Massive rise in Rioja exports to the UK

Rioja exports to the UK have rocketed by nearly 90% in 2001 – while prices have plumetted.

According to research carried out by a Rioja producers’ association, in the first 10 months of 2001 the UK imported over 13.3 million litres, compared with just over 7 million in 2000 – an increase of 89.5%. At the same time, the average price per litre fell by over 20% from 995 pesetas to 790 ptas (€5.98-4.75)

The explanation for these figures – released by the Grupo de Criadores y Exportadores de Vinos de Rioja – comes mainly from the huge jump in imports of ‘Sin Crianza’ Riojas with little or no oak ageing, which retailers are listing at cutdown prices. Sainsbury’s, for example, has recently listed the 2000 Laztana Tempranillo from Bodegas Olarra at £2.99 (€1.80)

The other influential factor is that, after having reached a peak in 1999, grape prices have plumetted. ‘Grape prices were 450 ptas (€2.70) in 1999, now they are down to 125 ptas (€0.75),’ said Philippe Ortega, marketing director of Bodegas y Bebidas, which produces a number of brands including Campo Viejo and Siglo. In some cases in 2001 prices have gone as high as 250 ptas (€1.50) per kilo for top-quality fruit, as the year is being ranked at least alongside the great vintages of 1994/5.

Overall, does this indicate a sense of normality returning to Rioja? ‘I don’t really think so,’ said John Hawes of Laymont and Shaw. ‘More damage was done by the sharp fall in prices than the rise in prices last year.’ He adds that the prices of Sin Crianza and Crianza wines show signs of rising again, and this price instability, as well as question marks over quality of DO Rioja wines do not inspire consumer confidence.

The effects are rippling out into the rest of Spain. ‘Where the damage has been done has been with other areas,’ added Hawes. ‘People can buy Rioja – which is still the best brand in Spain – for less than wines from Navarra, for example.’

Written by Simon Meads27 December 2001