Re-investing 95% of its profits, has kept Bodegas Torres at the top of its game as a strong self-financed winery. Gillian Hamill caught up with general manager Miguel Torres Jnr. on a recent press trip to Dublin, to learn more about how the company’s latest R&D initiatives and strategies to counteract the challenges posed by global warming
19 June 2015
“In general, we are very bad at marketing…” Not the type of frank admission one expects to hear from the head of a major winery. However Miguel Torres Jnr, general manager of the fifth generation wine powerhouse that is Torres, can provide a positive explanation for this. “It is because we invest everything that we can in the wine inside the bottle. I believe that is the best marketing possible. With consumers, there are some more expert consumers and some less expert consumers, but at the end of the day, when you taste a wine that you like, you like that wine and you’re going to buy that wine, more than even if we have a big advertising campaign. We believe that once consumers buy our wines, they’re going to be loyal to them. And here in Ireland is a good example of this; we have never been doing any huge advertising campaign but putting the wine in the glass and on the lips of the people.”
This approach certainly appears to be working. Torres is the number one Spanish wine brand in Ireland and has held its leading position for over five consecutive years, according to Nielsen statistics. In fact, Ireland has the highest per capita consumption of Torres in the world. 2015 is also the brand’s second consecutive year as Drinks International’s ‘Most Admired Wine Brand’. While ‘bells and whistles’ advertising campaigns may be out though, availability is key for Torres and samplings wherever possible at wine events and dinners, alongside journalist briefings, are a must.
Ireland’s top Spanish wine
The Irish number one ranking is a clear source of pride for Miguel Torres Maczassek aka Miguel Torres Jnr., whose father Miguel Agustín Torres, is currently the president of Bodegas Torres. “We feel very honoured and proud, especially because of all the people that have worked with us during all this time…this has been a long trip because we started making wine 145 years ago. We started in the Penedès and then we went to Barcelona, with [only] a half-acre of vineyard.”
Explaining the brand’s popularity in Ireland, Torres Jnr says: “I think there are different factors,” but a major one is that consumers try the wines out on sun-soaked Spanish vacations and “this is a good memory that stays with the brand. But also I have to say that we have a fantastic importer here; Findlater’s has done a great job distributing the brand.” What’s more, he says that “no matter if you have €10 or €70”, Torres will always strive to “have the best wine possible inside that bottle for the price that you are paying”.
Avoiding a race to the bottom
Paul Nolan, Torres brand manager for Findlater Wine & Spirit Group adds: “With Torres the main thing is about consistency of quality so our wines will start to retail at around €11/€12, and we promote down to around €9 to €10. You don’t want to get involved in the race to the bottom because that just means that all we’re doing is taking the quality out; that’s just something Torres is not interested in doing.” Higher priced bottles can actually offer better value though. “The duty doesn’t change, it’s a fixed amount, whereas the VAT does, so if you’re buying wine at €80, a far [less] percentage of that goes on duty than if you were buying a wine for €20 so you’re actually getting more value as you move up.”
Good wine for all
On the topic of elitism within the wine market, Torres Jnr. says: “Actually I think that everyone can drink good wine, you don’t have to be rich to drink good wine and I think that our brand is also based on these values.” For him, Sangre de Torro is an ideal option for a barbecue, but for a special occasion or “a nice dinner with my wife, I can go for a Mas La Plana or a wine that is pricier”.
In order to keep producing wines worth celebrating, heavy investment is needed and the company actually reinvests 95% of profits back into the business – a long-term strategy which is essential in tackling the challenge of global warming head-on. “Global warming is affecting vineyards from all over the world and my family has made a commitment that we want to reduce our carbon footprint by 30% from 2008 to 2020. We have already received a reduction of 10%,” says Torres Jnr.
He explains that the company strives to be as energy efficient as possible, using several measures. These include having 12,000 square metres of solar panels, and burning the wood left from pruning vines in a biomass boiler to produce energy. “As a rule, all our cars, they have to be electric or hybrid,” says the general manager, who adds, “today, we have almost the same quantity of forests as vineyards, we also reduced the weight of our bottles, because it makes no sense to have more glass.”
Research and development is evidently a focus for Torres. The company has achieved several successes in this area, including “isolating two yeasts for fermentation that only belong to Torres”. Torres Jnr’s sister Mireia is also leading the search for a solution to the international problem of vineyard ‘wood diseases’.
Innovations such as these can have a major impact, when an operation is as large as Torres’. As Torres Jnr explains: “In Spain, we have around 2,000 hectares. In Chile, we have 400 hectares and California is around 57, more or less. We are still buying vineyards. A couple of months ago we bought 14 hectares in Ribera del Duoro, [with] very premium soil because our idea is, if everything goes ok… in 2018 we would like to have a new wine there, a very premium wine from that particular vineyard.”
The company also plans to plant more in the south of Chile to minimise the difficulties caused by summertime water shortages in Central Chile. “One of our biggest projects is to recuperate the ancient varieties from Chile like pais, the first grape that arrived in Chile,” Torres Jnr adds. Although pais came to Chile before cabernet sauvignon, which first arrived some 80 years ago, the limited technology of the time made cabernet sauvignon easier to work with and it quickly gained dominance. Nowadays Torres has the technology to get the most out of these much maligned grape varieties though. “We can squeeze the best from pais, treating the variety with respect,” says the CEO. “It has been a surprise because the variety that everybody talks so badly about, can make very elegant and nice wines so it’s a new life for pais maybe.”
It is tempting to surmise that this passion for recuperating ancient grape varieties stems from Torres Jnr.’s first ever involvement in the wine industry. At a very young age, his father gave him just one vine to tend, which he conscientiously watered every day. Throughout its history, the Torres family has never been afraid to follow a different path moreover. The second generation created Torres’ brandy offering, which Torres Jnr. says, “is very important for us, it is around a quarter of our total sales”. In his opinion, brandy is currently experiencing something of a resurgence. “Brandy to me is one of the most noble spirits because it comes from wine…I think that brandy is coming back in many ways, there are more cocktails made with brandy and it is very interesting.”
Torres Jnr. is keen for the company to continue into the sixth generation, despite a relatively small family pool of cousins, nieces and nephews. His own three children meanwhile, “are only six, four and two years old so it is a little bit early to trust what they say”. Promising signs abound however; he jokes that his six-year old daughter “loves to crush the grapes with her feet”. While Torres Jnr. would love for his children to continue on in the family business, ultimately he believes, “they have to do what they are really talented at and what makes them happy.” With this positive mind-set and focus on long-term investment in place, it’s hard not to believe Miguel Torres Jnr. when he says with a wry smile: “The best is yet to come”.