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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Monday, January 18 2010. 17:24

Star Interview: Meticulous Miguel Torres

While many small and medium European wineries are fighting for survival, Miguel Torres is busy acquiring more vineyards and seriously planning for global warming, even though he may soon retire from playing an active role, writes Subhash Arora who had an exclusive chat with him recently in Mumbai  

If you met him taking a walk in Barcelona with a briefcase which he opened at the Mezzo Restaurant at the recent dinner organised for him in Mumbai, you would think Miguel Torres is an income-tax inspector. His stern looks and the sheaf of papers stacked meticulously inside his briefcase would be a sure give-away.

In reality, he may not wield as much power as the Indian IT inspector, but in Spain he runs one of the most dynamic and progressive wineries from Villa Franca, a small town near Barcelona-and wields influence as far away as Chile, China and California.

Meticulous Miguel

Sitting next to me at the stately dinner hosted by the JW Marriott Hotel, which prides itself as one of the top three food and wine destinations in Mumbai, and the newly formed Terroir One- Mumbai Chapter of the Delhi Wine Club, Mr. Miguel Torres Sr., quietly took out the sheaf of papers that had photographs glued on every  page. After studying his papers briefly, he told me we had lunch at Hotel Imperial in Delhi in April 2008, with a gleam in his eyes that told me he keeps track of things around him meticulously.

Torres is known to be as meticulous in winemaking to keep the Torres flag flying high and making it a universally accepted brand synonymous with value-for-money wines at various price points. In the world of branding where Europe hopelessly lags behind the New World, his is perhaps the only European brand in the list of global top twenty. 

In fact, in India, a majority of people might not even know it is a Spanish brand.
Part of the reason is because Torres has an impressive presence in Chile as well as in California and the Prestige Wines, the JV between Torres, Grant (of whisky fame) and the Indian tycoon Gautam Thapar imports and markets Torres from all the three countries.

Recession and Torres

How has Torres been touched by the recession? ‘Well we have had about a 4% drop in our revenues of around € 200 m last year. But we were affected much less than most others. But our profits were under squeeze.’

Did they have to reduce prices of their wines? ‘In some specific markets we have had to adjust the prices. The single vineyard wines have suffered the most. But in India and China we continue to sell expensive wines very well.’

Going Organic

‘We have been continuously moving towards organic wines with Chile and California being 100% organic. In fact, the latter is planning to go bio-dynamic. Spain will be 80% organic by the year end.’

‘I am surprised to see many vineyards which are organic and yet use metallic poles! I believe wood must be used as much as possible,’ justifying that wood is good for reducing carbon foot prints.

Climate Change

When the history of global warming and its effects on wine making is written along with the contribution by the wine producers to reduce carbon foot prints, Miguel Torres Senior’s foot prints would be most visible.

Perhaps the most important contribution by a European winemaker in this field today comes from Miguel Torres. He does not mind boasting that he takes global warming very seriously. ‘Three years ago we decided to sink in 10 million Euros towards alleviating effects of global warming in the coming five years. We feel that the threat is real. One must be prepared for 2° C increase in average temperature during the next 20-30 years.’

He says with pride that Torres was the only winery, one of the ten companies invited at the Copenhagen meet on global warming held in December, 2009. Earlier he was a speaker at the WineFuture international conference in Rioja in November, 2009. He also plans to support another such convention in June this year.

‘Is it true that you are purchasing vineyards at higher altitudes now as a countermeasure against global warming?’ ‘We had already started buying land in the mountains 10 years ago. We have reached a height of 1200 m for our vineyards. We made a study and consequently have stopped planting in warm areas,’ adding ‘our objective has been to continuously reduce carbon foot prints.’

Enology is already being affected by the climate change. ‘We are working with the canopy management but that has limited scope. We are also experimenting with hundreds of strains of yeasts that will produce less alcohol.’ Alcohol is one of the effects of global warming- the higher sugar levels result in higher alcohol.

One would imagine that the Torres example has been able to motivate other European producers to follow. ‘Unfortunately, the recession has hit most producers. This is the time when survival is more important. Producers are not in a mood to invest in reduction of carbon footprints when they are trying to stay afloat.’

To catch a Thief with Torres Ten

Everyone knows Torres makes a diverse range of wine. But few in India are aware that it produces and exports quality brandy as well. Torres 10 may not be the brandy of choice for most Indians to whom only Cognac is synonymous with brandy. However, Spanish brandy including the signature Torres 10 which is extremely popular in Mexico and many South American countries.

Miguel narrated to me an interesting event that took place a couple of weeks earlier in Mexico and is worth repeating. It appears a group of five people robbed a department store and put all the loot in the truck, ready to leave. As the last guy was leaving, he chanced upon a bottle of Torres Ten he could not resist and polished off half the bottle before leaving. The police was relieved to trace the robbers later because of the…you guessed it, finger prints he left behind.
Future Expansion Plans

‘At the sales levels we have achieved, I don’t believe we can expand much without leaving more carbon footprints we so care about. We plan to upgrade the company and make still better quality. I don’t want us to grow anymore. We will go for lesser volumes but higher value. This means that we will move away from the lower ended products in future.’

How about buying out other wineries for expansion, I ask? ‘In my generation, we don’t believe in buying wineries but we like to grow from the existing business, we always want to have our own creations in the market. Torres means quality for consumers-be it Spain, Chile or California and I hope we can make our products even better in quality.’

Retirement Plans

Torres plans to retire in two years confirming the buzz in the international wine circuit. In all likelihood his son Miguel Jr., recently dispatched to Chile to manage the Chilean operation, will don the mantle, though his sister Maraiea, married to a chemical engineer  not involved in Torres, is also quite active and astute in handling the wine business. But Spain, like Italy is still a patriarchal society and sons usually carry on the family names (someone, please correct me!).

This may not be a simple matter in this case. ‘We have engaged an American firm, Ivan Lasnberg to do our estate planning before I step down. They are meeting and interviewing all the employees and various stakeholders in what they call 360° interview. They should give their report in a year’s time.’

Of course, Miguel Sr., his brother who has retired and the sister who runs the Californian operation are all partners in the company and retirement would still mean that he stays in the Board but will not look after the day-to-day affairs of the company.. His routine may include visiting PFV road shows when organised.

PFV- Primum Familiae Vini

As the name suggests, PFV is the first families of wine- a group formed by 12 wine families (currently 11), mainly from Europe. For earlier articles on PFV in delWine , click .

Miguel whose winery was represented by his brother recently at Shangri-la Hotels in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo, is very happy about this association and the concept and exclaims, ‘we love it!’ No wonder they represent a member from Burgundy Joseph Drouhin in India and China where they also represent Baroness Philippine Rothschild (Mouton), and Symington Port for Singapore as well.

Please Pause Protectionism

Miguel Torres Sr. is very excited about the Chinese market where the company has a substantial presence as importers. ‘There is no protectionism to the local industry and the wine economy is booming. Chinese wines are competing with the imported wines and are getting better and better.’

He is not happy about the protectionism in India and feels it ought to stop. ‘Indian wines are good enough in quality-they don’t need protection. Tata cars are seen in Europe and even in Spain. What if Spain imposed heavy import duties to protect the indigenous industry? Do you think it would be right? Would it be possible for the cars to compete with high import taxes?’

Torres! Torres! Miguel Torres!

Miguel Torres Sr. is the 4th generation family member running the 140-year company and is actually Miguel Torres the 3rd. His son Miguel Jr who is handling the Chilean operations since this year’s beginning is Miguel 4th. So is Miguel 5th on his way? Miguel Torres Jr’s wife, Sara is expecting a son.

‘I cannot say-it is up to the parents to decide. I would like them to name him Miguel. But times have changed and one may not dictate to children. They do what they please. So we would be happy with whatever they decide.’

We love India

One of the mantras for foreign producers who want to enter India is that they should love India with all its quirks and faults, its bureaucracy and the political expediencies, illogical policies and paradoxes. Miguel and Waltraud Torres get full marks in this criterion.

‘We both love your country and visit as often as we can.’ In fact, the Torres’ were passing through Mumbai only for a day on their way to the back waters of Kerala when I met them. While transiting through Mumbai, Waltraud Torres insisted on staying at the Taj Mahal Hotel-old wing; she felt so connected emotionally because of what had happened here on 26/11 in 2008 that she wanted to feel the vibrations.

They visit India as often as they can. Perhaps, this is the reason Miguel keeps on pouring more money and resources too; to give them more reason to visit ‘your beautiful country!

One hopes Mr. Miguel Torres Sr. who was driven from the Taj to the JW Marriott on that memorable wine dinner evening of 7th January, 2010, through unprecedented traffic so far as has he was concerned, made a short entry on a paper in his briefcase, reading ‘great, unending joy ride through the never ending traffic for over two hours- must stay at the JW Marriott next year!’

Subhash Arora


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