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Spanish wine: two reasons to choose it, one not to

Spain is a large and efficient wine producer, very competitive in price and quality. The Spanish wine industry, as it happens in other important wine producing countries, is polarised between a few large-scale producers and exporters and a large number of medium to very small producers, some of which are barely visible in international markets while offering very interesting, quality wines at very reasonable prices. In brief, Spain can offer an optimum value option for:

  1. Larger volume, large-scale produced wines and easier to find brand names.
  2. Smaller scale, terroir-unique products, artisan wines from small producers.

In which case is then Spanish wine not too likely to provide an ideal match to your needs? Premium, luxury or collector wines are not Spain’s forte. For historical, social and economic reasons, Spanish wine has kept close to peasants and agriculture, played in the past a roll in the carbohydrates intake of a majority and developed as quality produce in the context of Spanish traditional and modern food and cuisine culture.


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Spain is the country with most farmland under vine in the world

With nearly one million hectares of vineyards, Spain ranks number one in the world as the country with most farmland planted with vines, including upcoming China that has grown wine production rapidly in the last few years.

Out of the 7.5 million hectares of vineyards registered in the world in 2016, Spain accounts for the largest share with 13 percent or 975,000ha.

Colour block chart comparing the world's total vineyard area and that of the top 11 countries with 2016 data expressed in thousand hectares

In 2016 Spain ranked number one with 13 percent of the world’s total farmland under vine

Spain is the world’s third largest producer of wine

Spain produced in 2016 nearly 4,000 million litres out of the total 26,700 million produced in the world and ranked number three behind France and the world´s leader, Italy. There are a number of reasons behind the fact that the largest vineyard does not translate into the largest production volume. These include limited rainfall in most areas, types of soil and viticulture -mainly traditional, with only a small fraction fitted with some irrigation system-, varieties planted and average age of the vines. One may argue that the mostly produced wine making variety in Spain -and interestingly, in the world-, white airen, is offers naturally high fruit yields. However, yields of other varieties and the rest of contributing factors outweigh this circumstance.

Bar chart representing the volume of the world's top ten wine producers, with data in million litres in 2016. Spanish wine production occupies a third position.

Close behind France, Spain ranked third in the world and accounted for 15 percent of the world’s output

Spain is the world’s top wine exporter, number three in value

Out of over 10,000 Million litres of wine exported in the world in 2016, Spain exported 2,236 Million, more than any other country. In terms of value, Spain ranked third behind Italy and longer behind France. This translates logically into a very competitive average export price that is a mere 42 percent of the world’s equivalent. Consequently in almost every market segment there are quality Spanish wines of exceptional value for money.

In the UK Spain occupies a third position on the list of wine suppliers both in terms of volume (with Italy at the top followed by France) and value (led by France followed by Italy). Spain presents the lowest average price amongst the UK’s five main wine suppliers.

Bar chart depicting the volumes of wine exported in 2016 by the world's top 5 countries, with data expressed in million litres. Spanish wine exports are number one.

In 2016 Spain ranked the world’s top in volume terms with a 22 percent share of the world’s total wine exports and followed closely by Italy

Bar chart depicting the value of wine exported in 2016 by the world's top 5 countries, with data expressed in million Euro. In value terms Spanish wine exports rank number three

In 2016 Spain ranked world’s third in value terms with a 9 percent share of the world’s total wine exports, at a big distance from Italy and much bigger from France

Spanish wine producers are mainly small to very small

In 2017 there were 4,093 registered wineries in Spain, with only an exceptional hundred not engaged in exporting. Up to 56 percent of them have 2 employees or less and 83 percent have 9 employees or less. In brief, the vast majority of Spanish wineries are small or tiny. On the other extreme, as few as the four largest companies account for a 20 percent share of the Spanish domestic market.

Bar chart that represents the different numbers of registered Spanish wine producers corresponding to different size segments. A line depicts the relationship between accumulated number of wineries as a percentage of the total and winery size

The number of registered wineries is inversely proportional to their size as measured by their number of employees

Most Spanish wine is exported by the few largest companies

International consumers are much more likely to find large-scale production Spanish wine than small producers’ artisan wine. In 2016 only 102 wineries (2.6% of the total) exported more tan €5 Mill per winery to an accumulated turnover equivalent to the 69.7% of all Spanish wine exports (€2,714.5 Mill in 2016). On the other hand, the 2,551 smaller exporting wineries (64% of them) hardly accounted for 1 percent of the value of Spanish wine exports.

Bar chart that presents the number of exporting wineries and total exported for seven different exporting segments, from less than Euro 5,000 to between Euro 50 and 250 million

Few large exporters contrast with a vast majority of wineries that export a very small proportion

Spanish wine has very little presence in the premium or fine wine segment

On the 4th July 2017 at an ICEX conference on internationalisation of Spanish wines, well known Spanish wine analyst Sara Jane Evans, MW mentioned some significant data: in 2017 the presence of Spanish wine in the fine wine market has been erratic and hardly grown over the last few years to a mere 0.7 percent in value or 1.16 percent in volume of total trade. She mentioned a number of problems for this presence to be this little significant: (*)

  • There is still little awareness of Spanish quality wines, types, styles and appellations of origin in international markets.
  • Historical bias of Spanish exporters towards value and competing in price.
  • The industry’s unresolved contradiction and perceived need to sell ‘ready-to-drink’ mature wines as opposed to wines to keep.
  • Little production volume in Spain of top segment, fine wines.
  • Inclination of wineries to sustain uniform vintages as opposed to allowing exceptional ones to shine.
  • The inability of the industry to create excitement about the rarity of outstanding fine wines and the wine connoisseur’s joy in the search and find exercise.

In order to eventually rectify these problems Ms Evans proposed a list of actions that could help such as the appointment of “ambassadors”, creating a link between fine wines and the people behind them for a perception of authenticity and mainly the promotion of regional events and active participation at international ones.

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(*) The ideas here reflected derive from personal notes of this author and presentation slides from the conference. Possible inaccuracies or misrepresentations are only attributable and responsibility of this author.

Data sources:

  • International Vine Organisation, OIV
  • Observatorio Español del Mercado del Vino, OEMV
  • Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior, ICEX
  • American Association of Wine Economists AAWE
  • International food, drink and lifestyle communication agency SOPEXA
  • Wine consumption copyright: Trade Data and Analysis (TDA) 2015

Text, charts and graphics by Manuel Sevilla, Bodega Soul

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