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Catalan wine sector faces challenge of going beyond borders

Catalan wine cellars sell their products abroad in order to compensate the large difficulties they find in Catalonia. However, it is not always easy for small wine producers to make their way onto the big market. So how can they do it?


26 August 2010 11:06 PM


Emma Vila / CNA /

Barcelona ( Is foreign better than domestic? That is what it looks like in the Catalan wine sector. Wine cellars in Catalonia have difficulties selling their products within their land, while they can be very appreciated beyond borders. In order to promote Catalan wines abroad, these cellars will receive 9.3 million euros this year.

In fact, Catalans tend to consume less wine everyday. While the quality is growing (wines are better now than a few years ago), the quantity is decreasing (consumers are drinking less litres per person each year). However, the economic crisis tends to reduce consumption, which, in the case of wine, is rather qualitative than quantitative, as people do not have as much money. But there is also another reason: people are starting to associate alcohol with an unhealthy way of life. \u201CPublicity campaigns are affecting us, as people tend to lump it together\u201D, says Oriol Guevara, director of the Catalan Institute of Vineyards and Wine (INCAVI). He believes exportation \u201Cis the only way\u201D. He also opposes selling wine for 1 euro, as \u201Cit can ruin the territory\u201D.

The wine and the cava sectors have very different numbers regarding exportation. While 61% of Catalan cava goes straight to the foreign markets, only 26% of Catalan wine is exported. Some larger producers are big enough to have delegations outside (most from the Penedès region, the biggest wine and cava producer in Catalonia), but small cellars have to find other ways to consolidate within the foreign market. Next year, Catalonia will receive 9.3 million euros to promote the exportation of Catalan wines and cava and to improve their competitiveness, according to the Conference of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Germany and the United States are the markets in which Catalan wine is most successful, while Centre and Northern European countries, such as the Netherlands and Belgium, and countries outside of Europe, like Japan, also have a good acceptance. Luxembourg is also a very good market, although a very small one. Exporters must know their target markets, as they all have different requirements. France, for instance, obliges producers to put a label that indicates that drinking alcohol is damaging for pregnant woman. Aside from sanitary and informational rules, there are also linguistic rules. In Quebec, for instance, labels must be in French. Producers must know these rules if they want to be successful. But how can a Catalan wine maker achieve this first step?

There is a sensational way to sell products outside Catalonia: if an influential critic 'discovers' the excellence of your wines, you have won the lottery. But that usually never happens. However, Priorat wines, and by extension, the Catalan wine sector, have benefited from it.. This is also due to the fact that other DOs have innovated their products and put quality on the front row. This is the case of the DO Empordà or the DO Montsant which, in 2008, sold 70% of their production to the foreign market. However, most of their sales went straight to Germany and the US. \u201CWhen you only have two big markets, if they fail, there is a problem. And in 2009, they failed because of the economic crisis. But precisely because these two countries faced the crisis, they are already getting out of it and are starting to recover volume of sales in both places. Anyway, what is clear is that markets must be diversified and we must not depend on very few countries. Markets like Norway or Sweden are consuming more and more wine from Montsant\u201D, says a source from the DO.

The question is: how does a Scandinavian discover a wine from Montsant or from any other Catalan area? The answer is in the expert client, who one day discovers a Catalan wine or an Australian one. But this client represents only 5% of foreign clients. The general public does not seek out Catalan wine. What people look for is the distribution of country. And it is here where small cellars must be present. Once the structure of distribution is settled, the only thing that remains is the exportation energy. There is also the hope that incipient wine tourism will encourage people from the outside come to Catalonia to taste its wines.

The general consumer will know the general characteristics of the wine through the label but... how can we get their interest if there are so many different wines on the shelves? The fight in the shelves is ferocious. And here is where a Catalan speciality comes into play: design, the capacity to attract the attention and to keep it in the consumer minds so that they remember it.

Another important thing to know is that, in Catalonia, the variety of wines is rather limited in supermarkets, but in Europe, supermarkets have a wine section of their own, a wine section that offers tastings and, therefore, offers wine makers an interesting possibility of success. In Catalonia, however, in order to find variety and quality, we must go to specialised stores that do not address the general public.


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  • Vinyards in the Empordà Guarantee of Origin