Two Sides of the Coin in Valencia’s Vineyards.


Two Sides of the Coin in Valencias Vineyards.
 
The two sides of Valencian winemaking seem to be at odds this weekend over the future of Valencian wine. The problem seems to be essentially related to the difference between the Bodega owners, or `bodegueros´and the families who grow grapes, the`cosecheros´, but who do not make their own wine, choosing to sell to the Cooperatives instead.  
 
The two stances could not really be more stark and stem from the historical position of winemaking in the community. The vast majority of grape-growers fall into the cosechero category. They  are families who have owned parcels of vines for generations in many cases and who sell their product either to the co-ops or in some cases to independent bodegas. In the last few years the price paid for grapes has dropped dramatically. There are a number of reasons for this including a fall off in the amount of consumption per head, new regulations in the vineyards and new driving requirements. I have mentioned before the problems faced by a largely older community who now have to re-plant their vines and train them into lines to assist in automating the harvest. Secondly many are in their old age and now face having to take a driving test in order to be able to tow  a trailer behind their tractors. Despite grubbing up of vines under  EU regulations to reduce the size of the total winegrowing area, overproduction remains a huge problem. Almost all of the 2008 crop was still held in store before the record 2009 harvest came in. This has led to calls for and permission given to turn huge amounts of this over-capacity into spirits, mainly brandy.
 
Small wonder then that AVA-ASAJA, the Valencian wine growers and agricultural organisation is calling for extraordinary measures to combat the problem faced by its members. Cristóbal Aguado, President of the organisation is calling for specific assistance to the sector to avoid it´s complete destruction. Firstly they are proposing that the 2010 harvest is treated as `green´ i.e. left on the vine to rot. Further they propose that compensation be paid by the hectare but point out that this will at least save growers the costs involved where last year the costs of production of a kilo of grapes was about 50% more than the price paid for the crop. No wonder then that a growing number of these `farmers´are abandoning their plots. Moreover converting the crop into brandy will simply saturate that market so the AVA-ASAJA plan has some merit economically, not just for Valencia but also for Spain as a whole.
 
They are also calling for a more efficient umbrella body to promote the wines of the whole region. To this extent and to their immense credit they are backing the call for UNESCO heritage status which CRDO Utiel-Requena has launched and about  which I wrote last month.
 
Sales of Valencian wines fell last year by 14.9% in value and 18.7% in volume despite their being the third cheapest wines in Spain after Castilla-La Mancha and Extramaduro.
 
Contrast this with the marketing effort being put in by the Bodegueros. Only last week CRDO Utiel- Requena and IVEX, the Valencian Export Institute held a very successful mini-fair ( the third in as many years ) at their HQ the Bodega Redonda in Utiel. This was attended by the Director of Internationalisation of IVEX, Cristina Villosé, Marta Valsangiacomo, Director General of Commercialisation at the Agriculture Ministry and Mar Casanova, Director of Commercialisation.
 
Twenty five bodegas, including some Cooperatives presented their wines to importers from Brasil, China, Japan, the United States, Great Britain, Mexico, Poland, Romania and Russia. All of these countries recognise the quality of product and have clear intentions to import wines from the D.O. Moreover other bodegas already have a growing market in the UK through supermarkets and specialist outlets so even in a depressed and very competitive market the product is selling abroad and the quality recognised. After a buffet lunch the importers were free to visit some of the bodegas and later had the chance to see some of the thousands of years old viticultural heritage which is at the root of the claim for UNESCO world heritage status.
 
Sadly this is a tale of two sides which desperately need to come together quickly. The historical root of the problem is that until thirty years ago almost all Valencian wine was sold or exported in bulk, the latter to France, Switzerland and Romania amongst others. As a result there are no Bodegas with a really Internationally recognised trademark such as in Rioja for example. Moreover the biggest complaint amongst English speaking supporters of Valencian wine is the crass distribution policy. It is next to impossible to buy some of the best wines unless you go the Bodega or know who distributes and sells the wines for them. Sometimes pulling teeth is easier than finding this information out.
 
So the marketing efforts of the better bodegas ( including the internet and social network sites ) have to be combined with better marketing for all, leading to a better appreciation of the product, reduction of over production and most of all an end to the archaic distribution system. Much more work needs to be done internationally to promote the region and its wine tourism. I am unaware of any distributor who markets Internationally, relying more on its network of restaurants to sell into. Sadly the numbers of those leaving the land will increase but never has the opportunity been better for quality producers moving in. The price of land is low.  The number of new bodegas, young winemakers and some fabulous wines are conversely on the increase.
 
Valencian wine will, given good leadership, come through the present crisis and take a stronger position in the International market but not before someone sits down and recognises the problem for what it is, lack of a central coordination and an until now inward looking marketing policy. The cosecheros have to look to the bodegueros as allies as they will lead the way, and not as some sort of elite who are doing them down.
 
 
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