July 14, 2020

Manuel Muga: "Spanish wines rub shoulders with the best in the world" :: KPMG

– We have managed to combine tradition with modernity. It is a very artisan winery, the whole process of elaboration is in oak, we have nothing in stainless steel or cement. Is that good, is it bad, is it better? It is different, but it works well for us. We have the reputation of being handmade and it is true, we like to keep what we consider worthwhile, which brings quality in the manufacturing process. We will do it, even if it involves a significant extra cost. But we will also incorporate the technological advances that make us improve.

–All the Denomination of Origin (D.O.) has 65,000 hectares of vineyards. Of them, 350 are ours. There are about 300,000 inhabitants and about 17,000 are wine growers. That means that the land, the vineyard, is very distributed. Some wineries have a very small production, in other cases it is one hundred percent purchased and in others mixed. In our case, 60% of the needs we have to make our wines are covered with those 350 hectares, the rest we buy. In the last ten or fifteen years, our goal has been to avoid not depending as much as before buying grapes, investing in our own vineyard and, with that 60%, we are more or less comfortable. Thus we can guarantee the quality of the raw material that enters our warehouse, because we take care of it, we harvest it, we control it.

-Effectively. In years of bonanza, such as 2004, 2005 or 2007, we decided not to increase production, to stay in the volumes we had, that we controlled them well. Despite having a lot of demand, we bet to gain prestige. Fortunately, we have done well, but we have had to devote enough investment to land to select production.

“Climate change produces wine with more alcohol levels”

–Lands that are not very productive, in areas that are not flat, rather at altitude. Of course, the weather sets the quality or style of a crop, but previous work is very important. And we put that, the human factor. At the beginning of the year, we do a pre-pruning with a machine, but then it is manual. You follow up throughout the year. You need to hire enough people, it is one of the powerful investments we have made. It is not the same to have staff to take care of 100 hectares of vineyards than for triple. Right now, the vineyards are taken care of as if they were gardens, when before they had a little forgotten, the important thing was the elaboration.

– The productions are inferior to what they could be, because, with the pruning, you direct the yield that the vineyard will have later. You can direct it to production or quality. When harvesting, the tendency, unfortunately, is to use a lot of machine. It is true that it is also very difficult to find labor, because it is hard work. It seems bucolic, but nothing is very physical. In recent years, getting people who are willing to work in the harvest is not easy. And even more if you are looking for people who have some experience. So, it is easier to use machine. What happens is that the grapes do not arrive in the same conditions to the winery. Harvesting it manually, the whole cluster arrives. Look how far the interest goes so that the grapes arrive in good condition that we have heated containers so that, if the vineyard is a little away from the winery, the grapes maintain the desired temperature.

– Climate change is being noticed everywhere. The style of wine we produce today, whether we want it or not, is something different. The grapes arrive with more alcohol than they used to have. Fifty years ago, the wines we made could have a maximum of around twelve degrees. Sometimes, we had to compensate it with grapes that we took in the Rioja Baja, a little warmer, with a little more grade, to reach the level of balance we wanted to offer. Currently, we have to try to control the wines so that they do not go too far.

-Once the alcoholic fermentation is over, we pass the wine to other tanks to make the second fermentation, which is the malolactic fermentation, and then we put the wine in barrels where it is aged. You use new or used barrels. You leave it more or less time depending on the wine you want to make. La Rioja Alta has a diversity of soils and terrains and that allows us to make different wines. A Rioja classic is an elegant, balanced, fine, enjoyment, complex wine, like our Prado Enea, which spends approximately three years in aging barrels and four in the bottle. We take it out when we consider that it is in a position to start drinking it or, even, as it has a very long aging potential, to store in the cellar. Torre Muga or Aro are more modern concepts, different things are sought: more volume in the mouth, more fruit. In this case, the barrel is new and the aging time is shorter. That conveys another character to wine. But the most important thing is the origin of the grape.

"We harvested by hand so that the cluster reaches the winery whole and we even have heated containers"

–All the manufacturing process is done in oak, although, now, the most common is stainless steel and, in some cases, cement. It is very difficult to find wineries that work everything in oak, except ours. It has advantages and disadvantages. At the time of fermentation, we managed to soften the tannin a little more, but we cannot control the temperature one hundred percent, so we must follow up. The contribution of oak compensates us and, in addition, it is an important differentiating element. The whole process of making oak has forced us to have our own cooperage, with coopers and buckets. It is something unique, I do not know another winery that has cuberos, because very few use oak.

–For all the red wine, yes. Approximately every 35 years a deposit is renewed and we have 220. The maintenance work is also very important. But where more renovation needs to be done is in barrels. Its useful life is around six years, so it is necessary to renew about 15% every year, about 1,500. As almost nobody works with oak in fermentation or storage, the trade of cubero has practically been lost in Spain. In the cellar there are four people who have started working since they were 18 years old, have been learning since childhood. When steel became more fashionable, more practical and more comfortable, my father and my uncles decided to continue with the oak because it was working well for us. Keep giving good results. The primary objective, not only of the second generation, but of the family, is to try to be proud of what we do, the quality we offer and the image of our brand. In La Rioja we have always worked with American oak, because it is cheaper. But, at the end of the eighties, another type of wines with a more modern style began to be made, more new barrels were used and French oak began to be used more frequently. Of our barrel park, approximately 75% is French. The difference? As for quality, there is, but as for the price much more, it is practically double. Although it depends on the forest, a new barrel, of 225 books, could cost about 450 euros in American oak and between 800 and 1,000 if it is French. In the United States, we bought it through a broker, but in France, my cousins, who are the ones who are in charge of winemaking, go to the forest with the coopers and select the types of oak.

"We make wine tastings to know in which of them the wine is best expressed"

–He has a lot of love, a lot of passion, a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of dedication and a grape that comes from fantastic vineyards. When, exactly 25 years ago, we launched Torre Muga, in 91, the market tended to seek and prestige wines with volume, with body, with a lot of structure. He did a fantastic job opening doors for export and making us known in other markets. Then, we sold the Muga Tower more easily in a market like the American than a wine like Prado Enea. This wine, which I think is now valued more, is finer, more elegant, more complex, but, at the same time, it can be enjoyed. It has begun to appreciate very much. Somehow, his philosophy is different, a little unique. What makes Prado Enea different is its elegance, its complexity, its finesse. And these values ​​are obtained thanks to the selection of the grape and the knowledge of several generations, which allows us to maintain a philosophy of wine aging that today is a rarity. The competition is very small, because making this wine takes a lot of time and investment. It is in the market eight years after the grape is picked.

The vice president of Bodegas Muga shows a bottle of Prado Enea, one of his jewels. | Clara Larrea Burned

– Yes, they like it very much. But you have to do more communication work. There is an interesting percentage of sales in a market like Asia where they have traditionally consumed tea and beer.

– Although for the wines of Rioja the best market is England, where 33% of its exports are destined, for Bodegas Muga the reference export market is the USA, followed by the United Kingdom and Canada.

– They are affecting us. Since October 18, even goods that were in transit have begun to apply to the tariff. It affects us whites and pinks, not the reds. The sector is also very concerned with Brexit. There is much uncertainty, although, now, we understand that there will be an agreement.

–Now, the consumer is more demanding and, in this case, I think we have benefited. In wine culture the consumer has learned a lot. There are still things to learn, but there has been an important leap in how wine is presented and cared for, both in linear and exhibitors and in the restoration. It has nothing to do with how it was done forty years ago. It has improved the temperature, the service and the cups that are used, which are fundamental.

– It has to be a fine cup. There are different types, different qualities. It depends on the wine. Sometimes, we no longer only do tastings to see how our wines are evolving or what the competition is doing or how they are other wines from other denominations, from other areas. We also do wine tastings, that is, the same wine in different formats of glasses to know in which of them it is best expressed. That exercise is also a change. There is a change, surely also due to our interest in promoting the culture of wine. Wine tourism, for example, has taken a fundamental step. They are teachings that have come a little outside.

– I would say that Americans have had a lot to do with all this, especially Californians. The French were not very supportive of teaching the wineries or taking you to taste their wines. Where we do learn a lot is in the United States, in Napa, although it has taken a little to the extreme, it seems more like Disneywine. But, when I visited it for the first time, in the year 97, I was surprised by the didactic way in which they presented it and the facilities they gave you to know the wine and the wineries, something that was not done here.

"It is not easy to get a workforce with some experience willing to work in the grape harvest, it is very hard"

– We have fantastic wines, among the great wines of the world, among the top five. What happens is that we do not have the image, glamor or whatever you want to call it, unfortunately, they do have French and Italians. We went out to market our wines later than them. And then, we have a very important handicap when it comes to making them known and prestigious. With the great restoration we have in Spain, which is a reference worldwide, unfortunately there is little outside. And of quality still less. Why? I do not know. Or it may be because Spaniards have a harder time traveling, leaving our country. It may be because Spanish food is more difficult to reproduce in other contexts.

– Efforts are being made that are trying to be maintained over time and we are reaching international recognition levels that would have been unthinkable years ago. We have wines of extraordinary quality, capable of rubbing shoulders with the best in the world. We have to put aside the argument of good value for money, because, despite being true, the bet has to be more ambitious, we must put aside the complexes. In any case, we need a little more support. Better could be done to support Spanish wines. We do not rely on this type of aid. We set goals, we travel, we go hand in hand with the distributors and, if after all that is supported by the ICEX or the D.O., phenomenal.

– Yes, but when we talk about Spain, the potential or brand image we have is very powerful. From my point of view, for people who like wine, Muga is a reference. Fortunately outside we also have an image, but the weight is lower because we compete with everyone.

– I feel more winemaker. In the end, the business has to work and it has to be profitable, that's the base. But one of our successes, as a company and family, is that we are very clear that our business is long term. Financial decisions are important, but they are not the priority ones. Our wine has a brand, that brand is our last name. And we have to be proud of what we do. We have always tried to maintain our philosophy, our personality. We have not been immobilists. If the market trend goes towards wines, for example, with more color, with more fruit, we move a little, but without losing the essence. We are not going to give blows, because we lose personality and mislead the consumer. We can't do it There are customers, for example, who say: if you compare the Prado Enea of ​​1970 with today, it is different. And there I put the example of cars: how was a Mercedes thirty years ago and how is it today? There have been changes, the car, safety, engine or power are different, but it is still Mercedes.

The company data
  • 72 countries
  • 82% red
  • 18% White and pink
  • Vineyard: 300 hectares
  • Billing: 23.2 millions

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