By the time you read this, you will probably be aware that Torres has been named the most admired brand in the world for 2014, by Drinks International.
No surprises there. The Spanish wine monolith is right there on top with the biggies who ceaselessly expand, innovate and work to strengthen the foundation of their empire every day. So while new wines are regularly launched to add the formidable array of Torres labels, side by side markets are also being explored, old grape varieties are resuscitated and new friends are being made in wine drinking countries around the world.
The story that underlines this best is one that Miguel A Torres once recounted to me. He was once in a taxicab in London, and the driver began chatting. Where are you from, he was asked. Spain, he replied, do you know it? Yes, replied the English cabbie. I know them because of the football. Ah, said Torres. Anything else? “Oh yes,” replied the cabbie, “There is a wine from there called Torres.”
That pretty much sums it up.
I first met Miguel Torres, the patriarch of the Torres clan, on a trip to the impressive Torres winery in the Penedes, Spain, a couple of years ago. After the winery visit, we were indulging in a leisurely 5 course wine paired lunch at the Torres restaurant, Mas Rabell, as short distance from the winery. The restaurant, housed in a sun-dappled rustic farmhouse has a master chef, Sergi Millet, and serves excellent food paired with Torres wines. Midway through lunch, Miguel A Torres and his sister, the equally charming Marimar (who has organic vineyards of her own in California, making quality wines) walked in. They wandered from table to table, chatting with every guest dining there. When he came to our table, he greeted us warmly, spoke of his ties with India, asked about my family. Marimar invited me to come to the US and visit her winery. But it wasn’t what they said as much as the graciousness and genuine warmth they exuded. In my times as a journalist I have met many, many celebrities, most of whom are adept at switching on the charm, but are in reality as shallow as a pig’s trough. Torres has mastered the art, owned by very few, of making connections and friendships that last, despite meetings which are fleeting. I did an exhaustive interview with him at that time, and he answered every question in detail, with patience.
On his recent visit to India, the talented chef Abhijit Saha, whose own relationship with Torres wines goes back to the launch of his Spanish-accented fine dining restaurant Caperberry in Bangalore, hosted a lunch in honour of Miguel A Torres. It was a small gathering, one which I was looking forward to attending, having missed the larger wine dinner the night previous. The food was Indian-accented, with a hint of spice, while retaining its European identity. The wines, of course, were Torres. From the delightfully light, floral Vina Esmeralda, a Gewurztraminer blend that is a hit with Indian food, to the majestic Fransola, a single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc of elegance and heft. With the mains, Mas La Plana, the flagship Torres Cabernet, and finally Floralis, the sweet dessert wine.
Miguel Torres had not changed in the two years since I met him. A little older – now 72 – but the charm was intact. If he was tired from his whirlwind world tour, he didn’t show it, or complain about the heat or the traffic. Ostensibly ‘retired’ from the mainstream business, as his son Miguel junior has taken over as managing director, and his winemaker daughter Mireia is looking after Jean Leon and wineries in Priorat, he is nonetheless as aware of every detail of his business as he was earlier. He also wears the cloak of brand ambassador for the Torres brand with ease.
Jean Leon, the boutique winery owned by the famous Hollywood restaurateur of the same name is now part of Torres stable, and the quiet tiny winery making world famous wines is a complete contrast to the massive Torres wine empire. Jean Leon, whose restaurant La Scala in Hollywood was famous for regulars like James Dean and Frank Sinatra, was a close friend who sold his winery to Torres when he discovered he was dying of cancer. Today, Torres has honoured his friend’s vision by retaining Jean Leon’s exclusivity, size and vision.
When Torres wines entered the Indian market in the 90s, other European brands were complaining bitterly about the taxes and some had scaled down operations here, cutting their losses and waiting for things to look up. Torres tied up with Delhi-based Prestige Wines as their Indian partner. With an eye firmly on the future, Torres was prepared to write off losses, wanting to focus on first mover advantage, and make Torres a name that would easily come to the Indian consumer’s mind. Much like the London cabbie’s.
Despite those early difficult times, Torres persisted. “Of course we have a way to go in India, wine-wise, as it remains highly taxed, but Torres wines have shown a steady growth, and established itself with its range of good quality, relatively affordable wines. It’s still a very expensive market for us,” Torres said over lunch. “For consumers to pay $20 for an entry level wine is a shame. But I believe that change will come. Even Indian wine producers, who were so protectionist about their wines, are looking for change. Consumers are looking for better wines to drink. So the wine culture is being built, steadily, slowly, and we are very much a part of that story.”
China was not an easy market either, and the Torres foresight is paying off there as well, finally. “It was painful, early on,” he says, “We spent a lot of money establishing our name there. Now, we are finally making a profit. We did sales of 23 million euro last year, we employ 300 people, and have our own wine retail shops.” Everywhere, it is important to have the early advantage. “Eventually it pays off. There are millions of people, who, whenever they think of Spain, remember Torres.” Like the cabbie.
Torres’ own love for winemaking remains steadfast. Winemakers who look at wine purely as a business are bound to fail, he warned. “Wine is about passion. the money comes second or third. Wine is all about being in touch with the earth, making wines in your own country and sending them all over the world, bringing people together through this.” His favourite wine, from among the many that go to make up the extensive Torres wine list, is Mas La Plana, their prestige single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Torres always lights up when discussing his favourite ‘child’. “There are 7000 cases made each year. We didn’t like it to be a light wine – it has great ageing potential. It must be drunk sip by sip, it has so many layers of flavours. Mas La Plana spends one year in new oak, which gives it a spicy smokiness, notes of cherry and blackberry.”
The doyen continues his whirlwind trips around the world, not slowed down at all by age or retirement. His latest project is the challenge of learning new languages. “I’m learning Russian, it’s difficult,” he smiles. “I speak a little Japanese, but my German is not really that good.” (His wife Waltraud Maczassek, is German).
Torres’ son Miguel Torres Junior, summed it up perfectly when he said, when asked about his father’s role in the business, after he took over. “Anybody who knows my father will know that ‘retirement’ is very much a theoretical concept.” Miguel A Torres himself insists, “There is still a lot of things to be done.”
We will drink a glass of Mas La Plana to that.
Torres wines are widely available in retail in Indian metro cities. Retail prices in Karnataka: Torres Sangre de Toro Rs2476/-, Vina Esmeralda Rs1734/-, Torres Gran Coronas Rs 1830/-, Mas La Plana Rs 4363/-, Fransola Rs3192/-