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Spanish wine producers see opportunity in the on-trade ahead of promising harvest

Published:  19 September, 2016

At a Spanish-focused tasting hosted by Boutinot today in London, producers, many just starting harvest, are optimistic about this year's crop and the opportunity in the UK for Spanish wines.

The harvest in Rioja this year is longer than normal, but for producers the rainy spring and slower start to the summer, followed with a blast of heat over the past couple of days, has the grapes to mature at slower pace.

"We are just starting the harvest and began picking our whites this week. It is going to be a long harvest through November. The red grapes are going through version now. We were worried for a bit, but the last month was warm with some days hitting over 40 degrees," said Conrado Herrero of Bodegas Ontañón.

"We are located in the Northern tip of Rioja and we have not yet started harvest. It has been raining just a bit the past couple of days, but we expect picking of our whites to start next week and in another two weeks we will begin our red harvest," said Luis Valentín of Compañia Bodeguera de Valenciso.

A good harvest is welcome news for producers following the major boom in Spanish wines in the UK over the past few years, which has since slowed slightly.

But according to Jean Wareing, the product manager of Spanish wines for Boutinot, there are still some great opportunities for suppliers.

"Spain has been tricky for the past couple of years. There was a big boom and it has now flattened a bit. But the on-trade is where we are seeing the biggest growth, which is between 7-10%," said Wareing.

Some of the success has been down to the Manchester-based company investing more in the on-trade sales team, but also, "there has been a resurgence in Tapas and Spanish fine dining cuisine," said Wareing.

While Rioja dominates the category, Boutinot has had success with their portfolio which includes more "esoteric' producers. It does take a bit longer to get that message across, but the willingness of buyers in the on-trade and consumers alike to discover new wines is helping to push their portfolio further.

"Our portfolio is not dominated by Rioja, although we do have some producers from the region, but we have some esoteric producers and we do our own label as well. It means we have to try and get customers to diversity, but it often means that the wines we do have offer exceptional value for money. There has been a slow but steady creep in that direction. Experimenting is very much happening in London, but we are starting to see it in other pockets outside of London as well. With more people experimenting, we are able to help push those boundaries," said Wareing.

White wines from Rioja, with a focus on slightly more ageing is one such example. While many are familiar with the fresh wine styles that are meant to be consumed young, Spanish white wine producers are trying more complex styles as well.

"Ten years ago white wines were more of a by-product in Rioja. Today it is still only about 6%. We began producing white wines in 2008 and now we are seeing there is an increasing demand from customers looking for quality white wines from the region. We had the vineyards, so we were lucky," said Valentín.

Herrero agrees that more people are looking for quality white wines being produced in Rioja.

He said: "Over the last year we have seen an increase in demand, I think other varieties have been used to produce styles of wine that are more fresh and young. But with the increase in focus on gastronomy and Spanish food, particularly in the UK, there is a growing demand of restaurants looking for more full-bodied whites that can pair well with food. This where our white wines have really worked at filling in that gap."