The man whose wines still reign in Spain

Sat, Apr 28, 2012, 01:00

Spanish family winemaker Torres has survived two wars to become the most powerful brand in Europe, writes JOHN WILSON

WE ARE STANDING in the foyer of the Four Seasons Hotel, Dublin; Miguel Torres is checking out. Before departing, he asks to speak to the food and beverage manager. He wants to know why none of his wines are on the wine list. He passes on his compliments and his business card.

Torres is a born salesman and a successful entrepreneur. Over 30 years, he has expanded his family company into a business employing 1,300 people. Torres was recently voted the most powerful European wine brand, the sole competitor from this continent to the major American, Chilean and Australian corporations. Despite this success, Miguel Torres comes across as modest and unassuming.

In 1982, frustrated by the length of time it took his own father, Miguel Torres Carbó, to hand over the reins, Torres went to France for a year to study modern viticulture and winemaking. When he returned, and became head of the company, he insisted that managing directors at the group must retire at 70. Torres is now 70, so will he go? And if so, who will take over? Two of the three Torres children currently share responsibilities. Son Miguel is in charge of the Chilean operation. Daughter Meriea is technical director, responsible for winemaking and research. Torres avoids the question, intimating that he intends staying on for a few years yet.

Torres has brought about huge changes in the company. He built a state-of-the-art winery in Vilafranca del Penèdes and introduced “foreign” grape varieties. Production now straddles three continents. In 1979, Torres was one of the first foreign wine companies to invest in Chile.

At home, Torres remained resolutely Catalan, although in the last decade it has expanded into Ribera del Duero and Rioja. More recently the firm has spent €8 million on research into reducing the environmental impact of the business.

“I still have ‘chick-pea’ lunches with 10 workers and no managers in the canteen. I tell them about our vision; they tell me how things are with them. I don’t believe in a company with managers; it is paramount that the workers are happy,” he says.

“My father started to work in the business in 1940. He was in New York when France was invaded by the Germans and could no longer export wine. So he started to bottle his own wine – he made Spanish Chablis and Spanish Burgundy.”

The Chablis eventually became Viña Sol, and the Burgundy Sangre de Toro. During the Spanish Civil War the winery was taken over by anarchists, forcing Carbó to flee to the relative safety of Barcelona. The winery was bombed by the Germans.

“Today our strategy must be to make great wines. We already make good everyday wines that everybody knows, but we need to make wines that really make people notice. We cannot leave this all to the French. My children,” he says with a smile, “will have to work hard at this.”

Viña Sol 2010, Calatayud 11.5% €8-10Light, fresh, crisp and dry, Viña Sol is a perfect everyday wine to drink by itself or with seafood. Stockists: Widely available, including Dunnes Stores; Tesco; Supervalu; Centra; Londis; Lidl; Next Door Group; Deveney’s; Molloy’s and O’Briens.

Torres Mas Rabell Red 2009, Catalunya 13.5% Around €20Available exclusively in restaurants, Mas Rabell was first produced for the Torres restaurant in Catalunya. A blend of Garnacha, Cariñena and Merlot, it is a supple wine with smooth, dark fruits.

Cordillerra 2005, Central Valley, Chile 14% €19.90The Torres operation in Chile makes some impressive wine, including the excellent Manso de Velasco, its premium Cabernet-based red. A rich, spicy wine with firm, dark fruits and a good, dry finish. Drink with red meats. Stockists: O’Briens; McHughs, Kilbarrack and Artane; Savages, Swords; Bradley’s, Cork.

Mas la Plana 2007, Penedès 14.5% €38A single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that, in the past, was compared to top Bordeaux. It has become bigger and richer over the years and offers clean, structured blackcurrant fruits, overlaid with spicy oak, and a long, elegant finish. Stockists: Widely available.