Happy winedsday

Fake-ed Wines – the UK’s Spanish wine scam

Naked Wines abuse UK customers and denigrate the Spanish wine industry in a diversity of manners: mis-selling large volume Spanish wine as fake, small scale projects by signature winemakers; utilising farmers’ real needs and a false promise of preferential prices to stimulate consumers’ expenditure; associating a few genuine Spanish wine names with a long list of obscure own labels.

The inventive use of winemaker profiles that impersonate vigneron-style, Spanish producers is perverse: it tells customers a half-truth and sets a very poor precedent for authentic, small Spanish wineries struggling to stand out from the crowd with quality, artisanal wines.

It is even more perverse of Naked Wines to utilise the real financial struggles of grape farmers and small wineries to fabricate a charity-similar setting where customers are asked for upfront monthly contributions and continually told that these funds relieve producers and are indispensable to obtain the wine that they will be offered at (theoretically) wholesale prices.

Even if you accept that a wine purchased or specified and produced exclusively for the UK market may be referred to as Spanish wine, aficionados have the right to know precisely what they get for their money. Out of the 52 wines listed on Naked Wines as Spanish, only 7 are available in Spain. The use of own labels adds much vagueness in front of consumers and limits their access to authentic products.

 

 

Panoramic view along Tobacco Dock in London, with old ship to the right and The Shard and skyline in the backgroundTobacco Dock, River Thames, London 

Naked Wines on the boulevard of broken promises

According to Wikipedia, “Naked Wines’ customers (called Angels) fund independent winemakers from around the world, in return for wines at self-described “wholesale prices”. However, the Financial Times notes that most wines sold by Naked Wines are not available on the retail market, “making direct price comparisons virtually impossible”, and most wines are priced “close to usual retail price”. They currently ship wine throughout the UK, USA and Australia. On 10 April 2015, Naked Wines was acquired by Majestic Wine and [founder] Rowan Gormley was appointed CEO of the enlarged group”.

This is a real example of Naked Wines’ reply to an applicant in the spring of 2017: “Thanks for joining the Angel in Waiting list. My name’s Rowan and I’m to blame for all of this. Let me explain. Eight years ago I set out to make the world a better place for wine lovers like you. A world where the only wine you ever drank was lovingly created by insanely talented winemakers. Where the quality of every bottle was guaranteed top notch but you didn’t pay crazy prices. And a 100% money back guarantee meant you could always buy with complete confidence. Most importantly, a world where passionate winemakers could make a decent living. Where both you and they stopped being ripped off. Good idea?”

Apparently Mr Gormley has a private investment background rather than wine industry experience. Blame could in this case be an appropriate term. There are definitely hundreds, even thousands of insanely talented winemakers in Spain, making great wines with utter love and care. Like Antonio Díez Martín of Martín Berdugo or many others with smaller scale wineries. Why resorting to industrial scale wineries?. Why using wine consultants or contractors, mainly foreigners, shopping around or producing in an undetermined manner what seem one-off batches for opportunistic offers with no apparent continuity? Authentic Spanish wine small producers would love to make a decent living and not being ripped off instead of seeing wine buyers get invariably distracted by the siren call of low cost, lower quality, industrial scale suppliers.

Angels do not seem to be getting divine bargains in return for their terrestrial financial support. Venta del Puerto 12 is available in Spain at €9.50 (it can be found even for a bit less); Naked Wines’ price for Angels at £11.49 does not seem like a remarkable purchasing negotiation achievement. Venta del Puerto 18 sells in Spain around the €13 mark; Naked Wine’s price of £12.49 (equivalent to €14.40) is a better deal but nothing outstanding. One can only guess what the actual value for money is with the 43 wines sold under Naked Wines’ own, exclusive labels that enable total obscurity.

Naked Wines’ UK customers miss out on authentic Spanish wines

Colourful, collage-style array of wine labels and their corresponding bottles on top

What Angels are getting is a biased perception of the Spanish wine picture with a lost opportunity cost. According to ICEX, the smaller 87 percent segment of all Spanish wineries account for less than 7 percent of total exports value. Small producers tend to concentrate effort and resources on agriculture and winemaking and marketing budgets are meagre. Off-mainstream Spanish wines struggle to gain visibility and a wider audience at international markets like the UK, dominated by large importers and retailers.

Spaniards need not be too bothered with The Sunday Times Chris Haslams’ article on how to be Spanish. Not even by Jamie Oliver’s periodically recurring tweets on a more than creative version of paella with heaps of chorizo. The poor image of Spanish wine is not only more misleading for UK wine lovers but has also an enormous economic impact for the part of the Spanish wine industry that offers value added, quality wine with terroir-specific character.

Heart touching, charity-style Naked Wines’ financial engineering

The whole model is based on a request for customers to make an upfront, monthly contribution of £20. This is justified as needed to finance some winemaking input or the wine itself. In gratitude, customers are elevated to the category of Angels and offered the wine at apparently preferential prices.

La Viña forms part of secondary co-operative ANECOOP, a fruits, vegetables and wine group with an annual turnover of €800 million (£690 million) and yearly sales of over 20 million litres of wine. It is very unlikely that Jorge Caus’ need of Naked Wines Angels’s money to buy oak vats as he states on the website, is in fact a real financial necessity. Likewise, it is hard to believe that sherry producer Alvaro Domecq, large Rioja winery Ramón Bilbao -part of Zamora Company drinks group or any other Naked Wines’ Spanish wine suppliers are in true financial needs of the kinds described and for which Angels are invariably thanked for.

There is a deeply rooted charity culture in the UK, where generosity of individuals does matter and is very visible. With their wine retailing business model pivoting around distorted financial needs, Naked Wines could be taking advantage of customers’ good faith and diverting UK consumers’ wine expenditure away from the small Spanish producers who are often in genuine financial straits.

Spanish wine on Naked Wines, unknown in Spain

Naked Wines Castillo Catadau Gran Reserva 2008 by co-operative La Viña, bottle front and back labels

Naked Wines Castillo Catadau Gran Reserva 2008 by La Font de La Figuera, Valencia based co-operative La Viña

How genuine is a Spanish wine not known to Spaniards?. Amongst the 52 Spanish listed on Naked Wines, the only 7 wines that are in fact available in Spain are Venta del Puerto 12 and 18 by La Viña, the two by Martin Berdugo and Alvaro Domecq’s sherries. Those 7 are the only wines entirely identified from all angles: what they are, who’s made them and where and what their market values are. Only two of them (both sherry) are currently available on Naked Wines’ website. Nobody can say though that they do not sell authentic Spanish wines.

Venta del Puerto 12 and Venta del Puerto 18 are well established products on the Spanish market and beyond. Customers willing to repeat can find these standard products whose prices and value for money have been corroborated by market competition over the years and not only by their own wine evaluation skills. However, Venta del Puerto 12 and 18 are out of stock. Amongst the four wines listed as made by Caus Pertegaz, the only wine currently available is Castillo Catadau Gran Reserva 2010. The name of co-operative La Viña does not appear on the back label.

The remaining 45 wines are left in the dark as to what kind of intervention there has been from the alleged winemaker. In some cases, they speak of buying grapes which means having to have them vinified somewhere. Where? It may mean buying grapes from one or more farmers. It may be that the winemaker is in fact buying wine from one winery or from more than one and blending them. Who’s actually made the wines in that case and where? Too many questions and too much confusion.

Naked Wines’ Spanish winemakers that are not

A Spanish winemaker can work full time for one winery or consult with several, usually smaller producers. If the winemaker works on a consultancy basis, there is an additional figure such as the winery manager who looks after everyday tasks and helps implementing the winemaker’s guidelines. In this case, the identity of a wine is normally linked to the winery itself or the land where the grapes originate. Only very exceptional, renowned winemakers’ names occupy a space above a winery and a vineyard which in any case are there too as a wine’s credentials.

Although winemaking techniques travel across borders more than ever, Spanish winemakers tend to be somewhat loyal and true to Spanish traditional wine styles. On the contrary, foreign buyers and winemakers working in Spain on behalf of large importers and international retailers often introduce wine specifications and formulae to guarantee and maximise sales in the country of destination, embracing characteristics of known commercial success like international grape varieties, lighter extractions, carbonic pre-fermentations or customised residual sugar levels in detriment of the genuine Spanish, traditional grape varieties and styles.

The Drunken Mason (1786) by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. Detail

The Drunken Mason (1786) by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. Detail

Antonio Díez Martín’s profile matches the full time dedicated model. In fact, he is linked with Martín Berdugo’s winery not only by profession but also by descent. The use of Diez Martín’s profile may induce a hasty generalisation fallacy. Other winemakers linked with a winery are described in such a manner that the unwary reader can think that they play similar roles as Díez Martín, but reality is very different. Let alone the figures cherry picking or, in this case, grape picking all over the country.

Naked Wines do not hide that winemaker Jorge Caus Pertegaz works for a “huge winery” but they immediately go on to mention that “his passion is getting into a small pet project of his own”, so that the reader is cunningly, swiftly transported to the fantasy world of vignerons.  The bitter reality is that Jorge is the technical manager of, Font de la Figuera, Valencia based La Viña, a co-operative owned by 1,500 farmers who nurture a total of 2,400 hectares, that every year processes up to 13 Million kilograms of grapes. That is the equivalent to the volume processed by all 77 Spanish wineries registered with the appellation D.O. Bierzo.

Same as Jorge Caus, Carlos Rodriguez has trained on the technical aspects of winemaking. According to Naked Wines’ website “Carlos works all over Spain. Getting paid to tell other people how to make their wines taste amazing” as a freelance winemaker for various small wineries. When you read further, his profile goes on about personal projects. The description of Morum Reserva speaks openly about Carlos buying grapes around Rioja. No information is available as to where, in which facilities or wineries the wine is made at. It is not even clear if one specific wine Carlos is apparently “making” is produced in one single winery or in more than one and later blended. Naked Wines list another 17 wines wines allegedly by Carlos Rodriguez that are currently not available. These include rosé from Castile La Mancha, Morum red Garnacha from Rioja, red and white Riojas under a different brand name, red Ribera del Duero, red Campo de Borja, white Rias Baixas Albariño and more.

It is worth mentioning that his “Galician White” is not even offered as originating from somewhere specific in Galicia but from Spain and nothing is said as to the grape variety used although part of the list can be red on the label of the image used.

Another example almost on the edge of illegality is their Trigales. It is only unenthusiastically linked with Rioja with a note to warn that they are not allowed to call it Rioja because it was made with an excess batch of grapes that the Rioja appellation governing body places outside the requirement of maximum production yields per hectare to guarantee fruit quality as head-on opposed to volume.

Franck Massard appears on the website as a French national, mainly trained and experienced as sommelier, recommended by Benjamin Darnault, another French winemaker. Massard is the founder and owner of Spain based Epicure wines, according to their web’s section “us”. In a different page, Massard states that they rely on the oenologist Dominique Roujou de Boubée to make their Priorat wines and collaborate with him on a Galician wine project. It is frightening that at this point, even Massard’s ensign Priorat wines are in fact made by a fellow French national, winemaker.

Epicure Wines offer a diversity of reds, whites and rosé from very distant areas in Spain. Their descriptions on the website vary much. In some

Pot, wine glass and book by Pablo Picasso. 1908. St.Petersburg. Hermitage Museum

Pot, wine glass and book by Pablo Picasso. 1908. St.Petersburg. Hermitage Museum

cases, they just talk about the region in general or Denomination of Origin. In others, a specific village or villages are mentioned as the origin of the grapes. Only one white quotes the full name of the specific vineyards used. If you try to dig a bit further and visit Franck Massard’s personal website, it says that when Franck moved to Spain and established himself in Priorat, he bought a vineyard with an old friend of his but then moved somewhere else not far away. You can see pictures of the winemaking process. Whether those are his own facilities or somebody else’s is not left clear. Beyond Priorat, Epicure Wines or Massard claims to make wines all over Spain. The recurrent question that comes to mind is the real extent to which he is involved with the wine making processes of all those wines and, moreover, how genuine is it to refer to those wines as authentically Spanish or in Mr Rowan’s words, “lovingly created by insanely talented winemakers”. Irony that Epicure Wines’ website states that the company’s values are veracity, honesty, integrity, experience, respect and maximum care.

Rioja wines Oh Sister Tinto and Oh Sister Superiore are not currently available on the website. Strangely enough, the numbers shown speak of 1out of 1 person who would buy again the first one and 3 people out of 3 would buy again the latter. It does not identify which winery makes them. Is it one or more than one? Do Ruth and Ana, the alleged winemakers, work for any specific winery? Wines are described as Tempranillo blend, but blended with what, in what proportions? In these two cases not even the vintage year is mentioned.

Stefan Lismond, presented as a Belgium national who’s got experience in the hotel and restaurant sector, trained in product development and apparently, as a result, is able to make cava and two different types of gin. Gin has never been a representative drink of Spain. In this case, the use of botanicals apparently originating from Priorat and naming the final product after a popular area of the city of Barcelona is enough to make it appear as genuinely Spanish. The product description is confusing. It assures that the alcohol has been obtained by “distillation of wine lees”. They probably mean distillation of wine on its lees or distillation of grape pomace. In any case, the resulting product has always been categorised as spirit or, more precisely, marc (orujo in Spanish), not gin. It is anyway irrelevant because only his vermouth and cava are currently available.

“Rodolfo Bastida is the head winemaker at one of Spain’s biggest wine companies. Which means he has access to vast quantities of plonk”, so reads the start of Rodolfo’s profile with Naked Wines. Well, precisely, one could reply. But that would not be entirely fair. Head winemaker is an understatement, he is the general manager of a group of several bodegas around Spain, including Haro, Rioja Ramón Bilbao. These bodegas belong to the privately-owned Zamora Company Group, one of Spain´s largest drinks conglomerates. These large groups tend and need to be brand and volume orientated but Zamora is not into the cut-throat, plonk flogging market like large scale, low-priced wine producers and marketing groups. Unfortunately none of these Ramón Bilbao group wines endorsed by Rodolfo Bastida may be purchased in Spain. At least not under these names. It is therefore not easy to know, compare or benchmark.

The Flying Scotsman, that is Norrel Robertson’s profile sounds truer to Naked Wines’ theoretical proposition around wine “lovingly created by insanely talented winemakers”. Although his name hints one more time outside the Spanish radar, he is based in Spain, works with Spanish wineries and has done so for many years and his own website talks about the ownership of 13ha of old vine Garnacha vineyards. And what is better, some of his wines -however and wherever they’ve been made- are in fact available on the Spanish market -not precisely the ones listed with Naked Wines.

Antonio Díez Martín is possibly as genuine as it can get on Naked Wines’ website. In an ideal world, Naked Wines’ customers looking for authentic Spanish wines should be offered those from figures like Díez Martín and real wineries like Martín Berdugo. They produce wines whose quality and value have been corroborated by a mature market like the Spanish. Díez Martín’s family originates from Ribera del Duero. He has trained in viticulture and winemaking and he works at the wine cellar and vineyards inherited from his ancestors.

Everything seems to fit in and genuinely illustrate the model that Naked Wines would like us to believe that is a common denominator across their selected team of alleged winemakers. Unfortunately, Diez Martín’s profile is the exception, not the rule.

Authentic Spanish wine small producers: some examples

ICEX

OEMV

Museo del Prado

Hermitage Museum


ANNEX: Spanish wines listed on Naked Wines

 

Franck Massard

Franck Massard Herbis Verdejo 2016

Bellesa Perfecta Priorat 2015

Franck Massard Desnuda Montsant 2015

Mas Sardana Cava

Franck Massard Retrat del Priorat 2013 – NOT AVAILABLE

Franck Massard Vinya Cucut 2014- NOT AVAILABLE

Jorge Caus Pertegaz 4

Castillo Catadau Gran Reserva 2010

Castillo Catadau Gran Reserva Magnum 2010 – NOT AVAILABLE

Venta del Puerto No 18 Seleccion Especial 2011- NOT AVAILABLE

Venta Del Puerto No 12 Selection Especial 2013 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodríguez20

Carlos Rodriguez Morum Rioja Crianza 2014

Carlos Rodriguez Thank You Red 2014

Carlos Rodriguez Morum Rioja Reserva 2012 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Black Label Bargondia Rioja 2016 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Valpopi Ribera del Duero 2016 – NOT AVAILABLE (apparently this brand name is registered by Bodegas Viyuela S.L. in Burgos).

Carlos Rodriguez Morum Rioja Tempranillo 2016 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Tempranillo Rose 2016 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Tempranillo Rose Magnum 2016 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Morum Rioja Crianza Magnum 2013 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Campo de Borja 2016 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Carinena 2016 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Morum Rioja Garnacha 2016 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Trigales NV – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Albarino 2016 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Thank You White 2015 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Thank You Galician White 2015 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Morum Rioja Blanco 2016 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Morum Rioja Graciano 2016 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Morum Rioja Reserva Selección Especial 2011 – NOT AVAILABLE

Carlos Rodriguez Bargondia Rioja Crianza 2013 – NOT AVAILABLE

Stefan Lismond4

Cava Festis Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2011

Rambla 41 Vermouth

Rambla 41 Mediterranean Dry Gin – NOT AVAILABLE

Rambla 41 Lot d’Hivern Mediterranean Dry Gin – NOT AVAILABLE

Norrel Robertson3

Norrel Robertson Garnacha Syrah Old Vines 2016

Norrel Robertson La Multa Verdejo Sobre Lias 2015 – NOT AVAILABLE

Norrel Robertson La Multa Doble Pasta 2014 – NOT AVAILABLE

Alvaro Domecq3

Aranda Cream Sherry

Pedro Ximenez Vina 98 Sherry

Manzanilla La Jaca Sherry – NOT AVAILABLE

Ana & Ruth de Andres2

Oh Sister Tinto – NOT AVAILABLE

Oh Sister Superiore – NOT AVAILABLE

Antonio Díez Martín

Martin Berdugo MB 2011

Martin Berdugo Barrica 2013

Rodolfo Bastida8

Hacienda don Hernan Rioja Reserva Magnum 2012 – NOT AVAILABLE

Hacienda don Hernan Rioja Reserva 2011 – NOT AVAILABLE

Hacienda don Hernan Rueda Verdejo 2016 – NOT AVAILABLE

Hacienda Don Hernan Rioja Winemaker’s Choice 2015 – NOT AVAILABLE

Hacienda Don Hernan Rioja Crianza 2014 – NOT AVAILABLE

Hacienda Don Hernan Rioja Tempranillo 2015 – NOT AVAILABLE

Hacienda don Hernan Rioja Gran Reserva 2009 – NOT AVAILABLE

Hacienda Don Hernan Cepas Viejas Rioja Edicion Limitada 2010 – NOT AVAILABLE

 

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