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Araex: Grand Plans

From modest beginnings in Rioja Alavesa, one man’s vision has taken him across the major wine regions of Spain, preserving and promoting their individuality while tackling the fragmentation that has hampered the country’s potential.

Michel Rolland and Javier Galarreta present their Spanish collaboration

JUST OVER 20 years ago, a company called put down roots in the relatively unknown sub-region of Rioja Alavesa. Its aim was to tackle the highly fragmented nature of this Basque enclave by bringing nine small and medium-sized wineries into a group capable of making a real impact in international markets. Since these early beginnings back in 1993, this collection of representatives from the various Alavesa villages and vineyards has seen sales grow to a position where it now accounts for an impressive 22% of the region’s exports. Recognising the scope for extending this successful business model to other major Spanish wine regions outside his native Alava, CEO Javier Galarreta established Spanish Fine Wines in 2001.

Featuring high quality estates across Rías Baixas, Ribera del Duero, Toro, La Mancha, Rueda and Navarra, the group offers a consolidated base from which these very individual wines can be sold, marketed, promoted and delivered to markets worldwide.

At a Glance

• Araex accounts for 22% of wine exports from Rioja Alavesa.
• Spanish Fine Wines works across more than 4,000 hectares covering eight Spanish DOs: Rioja, Navarra, Cava, La Mancha, Rueda, Toro, Rías Baixas and Ribera del Duero.
• A collaboration with consultant Michel Rolland led to the creation of the Rolland & Galarreta brand, which combines Spanish style with French expertise.
• This commercial focus has now been complemented by the creation of the Spanish Fine Wines Institute, which offers tailored information about key aspects of the country’s wine production and culture.
• Under its recently created banner of The Grand Wines, the group currently exports to 70 countries, selling over 10.5 million bottles abroad each year.

As annual group sales reached more than 10.5 million bottles of wine, it was time to develop the collective Spanish wine concept a stage further. This saw the company embark on several new ventures in different regions that would bring its wines in front of an even wider audience. First came a Cava, the result of Galarreta’s widespread travels across Catalunya in search of the right partner to produce a high-end sparkling wine. Called Villa Conchi in memory of Galarreta’s mother, who passed away before she had a chance to taste her son’s latest initiative, the four-strong range is described as “a tribute to a woman who was always a source of inspiration for elegance and distinction.”

That same year, 2010, saw the first vintage of Gran Sello, a celebration of Spain’s indigenous grape varieties. Produced using fruit from high altitude vineyards in the country’s central Castilla region, this collection highlights the charismatic quality of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Verdejo and Macabeo, both as single varietal expressions and as blends. In common with Villa Conchi, this brand has already sent out a strong message by winning gold medals in internationally recognised awards such as Mundus Vini.

Not content with these two ambitious projects, a third initiative brought together the expertise of two nations and two personalities: Galarreta from Spain and French winemaking consultant. Their Rolland Galarreta brand comprises a white from Rueda, and reds from Ribera del Duero and Rioja. Nor is this a boutique venture: early production sits at around 800,000 bottles across the brand, of which just over half comes from Rioja, where Galarreta’s vision began. While acknowledging this “ambitious volume,” he nevertheless insists “the prospects are excellent, especially because these premium wines have an unbeatable price- value ratio.” Indeed, predicts Galarreta, “R&G will soon become one of the leading Spanish brands in the premium wine market.”

In order to strengthen and clarify the message sent out by its multi-regional approach, the group decided to establish the Spanish Fine Wines Institute, a private academic initiative that provides concise, up-to-date courses on the country’s wine styles and wine culture. The international programme ensures that those people responsible for promoting Spanish wine have a sound understanding of everything from the country’s native grape varieties to its array of climates, winemaking techniques, classification systems and food- matching options. The Institute has already held sessions in markets as diverse as Germany and Columbia.

Graduates of the Spanish Fine Wines Institute session held in Columbia
Graduates of the Spanish Fine Wines Institute session held in Columbia

Twenty years after this journey began, it became necessary to create a new corporate identity capable of encapsulating the group’s wide-ranging areas of focus. Today The Grand Wines acts as an umbrella for all these regional personalities: eight wineries in Rioja Alavesa, nine further producers in six other regions, and the three latest portfolio additions. Soon this representation will extend to an online portal for the Spanish and UK market. In the meantime, The Grand Wines offers a strong platform from which the group can implement not just its commercial and educational ambitions, but also a number of far-reaching sustainability initiatives.

These range from Project Cenit-Demeter, a research and development project looking at how best to adapt vineyard management in the face of climate change, to programmes supporting local communities and ARAMIN, a scheme to tackle the natural presence of histamines in a wine, which can sometimes lead to headaches or drowsiness.
Looking ahead, Galarreta feels that his visionary enterprise is helping to drive much-needed change in the Spanish wine industry. “Spain has always been valued for its export volume, not for the quality of its products,” he remarks.

However, Galarreta reports “a slow increase in the prices of Spanish wines,” as he forecasts: “In the future, the growth of Spanish wines will be achieved through the value of the product, not through volume; but that requires a better positioning of the wines.” Through The Grand Wines’ portfolio and efficiencies, Galarreta aims to accelerate the Spanish wine industry’s progress towards fulfilling his belief in its exciting global potential.

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