Coronavirus conversations: Rodolfo Bastida

The chief winemaker of Rioja’s Ramón Bilbao talks to us about how his 2019 wines are coming along, the rise in at-home drinking in Spain, and the need for wineries to embrace new sales channels.

How is business during this tricky time?

Well, the 2019 vintage wines taste absolutely delicious and the vintages is evolving perfectly. Sales are, of course, bad this month.  They are frankly not going well, but we hope that when restaurants re-open things will normalise. It’s going to be a difficult year, but with innovation and creativity we’ll overcome it, even if we have a high reliance on the on-trade; we have a lot of trust in the strength of our brands, particularly in the domestic market where consumers know us as a quality producer that can be trusted.

How have you adapted the way you do business during the coronavirus crisis?

The online and off-trade have grown hugely for us, and we are activating many things with consumers, like online tastings. We have started a promotional campaign to help our bar and restaurant customers in Spain. For each bottle that consumers buy online, Ramón Bilbao will donate one for free to the restaurants when they re-open. We need to support our main channel at this difficult time.

Have you noticed the crisis has changed consumption trends?

Yes! A lot more wine is consumed at home now. In Spain, this type of consumption was very low but now it’s increasing and we know that it will stay this way for a long time. Spain is different to many other markets in that bars and restaurants are part of our identity as a country, so now is the time to make sure that the population experiences wellbeing at home too!

Are you enjoying a boost in off-trade/ online sales?

Yes, and we’re also finding that people, in addition to buying the wines themselves, want to know more about them. About the region, the soils, the climates. This is why we’ve put in place the digital platform of the Spanish Wine Academy, an innovative approach to educating both consumers and wine professionals internationally. This initiative will launch in June.

How do you think the coronavirus crisis will change the world?

I think it is accelerating things that would otherwise have taken years to change. It’s making us value the authentic, the ‘less is more’ approach, and this is where wine has so much to say. A glass of Mar de Frades wine transports you to the banks of the Rías Biaxas, and you can feel the breeze on your face and savour the salty air of the area.

How should the wine trade adapt in the face of the crisis?

The trade needs to stretch itself to reach consumers where they are. If they’re now in the supermarket and online stores, then that is what needs to be promoted. I don’t think that the working methods or the wine styles of each region will actually change that much, but I am sure that the best brands will also gain relevance now.

Do you think it will change how people do business, if so how?

Things will change, no doubt. No one will now think of opening a wine store without having a good online offer. I think that tourism to production areas, visiting the wineries, for example, is going to be back soon. It’s not massive, but it is experiential and slow tourism. On the other hand, people will travel less for presentations or to review business plans.  There will be more demand for quality online meetings for teams.

What is the future for the wine trade post Covid-19?

I see it with nothing but hope. There is more consumption within the family, and domestic drinking will increase as people use their cars less. Many restaurants will have to reinvent themselves and bring food, wine and beer to people’s houses.

What are your top priorities as a company going forward?

Keeping our team in shape. It has cost us a lot to have such good professionals in the wineries, and now it’s up to us to keep that talent so we can ease smoothly into the next phase. We will need to review our offer, and provide something more experiential rather than just selling wine. We need to offer everything we can from the vine to your glass, wherever that glass is – on your terrace, in your pool, in your neighbourhood bar.

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