Rioja’s Strong Image… Asset or Liability?


Javier Ruiz de Galarreta – President & CEO, ARAEX Grands-Spanish Fine Wines talks about the story behind his company, and its current challenges

Javier Ruiz de Galarreta founded the ARAEX group 25 years ago, bringing together nine small and medium wineries from the Rioja Alavesa region. In just a few years, ARAEX became one of the main drivers of the production and export of the entire qualified designation of origin. The Alava-born entrepreneur recognised the signs of his age and created Spanish Fine Wines in 2001, a second union that grouped other wineries from other respected Spanish regions. Today, Javier Ruiz de Galarreta continues to create new wine ventures, characterised by quality, global projection and respect to the roots and identity of Spanish vineyards. We asked him why he began in the Rioja subregion.

I received initial support from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Alava. Logically their condition was that my project created an export group that focused on Basque wineries of the Rioja Alavesa region. I also found it very challenging to succeed in international markets with the wines from this subregion, which was relatively unknown at the time. And the fact is that, until the early 1980s, the great traditional producers were all located south of the Ebro River, in the Rioja Alta region, and monopolised exports.

Didn’t you limit the area too much then?

No, I quickly realised that the Alava region of the DOCa. Rioja was perfect for my project. The Rioja Alavesa region has a great potential for quality. The best soils for growing Tempranillo in the world are right here. Therefore, to exploit this potential, I brought together a group of nine small and medium very different producers, to create a portfolio that was as broad and as individual as possible. It seemed that the international wine industry was waiting for the arrival of the wines from Rioja Alavesa.

In 2001, you created a second group of wineries called Spanish Fine Wines. Please tell us more about this group.

It allowed us to optimise our structure and design a comprehensive global Spainwide portfolio with a specific positioning strategy for each of the Rioja Alavesa brands: Labastida, Montebuena, Baigorri, Luis Cañas, Amaren, Altos R, Heredad de Baroja and Lar de Paula.

Was the quality of the wine the key business selection criterion for inclusion in Spanish Fine Wines?

Yes, although another key aspect was the growing regions, which had a great relevance because of their market power and reputation. Hence, Pazo de Señoráns of Rias Baixas, Val de Vid in Rueda; as for reds, Bodegas Sobreño from Toro; Ribera del Duero’s Valtravieso; the renowned Pago de Cirsus from Navarre and Bodegas Muñoz, in the province of Toledo, a large wine producing area under the umbrella of D.O. La Mancha.

How do you see the future success in the marketing of Rioja wines?

We must flee from standardisation. Rioja has a strong image. It is the most important collective trademark in Spain. And that, paradoxically, is also the problem. Our task is to manage the offer by segmenting it, because we cannot enter the markets today with a collective trademark without providing a segmentation by different levels.

Over the past few years, you have also worked on founding The Grand Wines. How is this progressing?

Araex and Spanish Fine Wines market The Grand Wines’ products: Villa Conchi cavas, which brings together five types of cava; a Vino de la Tierra (quality wine) under the Gran Sello trademark; and the R&G project, which stands for Rolland & Galarreta. R&G has given me the opportunity to work with Michel Rolland, the best-known wine producer in the world as a fully integrated partner, not only as a consultant, and produce a wine from each of the three growing regions, Ribera del Duero, Rioja and Rueda, under his direction. In October 2016, our triplet produced 800,000 bottles. About 450,000 were Rioja Alavesa R&G. This is clearly an ambitious volume, but the prospects are excellent, especially because these premium wines have an unbeatable price-value ratio. R&G will soon become one of the leading Spanish brands in the premium wines market.

Level 1 / Stand EF-38

Photo: Javier Ruiz de Galarreta – President & CEO, ARAEX Grands-Spanish Fine Wines