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A new team reigns for Spain

Published:  23 July, 2008

Despite a lingering sadness at the early retirement (due to ill health) of Wines from Spain (WfS) director Graham Hines, the trade members at last week's generic tasting were firmly focused on the future.

The appointment of Maria Jos Sevilla as Hines' replacement, as well as the addition of South African MW Lynn Sherriff and American marketer Chuck Cramer to the team, certainly gave them something to talk about. Anecdotally, it seems those whose interests they are supposed to represent have given them a warm, if necessarily cautious, welcome.

Sevilla is not new to ICEX, the Spanish government-funded division of the Spanish embassy that supports the effort of Spain's produce abroad. As current head of the food division she has had some notable successes, and is confident that taking on both roles won't prove too much.

I'm going to do both jobs, at least for the time being. There's no reason why it shouldn't work,' she responded. In those areas in which the two departments complement each other we are going to see if they can work together. Spanish food is doing very, very well at the moment and when you are promoting to people in the on-trade, sommeliers and chefs, why not co-operate with food on this?'

A new programme is currently up and running for 2005 and WfS is now making sure all those involved in Spanish wine are pushing together - and helping pay for this push in a new co-financing' drive.

Sherriff, who has been there for six weeks, has joined as trade liaison' and will spend a lot of her time talking to retailers and the on-trade about price promotions and other activities. She commented: The idea is to use my contacts in the generic side, gained from working with Wines of Chile and Wines of South Africa, but also I ran a company selling wine to multiples all over Europe so I have very good contacts in the retail sector as well.'

Central to WfS's activities is a committee of Spanish importers, named the Spanish Wines Action Group. In a vote held on the morning of the generic tasting, Richard Macadam, managing director of leading Spanish company United Wineries, was voted in as the committee's first chairman.

So how will the new committee fit' with the existing one run under the auspices of the WSA and chaired by Christopher Payne of Moreno Wines? I spoke to Dr Barry Sutton [head of the working group charged with reforming the WSA] and he told us to go ahead with it and was very supportive,' said Sherriff. Over the next few months, when we have a clearer idea of what is happening with the WSA and the Wine Trade Action Group, we should know how these two committees could move forward. At the moment I see the two committees becoming one. The main difference is that the WSA committee never discussed the promotion of Spanish wine. The new one will be heavily involved in it.'

Rocio Alberdi, who in her role as commercial counsellor at the Spanish Embassy is one of the directors of Wines from Spain, added: This is a working group that is very focused on promotion. It is a very important part of the new approach: we have to be sure that the activities we are doing are sensible and rational. We are outsiders from the trade, we

don't sell wine, so we need help in targeting our activities - and this is where co-financing comes into it.'

Sherriff's appointment and the increased use of co-financing, particularly when it comes to discounts and in-store activity, are all part of WfS making sure it gets good value for the money it spends with the major retailers - which last year constituted 65% of its budget.

Payne described the new appointments and new committee as very positive. I think it was essential that they showed people they were heading in the right direction.' Macadam echoed his views: I am very pleased to be the committee's new chairman, although I won't know exactly what that entails until some time in May. I am just pleased that things are starting to move again. It's essential that Spain has a strong generic.'

The co-financing approach, which has been used with success by other generic wine bodies, is something Sevilla has experience of in her work with food: This is where we have been moving forward with food; it has been part of our programme for some time. It is all part of getting the industry to work together.'

On the marketing side, Chuck Cramer - who was country manager for Converse Trainers in Mexico City, where he directed marketing campaigns for Converse in central and South America' - said he hoped to bring in some fresh ideas. He added that he was not completely new' to wine: Over the past few years I have developed a strong passion for wine and put myself through the Advanced and Diploma exams at WSET. I've also worked with a ngociant in the South of France to launch my own label in the US.'

But isn't country manager of WfS somewhat of a step down from country manager at Converse? I want to break into the wine trade and this seemed like a great fit,' said Cramer. Loads of people tell me that if you want to break into the UK trade you have to go and work behind a counter at Oddbins and I'm too old to do that.'

There were some dissenting voices about the new team, however. One importer raised the issue as to whether Sevilla's English was good enough or if she was high profile enough to really do the job. It would have been better to have got someone who is already a leading figure in the trade,' he said. Moreover, the staffing problems haven't completely been resolved, with product manager Marie Vinet handing in her notice last week.

Alberdi, however, stayed positive: We have had a lot of problems in the human resources department for the past 18 months, with Graham's illness and other people leaving. We have someone in mind to fill Marie's position and are now moving forward "fully-fitted". I am excited about the progress we are making.'