Rioja, like every other wine region in the world, is suffering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. If we can find one positive aspect in the terms of the two Spanish government-mandated lockdowns on March 13 with a tightening of conditions on March 28, it’s the fact that agriculture-related activities are considered essential and remain ‘open’. Consequently, farmers continue to tend their vines, winemakers and winery workers are moving wine around wineries, administrative staff is working from home and a few wineries are even shipping orders, almost exclusively to international customers.
(Photo credit: Tom Perry, Note on door: daughter Martha)
However, winery doors are shut for tourists. Worse still, the on-trade (bars, cafes and restaurants), are locked down. Rioja’s most recent annual report (2018) emphasizes the importance this channel:
“Nielsen highlights the positive performance of Rioja in the on-trade channel, where the highest added value can be found, and where Rioja has an overwhelming 60% market share, climbing to 80% for aged wines.”
Shuttering the on-trade has hurt all of our wineries even though the off-trade (hyper-and supermarkets and wine shops) are still open. A recent study by an ‘app’ that promotes money-back deals reports that since the beginning of the crisis, wine sales are up 42% in the chains that work with them. Well, maybe, but I’m sure it’s because of the anxiety produced by the lockdown. These big stores stock almost exclusively wines from large and some medium-sized wineries. Smaller wineries and those selling wines from singular vineyards, winemaker’s selections and other small volume products have three options: wine shops, online retailers and direct sales from the winery via internet. Sales here are faltering in spite of substantial discounting.
We will deal in greater depth with the economic consequences for the Rioja wine trade and wine tourism in an upcoming article. Today we want to emphasize:
- how wineries are giving back to the community;
- how wineries are continuing to educate and entertain current and potential customers;
- how English-speakers can learn more about Rioja.
(Credit: Who knows? It was sent to me via WhatsApp. Sorry.)
First of all, our gratitude to Alberto Gil, wine columnist at our regional newspaper La Rioja and Javier Pascual, founder and editor of La Prensa del Rioja for publishing information in their respective media about Rioja’s current situation, some of which I have reproduced here to complement my own research. Both write extensively about Rioja and are great sources of up-to-date information provided you speak Spanish.
I want to send a huge ‘¡Muy bien!’ to our Great Wine Capitals Global Network colleagues Visit Napa Valley for their extensive coverage of the solidarity shown by this premier wine region’s wineries during the coronavirus pandemic.
They also feature special offers for online shipments. I hope readers of Inside Rioja in the USA will take advantage of them. VNV – you are truly inspiring!
We hope to hear from the rest of our GWC colleagues and will share their initiatives here.
Riojan winery solidarity
There is a chronic shortage of masks and other personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals. Two wineries (that I am aware of) with customers in China have ordered, received and distributed masks to these beleaguered workers. A big shoutout goes out to Bodegas Marqués del Atrio and Viñedos de Aldeanueva.
Bodegas Lecea, one of the most visited in the region, has offered healthcare workers free tastings and visits to its network of underground cellars for a year.
The Osborne group, owners of Bodegas Montecillo, as well as Campo Viejo, AGE and Ysios’ parent company Pernod-Ricard are using their distillation facilities to make sanitizing gel.
Bodegas Gómez Cruzado in Haro is selling its wines online with a discount, using the proceeds to pay the wages of its workers, avoiding layoffs.
Virtual tours (either produced by the winery or by roving wine writers)
Some well-known wineries featured are:
- Marqués de Murrieta
- Bodegas Ysios.
- Marqués de Riscal winery and Hotel
- Campo Viejo
- A great video presentation of Rioja comes from the Culinary Institute of America. Made in 2013, it features short interviews with past and present winery executives, winemakers and grape growers. It is subtitled in English.
Two of the best interviews given by María José López de Heredia from Viña Tondonia are available in a two-part series shot in 2010 with Gary Vaynerchuk in his groundbreaking series wine library tv. The normally loquacious Gary was mostly silent, letting MJ do all the talking. Priceless!
Vaynerchuk interviewed other Rioja personalities for his show. We assume you’re interested, so use the search function in Wine Library TV and the keyword ‘Rioja’.
- Telmo Rodríguez talks about his single vineyard ‘Las Beatas’ (in English)
Virtual tastings and wine knowledge
The problem here is the almost total absence on the web and social media of Rioja tastings in good English (here I detect an opportunity for a wine-savvy native speaker to give classes to winemakers). Note: Not me, thank you!
- Viñedos y Bodegas de La Marquesa Valserrano has produced two good ones with English subtitles, both recently posted on the winery’s IGTV site.
The Rioja Regulatory Council has begun to produce materials to supplement their PR campaigns in major markets. A number of short interviews, subtitled in English, are available.
The Regulatory Council has recently launched a fantastic initiative: The Rioja Wine Academy. Here anyone can study three, free online courses:
- Rioja Wine Diploma
- Diploma in Rioja Wine Tourism
- Diploma for Trade and Distribution
A fourth course, geared to people interested in teaching others about Rioja is the Rioja Certified Educator Program, subject to application and acceptance of the candidate by the Regulatory Council. There is an online module as well as a series of seminars, tastings and visits to Rioja wineries. Three classes of Certified Rioja Educators, whose mission is to be ambassadors for Rioja in their markets, have already graduated.
Inside Rioja hopes that you enjoy exploring the wonderful world of Rioja from the safety and comfort of your homes!