Monday, 20 July 2015

An Interview with José Ramón Estévez

This is an interview by Jesús A Cañas in La Voz Digital with the president of Grupo Estévez.

These are new times for the bodegas of Jerez. While the production of spirits is nothing new, what is new is your commitment to this line of business demonstrated by the launch of new products. Since 1998 Estévez has been producing 50 brands for the supermarket Mercadona and understands the bodegas’ situation perfectly.

How would you describe the adaptability of Jerez?
Very positive. Historically Sherry has had a great capacity to adapt itself to changes in fashion and requirements of the market. From the production of a large range of wines which satisfy different tastes to the production of brandy, liqueurs and Ponche. This diversification allows us to invest in quality: research and development, equipment and human resources which benefit everything.

Would you say that the future of Jerez rests on the exploration of new avenues?
The future rests on changing the status quo and doing things differently. I believe that the most important thing is to put quality at the very centre of things. We need to start with the raw material, the land, the grapes, we must follow a sustainable agro-alimentary chain in which all those involved can make money, invest and improve quality and processes. That would position us in the marketplace as a quality product. We need a change of philosophy along with innovation, diversification and proper promotion of our products.

Jose Ramon in one of the firm's well-known bodegas (foto:lavozdigital)

Where does the Sherry business find itself now?
In a historic moment. I believe the crisis has bottomed out, that qualified grapes will soon fetch 100 pesetas the kilo. Here we still use the old peseta when referring to grape prices! We must change our image and invest our resources wisely, positioning ourselves with a business model based on quality, image and profitability. This would mean defending the Denominación de Origen (DO) and fighting seriously against abuses and appropriation of our image which we have put up with up till now, and the institutions and administrations should take action in these matters which do so much damage to Sherry. I would like to see a Denominación de Origen Calificada (higher than DO) which would presuppose that all our raw materials would be from Palomino, be they concentrated must or alcohol. That would mean added value for bodegas and distributors, create jobs and increase sales. It would be good for everybody.

Do you think that wine tourism could be another possible avenue for economic diversification?
The commitment to wine tourism has already been successful in other wine regions of the world and it something which would no doubt help Sherry. It is an experience which helps people to understand at first hand a great deal about wine culture, something fundamental in our case. At Estévez we are developing a wine tourism programme with visits and activities in the vineyard. We have completely renovated the vineyard house at Viña Bristol and have adapted it so that visitors can enjoy a full experience at our vineyards. They can wander about and get a feel for the albariza soil, and even do a few jobs like aserpiado (creating a depression at the foot of the vine to catch rainwater), pruning or grafting.

The quality of the wines of Jerez is well enough known but not that of the other alcoholic drinks. What would you say about that?
In many cases there is the risk of mistaking a product at an offer or special price for a low quality product, but it is not like that. Our products beat other brands of recognised prestige every time we do a blind tasting, so little by little they are gaining recognition.

Recently people have been talking about a general improvement as a result of the crisis coming to an end. Can it really be seen in the bodegas?

It has been a very hard crisis and the demand for alcoholic drinks has been as badly affected as other products. Wines and spirits form part of our culture but are not necessities. Nevertheless, every crisis brings experience and opportunity. For us they have been years of analysis, improvement of processes, reduction of excess costs, innovation and reinventing ourselves every day. In fact, after years of imbalance between supply and demand stability has come as has a new interest in Sherry. This is a great opportunity to change things. It is time to elevate our products to a position of quality and it is thus necessary to invest the necessary resources into marketing and promotion. You need to do things well right from the start, right from the land to finish up with a unique, genuine and profitable product.

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