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Torres Wine Story Image 1


Text: Ana Westly
Photos: Ma Luisa Assens

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 the dream of any company with a quality product to sell. Over the past few decades companies that were originally known only in Spain have burst into the international market bringing new trademarks into households around the world. Each company that has managed to expand beyond local and national success to introduce its products in the larger world market has a fascinating story to tell.

  Torres Wine Story Image 3PerhapsTorres wines are one of the most internationally recognized Spanish products. For decades the wines of Miguel Torres, S.A. have been included on the wine lists at the best restaurants around the world, including France. You can spot the Torres brand name in any duty-free shop at international air-ports and wine-drinking consumers the world over associate the Torres label with quality wine within a reasonable price range.
  Ask for a Spanish wine anywhere in the world and chances are you will be shown several Torres wines. In fact, if asked to name internationally known Spanish products, the chances are high that Torres Wine Story Image 4Torres wines would be high on your list. Headquartered in Villafranea del Penedos, an ancient Catalonian wine-producing region 30 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of Barcelona, Miguel Torres S.A. is Spain's largest independently owned winery, and the largest exporter of still wines to major markets such as the United States. With regular exports to over 90 countries in all the continents, Miguel Torres S.A. has almost single handedly created a name for Spanish wine around the world.
  The story of this remarkable international marketing success is the story of a remarkable winemaker family that had the tenacity and vision to turn a modest bulk wine business into an international operation producing over two million cases of wine in three countries with consolidated sales of over 10,000 million pesetas.
  The company was founded five generations ago in 1870, although early references indicate that the Torres family exported bulk wine as early as 1628. Exports to Cuba, Mexico, Central America and Canada continued throughout the 19th century. In 1870, Jaime Torres, a Catalonian 'merchant who made a fortune in the shipping business, returned from Cuba to his native Pened6s homeland to found the family bodega or winery. He built what was then the world's largest wine vat with a storage capacity of 600,000 liters.

  Bombed by mistake.
Childless, the business was inherited by his brother Miguel and handed down 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 building the family company into an international winemaker out of the ruins at the end of the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s.
  Torres Wine Story Image 5The wineries were located next to the train station of Villa Franca del Pened6sand were bombed by mistake. "But the disaster only inspired him to start all over," recounted Miguel Torres Jr., the present 51 year old Torres chairman. With the rebuilding of the winery, bulk wine sales ended and labeled bottles with the Torres brand names were introduced." This was the beginning of the fame of brand names such as Sangre de Toro, Viha Sol and Coronas," recalled Juan Maria Torres, Miguel Sr.'s eldest son and director of International Relations.
  "In 1941 France was invaded by Nazi Germany and my father saw an opportunity to offer Spanish burgundy in the United States to replace French wines that were no longer available," Miguel Jr. continued. Once World War II ended, and French wines returned to the U.S., Torres had already gained a foothold in the American market.
  For the next two decades, Miguel Sr. tirelessly traveled the world over with his wife, Margarita, each with a bottle of wine under their arm. Considering the marketing success of Torres wines today, it is astonishing to learn that Miguel Sr. never believed in commercial advertising. Restaurant by restaurant, hotel by hotel, the couple traveled around the world insisting that the maftre try their wines. "They wouldn't leave a restaurant until our wine had been tried," Miguel Jr. reminisced. His father believed that the quality of the product and hard work would pay off and generate an image of prestige.
  "Sometimes my father had dinner three times in an evening to get three hotels in a city half way around the world to try our wine and my mother always carried a bottle in her purse," Miguel Jr. confided.
  If the feisty, Miguel Sr. launched the company into an era of prestige brand names bringing the winery to ever-increasing levels of sales and production, the soft-spoken and scientific minded Miguel Jr. had quietly nudged the family business into the 20th century with newfangled scientific theories about temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel vats.
  Having studied oenology and viticulture in the University of Dijon (Burgundy) he returned to the family business in 1962 with the sophisticated science of modern wine making. (He later took a sabbatical year in 1982-83 to update his wine making and viticulture knowledge, taking a specialist course at the University of Montpellier in France).

  Experiments with foreign grapes.
Torres Wine Story Image 6First he became fascinated with the importance of microclimates and the matching of different wine varieties to the ideal climate and soil patterns. He believed imported grape varieties could be used and/or blended with local grapes to produce internationally familiar quality wines. While Miguel Sr. continued to buy up more and more vineyards in the Pened4es area, Miguel Jr. carefully studied the characteristics of the region's three different subdivisions: the Bajo Pened6s or flat coastal lowlands, the Medio Penedos of rolling hills with an altitude between 250 and 500 meters (820 to 1,640 feet), and the Penedos Superior which rises to the foothills of the coastal mountains, Cordillera Litoral Catalana, where vines can grow up to an altitude of 800 meters (2,600 feet).
  By the late 1960s, Miguel Jr. had persuaded his now successful father to let him experiment with imported grape varieties in some of the vineyards. Matching foreign varieties to the appropriate microclimate and endless tinkering with different blends resulted in the new 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. modestly confirmed.   Although the new white wines and their international acceptance easily convinced the family to continue along the experimental path, the introduction of foreign grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir for red wines held even better surprises. In 1966, under the guidance of Miguel Jr., nine hectares (22 acres) of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were planted on a hillside site. To the surpriseof international wine experts, Torres Gran Coronas Black Label 1970 (now Gran Corona Mas la Plana) won the Cabernet section at the Gault Millau Wine Olympics in France in a blind tasting. The wine world suddenly took notice.

  Led into the 20C.
In the meantime, Miguel Jr. quietly continued to improve root stocks, experiment with colonel selection, correct harvesting times, and introduce new training and trellising methods. Then he practically revolutionized the Penedos region with the introduction in the 1970s of computer temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel vats. "Fresh fruity white wines, first Vifia Sol then Vifia Esmeralda, were the delightful result and they enjoyed a tremendous success," Miguel Jr. boasted. Other winemakers of the region followed making the Penedos region the most technologically advanced of Spain.
  Traditional curing methods for red wines were also improved. Top quality oak barrels mature the wines in vast underground caves while teams of laboratory scientists experiment with different enzymes and yeasts for the fermentation process and study the effects of fertilizers. Ahead of its time in ecology consciousness, the Torres company used no pesticides. Instead, natural predators such as red spiders were introduced to control pests.
  Even harvest machines were added, shocking traditional grape farmers. Today, about 500 hectares (1,200 acres) out of a total of 900 hectares (2,200 acres) are harvested by machine. "The advantage with machines is that harvesting can be done at night if daytime temperatures are high," Miguel Jr. explained. In September, the Pened6sregion may still have hot days in which the fermentation process can begin during the collection and transport of the grapes, reducing the quality of the wine. In northern climates such as that in the Rhine Valley, hot days are rarely a problem in September.

  Multinational expansion.
When Miguel Jr. made his appearance in the family company in the early1960s the wine business consisted more in buying wines already made and blending them, i.e., it was primarily a negociant company. While Miguel Sr. traveled around the world, acreage gradually increased to 900 hectares (2,200 acres) in the Pened6s area where today 16 different wines, six different brandies, and one orange liqueur are now produced with a variety of local and foreign grapes. The stainless steel vats were replaced in 1982 with newer versions to become a state-of-the-art wine making plant, perhaps one of the most modern in Europe.
  While the late Miguel Sr. continued to market Torres wines around the world, the fifth generation Torres family went multinational, expanding the company's operation abroad with the purchase of 100 hectares (247 acres) of vineyards in Chile in 1978 which would later double to 230 hectares (568 acres). Located in the shadows of the rugged Andes mountains in the famed Central Valley region near Curico, the Chilean acquisition now produces five different wines with both foreign and local grape varieties. "We try to make each wine with as much of the local character as possible," Miguel, jr. emphasized. "We like our wines to show their origins," he added.
  The purchase made Torres the leading foreign investor in Chile for that year. As in the Pened6s region, Miguel Torres, Jr. shook up the local wine establishment with the first stainless steel tanks imported from Spain.
  Not to be overshadowed by her elder brothers, Marimar Torres, the youngest sibling, carved out a spot for herself in the United States where she took up residence in 1975 in California. She took over responsibility for sales and marketing of Torres wines with remarkable success. Sales grew tenfold within 10 years.

  Acclaim in California.
Like her brother Miguel, she also studied oenology and viticulture but at the University of California at Davis, and was itching to put her knowledge to 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 plot of Perellada, the first time this native Catalan white grape had been planted outside Spain.
  A new 15,000 case winery was completed in time for the crush of '92 which will be released in 1994. Critics have already acclaimed the first vintages made in other wineries and termed her 1990 Chardonnay labeled under her own name, Marimar Torres, as "significantly better than any white wine her family has produced in either Spain or Chile."(" The Wine Advocate", 28 - 8 - 92)
  Unlike most of her winemaking neighbors, Marimar Torres planted her vines in the European style with the vines close to the ground on an open vertical trellis. And what has now proved to be a wise move indeed, she insisted on using rootstocks chosen for both phylloxera resistance and low vigor. As alarm spreads throughout the California wine regions with the appearance of the dreaded phylloxera plague that wiped out European vineyards a hundred years ago, the vineyards of Torres Wines North America Inc. are safely protected with plague resistant roots. American growers had begun to use hybrids that were less resistant to the insect that has already caused millions of dollars of damage.
  Outspoken and a passionate defender of the European custom of accompanying good meals with a glass of wine, Marimar laments that wine sales in general have declined in the United States due to governmental anti-alcohol campaigns. "Fortunately, quality wine consumption is on the rise and there is a future for prestigious brand-name wines," she affirmed.
  A firm believer in the pleasure and healthiness of the Mediterranean diet now in vogue in the United States, the youngest fifth generation Torres has just published her second book, " The Catalan Country Kitchen", extolling the virtues of the tasty meals she 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 different estates and oenologists are rotated to learn from experience in the different countries. Miguel Jr., meanwhile, continues to experiment and tinker with different varieties of grapes and blends. One plot of land has vines from almost every part of the world on an experimental basis only. He has also become more obsessed with recovering indigenous red wines of the Penedes region which have practically disappeared in the last 100 years.

  Fame in 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. Sweden is the biggest market with sales of over 120,000 cases, followed by the United States, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. Over 70% of the Chilean production of 1,250,000 bottles is also exported.
  All three Torres heirs attribute the company's successful image abroad to a combination of determination and faith in a quality product, hard work, and an open mentality to risk change with innovations. Miguel Sr. often told his children his policy toward his overseas clients. "Once a Chicago-bound shipment got frozen due to a freak snow storm in Iceland, " recalled Juan Maria. "My father didn't think twice to replace the entire ruined shipment of 800 cases and that investment gave a lifelong return." It is not surprising that Miguel Torres S.A. has grown from local success to world-class status.
  The Torres brothers are fond of telling their most recent anecdote about the fame of Torres wine in far corners of the earth. The owner of President Clinton's favorite restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas, was recently interviewed on U.S. television about the new president's tastes in food and drink. After listing his favorite dishes, she added, "... and he likes red wine: Sangre de Toro."

Ana Westly is the Spain correspondent for The New York Times.
Photos: Ma Luisa Assens


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