MADRID – It may be Britons’ favourite Spanish tipple, but Rioja’s crown is under threat after sales to the UK slumped last year amid accusations by vintners of mishandling by the wine’s governing body.
Latest figures show sales of Rioja, which is produced in northern Spain, dropped 1.2 per cent overall – a total of 342 million bottles were sold last year.
Sales to Britain – the winemakers’ most important foreign market – fell 12 per cent, while Germans and Americans seem to have developed a taste for Rioja, buying more bottles last year than in 2021.
Foreign sales overall represent 40 per cent of the entire market for Spain’s most popular wine.
“We managed to scrape by,” José Luis Lapuente, director general of the Rioja Domination of Origin (DO), the ruling body of the wine, told a press conference.
However, a group of producers in the Rioja Alavesa sub-region, which is part of Rioja DO, have accused the wine’s regulators of flooding the market with too much lower-quality wine, causing the fall in sales.
“We need structural changes. This is something that we have been pressing for years. There have been years of errors taken by the Rioja DO,” said Inés Baigorri, president of the Association of Bodegas of Rioja Alavesa (Abra), told eldiario.es, an online news site.
Abra has applied to Brussels to break away from the Rioja DO and create its own ruling body called Viñedos de Alava but it is still waiting for a decision from the EU. Ramiro González, of the provincial council of Alava, said Rioja had tried to produce too much wine, which lowered the quality.
“An oversized wine making area has been built in which the main aim was to grow in sales, rather than value, (market) positioning and brand awareness,” he said.
“These problems transcend the difficulties caused by changes in demand, the pandemic and Brexit.”
The Rioja regulator did not respond to a request from i for a comment. However, the DO has unveiled a plan for 2023-24 in which Rioja winemakers expect to increase international sales by three per cent.
“It is clear that the results are not so positive but it is evident that we have been influenced by external factors which affect quality wine, as is the case with Rioja,” said Fernando Ezquerro, president of the Regulatory Council of Rioja. Mr Ezquerro was referring to factors including the pandemic and Brexit.