Torres Wine Story Image 1


Text: Ana Westly
Photos: Ma Luisa Assens
Graphic Design: Distinctly Graphix

Bombed by mistake
Experiments with foreign grapes
Led into the 20C
Multinational expansion
Acclaim in California
Fame in Little Rock, Arkansas

Torres Wine Story Image 2

  International fame and success is thedream of any company with a quality product to sell. Over the past fewdecades companies that were originally known only in Spain have burst intothe international market bringing new trademarks into households aroundthe world. Each company that has managed to expand beyond local and nationalsuccess to introduce its products in the larger world market has a fascinatingstory to tell.

  Torres Wine Story Image 3PerhapsTorres wines are one of the most internaPtionally recognised Spanish products.For decades the wines of Miguel Torres, S.A. have been included on thewine lists at the best restaurants around the world, including France.You can spot the Torres brand name in any duty-free shop at internationalair-ports and wine-drinking consumers the world over associate the Torreslabel with quality wine within a reasonable price range.
  Ask for a Spanish wine anywhere in theworld and chances are you will be shown several Torres wines. In fact,if asked to name internationally known Spanish products, the chances arehigh that Torres Wine Story Image 4Torreswines would be high on your list. Headquartered in Villafranea del Penedos,an ancient Catalonian wine-producing region 30 kilometres (19 miles) southwestof Barcelona, Miguel Torres S.A. is Spain's largest independently ownedwinery, and the largest exporter of still wines to major markets such asthe United States. With regular exports to over 90 countries in all thecontinents, Miguel Torres S.A. has almost single handedly created a namefor Spanish wine around the world.
  The story of this remarkable internationalmarketing success is the story of a remarkable winemaker family that hadthe tenacity and vision to turn a modest bulk wine business into an internationaloperation producing over two million cases of wine in three countries withconsolidated sales of over 10,000 million pesetas.
  The company was founded five generationsago in 1870, although early references indicate that the Torres familyexported bulk wine as early as 1628. Exports to Cuba, Mexico, Central Americaand Canada continued throughout the 19th century. In 1870, Jaime Torres,a Catalonian 'merchant who made a fortune in the shipping business, returnedfrom Cuba to his native Pened6s homeland to found the family bodega orwinery. He built what was then the world's largest wine vat with a storagecapacity of 600,000 litres.

  Bombed bymistake.
Childless, the business was inherited by his brother Miguel and handeddown from father to son ever since. The fourth generation Miguel Torres,who took over in 1932 until his death in May, 1991, is credited with buildingthe family company into an international winemaker out of the ruins atthe end of the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s.
  Torres Wine Story Image 5Thewineries were located next to the train station of Villafranca del Pened6sand were bombed by mistake. "But the disaster only inspired him tostart all over," recounted Miguel Torres Jr., the present 51 yearold Torres chairman. With the rebuilding of the winery, bulk wine salesended and labelled bottles with the Torres brand names were introduced."This was the beginning of the fame of brand names such as Sangrede Toro, Viha Sol and Coronas," recalled Juan Maria Torres, MiguelSr.'s eldest son and director of International Relations.
  "In 1941 France was invaded by NaziGermany and my father saw an opportunity to offer Spanish burgundy in theUnited States to replace French wines that were no longer available,"Miguel Jr. continued. Once World War II ended, and French wines returnedto the U.S., Torres had already gained a foothold in the American market.
  For the next two decades, Miguel Sr. tirelesslytravelled the world over with his wife, Margarita, each with a bottle ofwine under their arm. Considering the marketing success of Torres winestoday, it is astonishing to learn that Miguel Sr. never believed in commercialadvertising. Restaurant by restaurant, hotel by hotel, the couple travelledaround the world insisting that the maftre try their wines. "Theywouldn't leave a restaurant until our wine had been tried," MiguelJr. reminisced. His father believed that the quality of the product andhard work would pay off and generate an image of prestige.
  "Sometimes my father had dinner threetimes in an evening to get three hotels in a city half way around the worldto try our wine and my mother always carried a bottle in her purse,"Miguel Jr. confided.
  If the feisty, Miguel Sr. launched thecompany into an era of prestige brand names bringing the winery to ever-increasinglevels of sales and production, the soft-spoken and scientific minded MiguelJr. had quietly nudged the family business into the 20th century with newfangledscientific theories about temperature controlled fermentation in stainlesssteel vats.
  Having studied oenology and viticulturein the University of Dijon (Burgundy) he returned to the family businessin 1962 with the sophisticated science of modern wine making. (He latertook a sabbatical year in 1982-83 to update his wine making and viticultureknowledge, taking a specialist course at the University of Montpellierin France).

  Experimentswith foreign grapes.
Torres Wine Story Image 6Firsthe became fascinated with the importance of microclimates and the matchingof different wine varieties to the ideal climate and soil patterns. Hebelieved imported grape varieties could be used and/or blended with localgrapes to produce internationally familiar quality wines. While MiguelSr. continued to buy up more and more vineyards in the Pened4es area, MiguelJr. carefully studied the characteristics of the region's three differentsubdivisions: the Bajo Pened6s or flat coastal lowlands, the Medio Pened6sof rolling hills with an altitude between 250 and 500 metres (820 to 1,640feet), and the Penedos Superior which rises to the foothills of the coastalmountains, Cordillera Litoral Catalana, where vines can grow up to an altitudeof 800 metres (2,600 feet).
  By the late 1960s, Miguel Jr. had persuadedhis now successful father to let him experiment with imported grape varietiesin some of the vineyards. Matching foreign varieties to the appropriatemicroclimate and endless tinkering with different blends resulted in thenew white and red wines that soon rose to international fame. Chardonnay,Muscats, Gewijrztraminer, and Riesling produced fresh new white wines."We started with whites and moved on to reds," Miguel Jr. modestlyconfirmed.   Although the new white winesand their international acceptance easily convinced the family to continuealong the experimental path, the introduction of foreign grapes such asCabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir for red wines held even better surprises.In 1966, under the guidance of Miguel Jr., nine hectares (22 acres) ofCabernet Sauvignon grapes were planted on a hillside site. To the surpriseof international wine experts, Torres Gran Coronas Black Label 1970 (nowGran Corona Mas la Plana) won the Cabernet section at the Gault MillauWine Olympics in France in a blind tasting. The wine world suddenly tooknotice.

  Led intothe 20C.
In the meantime, Miguel Jr. quietly continued to improve root stocks, experimentwith clonal selection, correct harvesting times, and introduce new trainingand trellising methods. Then he practically revolutionized the Penedosregion with the introduction in the 1970s of computer temperature controlledfermentation in stainless steel vats. "Fresh fruity white wines, firstVifia Sol then Vifia Esmeralda, were the delightful result and they enjoyeda tremendous success," Miguel Jr. boasted. Other winemakers of theregion followed making the Penedos region the most technologically advancedof Spain.
  Traditional curing methods for red wineswere also improved. Top quality oak barrels mature the wines in vast undergroundcaves while teams of laboratory scientists experiment with different enzymesand yeasts for the fermentation process and study the effects of fertilizers.Ahead of its time in ecology consciousness, the Torres company used nopesticides. Instead, natural predators such as red spiders were introducedto control pests.
  Even harvest machines were added, shockingtraditional grape farmers. Today, about 500 hectares (1,200 acres) outof a total of 900 hectares (2,200 acres) are harvested by machine. "Theadvantage with machines is that harvesting can be done at night if daytimetemperatures are high," Miguel Jr. explained. In September, the Pened6sregion may still have hot days in which the fermentation process can beginduring the collection and transport of the grapes, reducing the qualityof the wine. In northern climates such as that in the Rhine Valley, hotdays are rarely a problem in September.

When Miguel Jr. made his appearance in the family company in the early1960s the wine business consistedmore in buying wines already made and blending them, i.e., it was primarilya negociant company. While Miguel Sr. travelled around the world, acreagegradually increased to 900 hectares (2,200 acres) in the Pened6s area wheretoday 16 different wines, six different brandies, and one orange liqueurare now produced with a variety of local and foreign grapes. The stainlesssteel vats were replaced in 1982 with newer versions to become a state-of-the-artwine making plant, perhaps one of the most modern in Europe.
  While the late Miguel Sr. continued tomarket Torres wines around the world, the fifth generation Torres familywent multinational, expanding the company's operation abroad with the purchaseof 100 hectares (247 acres) of vineyards in Chile in 1978 which would laterdouble to 230 hectares (568 acres). Located in the shadows of the ruggedAndes mountains in the famed Central Valley region near Curico, the Chileanacquisition now produces five different wines with both foreign and localgrape varieties. "We try to make each wine with as much of the localcharacter as possible," Migueljr. emphasised. "We like our winesto show their origins," he added.
  The purchase made Torres the leading foreigninvestor in Chile for that year. As in the Pened6s region, Miguel TorresJr. shook up the local wine establishment with the first stainless steeltanks imported from Spain.
  Not to be overshadowed by her elder brothers,Marimar Torres, the youngest sibling, carved out a spot for herself inthe United States where she took up residence in 1975 in California. Shetook over responsibility for sales and marketing of Torres wines with remarkablesuccess. Sales grew tenfold within 10 years.

  Acclaimin California.
Like her brother Miguel, she also studied oenology and viticulture butat the University of California at Davis, and was itching to put her knowledgeto practice. In 1983 she convinced her father to buy 25 hectares (56 acres)of vineyard in Green Valley, in the Sonoma wine producing region of California.Planting of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir began in 1986 alongside a small plotof Perellada, the first time this native Catalan white grape had been plantedoutside Spain.
  A new 15,000 case winery was completedin time for the crush of '92 which will be released in 1994. Critics havealready acclaimed the first vintages made in other wineries and termedher 1990 Chardonnay labelled under her own name, Marimar Torres, as "significantlybetter than any white wine her family has produced in either Spain or Chile."(" The Wine Advocate", 28 - 8 - 92)
  Unlike most of her winemaking neighbours,Marimar Torres planted her vines in the European style with the vines closeto the ground on an open vertical trellis. And what has now proved to bea wise move indeed, she insisted on using rootstocks chosen for both phylloxeraresistance and low vigour. As alarm spreads throughout the California wineregions with the appearance of the dreaded phylloxera plague that wipedout European vineyards a hundred years ago, the vineyards of Torres WinesNorth America Inc. are safely protected with plague resistant roots. Americangrowers had begun to use hybrids that were less resistant to the insectthat has already caused millions of dollars of damage.
  Outspoken and a passionate defender ofthe European custom of accompanying good meals with a glass of wine, Marimarlaments that wine sales in general have declined in the United States dueto governmental anti-alcohol campaigns. "Fortunately, quality wineconsumption is on the rise and there is a future for prestigious brand-namewines," she affirmed.
  A firm believer in the pleasure and healthinessof the Mediterranean diet now in vogue in the United States, the youngestfifth generation Torres has just published her second book, " TheCatalan Country Kitcben", extolling the virtues of the tasty mealsshe grew up with in her native homeland. Earlier, in 1986 she had published"The Spanish Table: the Cuisine and Wines of Spain."
  All the Torreses travel to the three differentestates and oenologists are rotated to learn from experience in the differentcountries. Miguel Jr., meanwhile, continues to experiment and tinker withdifferent varieties of grapes and blends. One plot of land has vines fromalmost every part of the world on an experimental basis only. He has alsobecome more obsessed with recovering indigenous red wines of the Penedesregion which have practically disappeared in the last 100 years.

  Famein Little Rock, Arkansas.
Exports continue to be the mainstay of the Torres family business. over40% of production is exported to over 90 countries around the world. Swedenis the biggest market with sales of over 120,000 cases, followed by theUnited States, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. Over 70% of the Chileanproduction of 1,250,000 bottles is also exported.
  All three Torres heirs attribute the company'ssuccessful image abroad to a combination of determination and faith ina quality product, hard work, and an open mentality to risk change withinnovations. Miguel Sr. often told his children his policy toward his overseasclients. "Once a Chicago-bound shipment got frozen due to a freaksnow storm in Iceland, " recalled Juan Maria. "My father didn'tthink twice to replace the entire ruined shipment of 800 cases and thatinvestment gave a lifelong return." It is not surprising that MiguelTorres S.A. has grown from local success to world-class status.
  The Torres brothers are fond of tellingtheir most recent anecdote about the fame of Torres wine in far cornersof the earth. The owner of President Clinton's favourite restaurant inLittle Rock, Arkansas, was recently interviewed on U.S. television aboutthe new president's tastes in food and drink. After listing his favouritedishes, she added, "... and he likes red wine: Sangre de Toro."

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Ana Westly is the Spain correspondentfor The New York Times.
Photos: Ma Luisa Assens
Graphic Design: Distinctly Graphix