Does the marketing of wines from Mallorca contain ideas for English winemakers?
So there I was in a smallish country, where wine has been made since time immemorial. There’s a historic reputation of poor quality, but a groundswell of really rather good winemakers starting to win international trophies, yet even the natives of that country are largely unaware of the good things going on and of the very good wines being made on their doorstep. Sound at all familiar? Actually, it’s not England or Wales, but Mallorca.
I didn’t go to Mallorca with the intention of tracking down good wines and if someone had asked before I found out more, I’d have guessed they made some kind of “vin de pays” which was perfectly acceptable there in the sunshine, but really didn’t travel. We’d probably have expected to drink Spanish wine if we wanted anything decent. But then the big Catalan influence, with Palma being described in one guide book as a “mini-Barcelona” was something I didn’t know much about either, so perhaps a bit of national pride and independence of spirit plays a part?
In the way of these things, I was a bit busy before we headed off, but had established that there were a twenty or so vineyards and the idea of visiting a few had started to form. As we headed along the main road from Palma to our destination of Port de Pollença, the first indication of wine growing was big sign showing a bunch of grapes on the motorway as we passed each appellation or denominación controlada, including Binissalem, about half way along our route, so just twenty minutes or so from where we would be staying.
We’d established that there were a number of vineyards in the Binissalem area, so set off late one morning for this charming little town. Although December was obviously very much out of season and little was open, there were rows of conifers in pots lining pedestrian streets and the whole town was appealingly sign-posted to show cellars or bodegas for tasting. It was clear that a very happy afternoon could be had strolling from one to the other, tasting as you went.
As it was, we had a delicious tapas lunch in the main square (just beware of the large portions more suitable for a hungry vineyard worker than a tourist!) and headed to the edge of town to José Luis Ferrer, the only one that was open. They were obviously the big guys of the local wine makers and I had rather hoped to see the smaller ones, but in fact the Ferrer tasting room and shop was delightful. It was 10 Euros for a tasting of 4 still wines and a cava, with local bread biscuits. The measures were very generous and they said this is normally shared by 2 people, with the cost refundable against purchase. I booked to go on the full tour a couple of days later. After that tour, I talked with my guide Miguel Bujosa about marketing and said how impressed we’d been with the signage in town and asked whether that was a state or industry initiative – he said it was the vineyards themselves who had decided that co-operation was better than competition, although of course a little healthy competition remains! If one vineyard wins an international award, then that vineyard gains some respect, but if several win prizes, then Mallorcan wine as a whole starts to get attention.
The underpinning of their strategy has been to get restaurants and vineyards to serve local wines. He said that the restaurants had been relatively easy as they were largely owned by Mallorcans who were often supportive once they were awakened to the possibility. The main barrier had been, as here, that wines in small countries isolated from big wine regions are expensive to produce and therefore to sell, although some compromises have been made on margins. Hotels had been more difficult; if part of a chain where the Food & Beverage Manager is based in Madrid, say, it’s a much harder sell. The result of all of this hard work, though, is that their export business is growing. So tourists get to try the wines when they eat out, perhaps visit the vineyard and then buy the wines once they get home – consequently Germany, the Scandinavian countries and to a lesser extent the UK are the main export markets. Spain, which one might have expected is, he said, already over-supplied with their own wine. It’s also clear that wine & vineyard tours have been part of the tourist industry’s strategy to shed the old reputation Mallorca had and create a more attractive visitor experience.
Once we had started to find our way around oenologically, contacts led to other contacts and suggestions to visit, from the very old vines at José Luis Ferrer to the new kid on the block with a great reputation, Mortitx. What was really interesting, though, was the co-operation between vineyards and marketing of Mallorcan wines in general. In our local town of Pollença, a deli-cum-farm shop Ca’n Fusteret, featured its own Bodega where you could taste wines, and either buy wine from the barrel or from a really good selection of local bottles.
Not only is there a Mallorca Wine Week (usually 3rd week of April), but different regions have their own wine weeks, too. We understand that Binissalem Wine Week is held in September, for example.
Recalling Bob Lindo’s airport protest and our own disappointment at failing to find English wines at our airports, I was pleasantly surprised to see not only a branch of El Corte Inglés selling food and wines at Palma airport, but even the Duty Free Shop had an excellent selection of Mallorcan wines, a good number of which were available to taste. Given that wines cannot be carried in hand luggage any more and the risk of putting wine in a suitcase, the offering for sale of local wines at airports seems hugely important to me – particularly as travellers are likely to be on their way to visit business associates, friends or family abroad and a bit less price-sensitive there, too.
All in all, not just the break in the sun I had hoped for, but a real insight into some very good wines and a glimpse of a model of marketing local wine that I can’t help thinking English and Welsh wines could learn from. I’m sure a trip to Mallorca Wine Week 2014 is justified on the grounds of research…
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