The tower and the glory
With its new Rioja, one of Spain’s most innovative wineries is branching out
ith 64 wine regions and more hectares under vine than any other country in the world, there is more to Spain than simply Rioja. Indeed, the country’s leading family-owned producer, Torres, which has grown grapes in Catalonia since the 17th century and produces about three million cases of wine and one million of brandy each year from estates in Costers del Segre, Jumilla, Penedès, Priorat, Ribera del Duero and Toro (not to mention California, Chile, China and India), has only now got round to investing in Rioja. Details of the expansion are due to be announced shortly.
“The time is right for this move,” says Miguel A Torres, the urbane and celebrated fourth-generation head of the company. “But I don’t want us to spread ourselves too thinly. We currently make about 40 different wines and brandies each year and I want to know and remember each one. Besides, one shouldn’t be too busy, life is meant to be enjoyed.”
Torres the man and Torres the winery have been showered with awards and accolades by the wine press, including Man of the Year ( Decanter), Best European Winery of the Year ( Wine Enthusiast) and Most Important Winery in Spain ( Wine Spectator). This year the company celebrates an interesting “treble”: the launch of Salmos, its first-ever premium red from Priorat; the 100th vintage of one of its best-sellers, the Tempranillo/ Cabernet blend, Coronas; and its impending move into Spain’s best-known wine region.
“We can only do what we do because we are a family business,” says Torres. “It allows us to think long term, and to be both innovative and traditional. For example, we lost money on one of our projects for nine consecutive years, finally making our first profit
Wlast year. We couldn’t do that on the stock market.”
Unusually, the company manages to be as well-regarded for its cheaper wines — such as the easy-drinking whites Viña Sol (which sells for about £4.40) and Viña Esmeralda (£5.99) and the moreish red, Sangre de Toro (£5.59) — as for its expensive ones such as the single vineyard, 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, Mas La Plana (£19.99) and Grans Muralles (£45.50), its fabled blend of indigenous Catalan varieties.
Torres’s son (pictured above), who, unsurprisingly, is also called Miguel, oversees the company’s marketing and I ask him why, after all this time, the label is moving into Rioja. What will it give them that they don’t have already?
“Spain is where our heart lies, despite our excursions to Chile and beyond,” he says. “Recently, we’ve decided that as consumers learn more about Spanish wines and look for more specific examples, so we need to broaden our range by developing wines in other regions. Most people associate Torres with Spain in general, rather than with Catalonia in particular, and it doesn’t seem to dilute our message by going elsewhere. And in some ways this move was inevitable, since Rioja is our country’s most famous region.”
This development is something of an irony, given that it is largely thanks to Torres that consumers dared to look beyond Rioja for fine Spanish wine in the first place. It was one of the pioneers of “mainstream” grapes such as Chardonnay, Riesling and Merlot, and one of the first to promote Cabernet Sauvignon as a major Spanish variety — thanks to wines such as Gran Coronas and Mas La Plana — and in concentrating on indigenous Catalan varieties such as Parellada, Monastrell, Garró and Samsó, Torres has virtually ignored Rioja’s own grape, Tempranillo. Only one of its wines is made from that variety.
Torres is well-known for its innovation: it was the first company in Spain to market wines under screw-cap; it was the first Spanish company to move into the production of Chilean wine and it was the first to demonstrate that Penedès could produce far more than just cava.
“Our wines are all very different,” says Miguel the younger. “Each one talks of the land it’s from and that won’t change in Rioja. Our philosophy remains the same: to make good wine that is fairly priced and to turn every customer into a friend.”
Cask force: Miguel Torres the younger, here with his sister, Mireia, in the cellars at the Pacs Winery in Catalonia, is a fifthgeneration winemaker