Rioja.

Even the wine’s home market is getting a few euros – Ä984,898 to be exact. But some producers believe the financial troubles on home turf make the export market a much more appealing proposition. 

Luis Miguel Soler, export manager for Paternina, says: “Rioja’s domestic figures are suffering due to the economic recession that has hit the country’s consumer spending severely. Rioja needs to find abroad the sales it’s not obtaining within, and all in the midst of a global decline in consumption and facing stiff competition from other wine-growing areas around the world. Rioja needs to convince that it offers a price/quality ratio second to none in world wine markets.”

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