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Sir Alex Ferguson and Concha y Toro tie the knot

It was a professional, polished affair, but then could one ever imagine a Manchester United-controlled press conference being anything but?

The location was Old Trafford and the occasion was the announcement of a three-year deal between, arguably, Britain’s most famous football team and, unequivocally, Chile’s biggest wine producer, Concha y Toro.

You couldn’t fault the timing of the launch, either, it occurring on the weekend celebrating Chile’s two hundred years of independence, and the United-Liverpool, Premier League, tête-á-tête

Decanter gratefully accepted an invite to attend. Pity the 45 minute flight took off 40 minutes late and landed into a full throttle security alert – perhaps the new business partners should also consider starting up a travel company.

Shuffling around outside Old Trafford, with a clutch of UK drinks-trade scribes, we were certainly expecting it to be a fairly substantial press conference; surely it has to be for Sir Alex Ferguson to turn up?

Indeed. As a 50-strong troop of international journalists, photographers and TV cameras, from Russia, Denmark, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Hong Kong, Africa and beyond appeared, it was clear this was a global event and was being treated as such.

The deal that was struck gets Concha’s wines on to the Old Trafford wine list (led by the Casillero del Diablo range, naturally) but, more significantly, allows the winery to use Manchester United imagery (badges, players et al) on its marketing campaigns.

Heading the press conference was Concha’s Chairman, Alfonso Larraín Santa María, its Global Marketing Director, Giancarlo Bianchetti, United’s Commercial Director, Richard Arnold and Sir Alex Ferguson with a few of his charges: club captain Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Wes Brown, Ji-Sung Park and Javier Hernandez.

Arnold: ‘We spent 6 months analysing potential wine partners. We looked at every wine company around the world. We came across one with a devil on the bottle, and after that there was no choice, really.’

Sir Alex was next in line. What did the cantankerous Scot have in store? Would we take a stray, flying boot to the head? Would he refuse to speak to the cameras?

Instead, and what proved to be the highlight of the show, we got charm and even a dash of humour; ‘Did you bring your passport’ he asked of a Salford-based journo.

Although, when he began to speak about the new relationship, one could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps someone had surreptitiously flicked a switch on the back of his head.

‘There are many similarities between wine and football,’ he intoned.

‘In football we seek the best young players to develop and form them from their beginnings to making them outstanding Manchester United players. I have seen a similarity with Concha y Toro, which seeks to harvest the best grapes, produce the best wines and have the patience and intelligence to ensure that the end result is perfect. Viña Concha y Toro shares these qualities with Manchester United.’

After that, the subject of wine pretty much took a back seat, with the international press instead seeking the secret to Ferguson’s success, or a list of his finest moments in the game. Thus, there wasn’t even time to fire a few questions at the players (‘Are you a Pinot or a Cabernet kind of guy, Gary?’).

Post-press conference, wine was back on the agenda for us professional enthusiasts, with a tasting of some new vintages, hosted by the personable Bianchetti, and ever-affable winemaker, Marcelo Papa.

Enforcing the merits of the partnership, Bianchetti excelled.

’We have shared values and both shared and complementary objectives. We are a perfect match, I would say. After the first meeting, we knew that this was something that would work. To be honest, the biggest advantage for us is the global scope.

‘The main reason to be together with Manchester United is its position in Asia, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Africa. That, for us is the main goal, more than developing our brands in markets where we already in a very strong position.’

That is the crux of the deal – access for Concha to other markets where Manchester United loom large. The launch may well be taking place at one of the iconic venues of British sport, but the UK market is barely on the radar with regards to this deal. Bianchetti admitted as much when he disclosed that they were ‘undecided’ on when to use the advantages in the UK.

After all the interviews were over and the sound bites had ceased, what followed was a not entirely un-enjoyable weekend. The wine flowed, and flowed, and the celebrations of Chilean independence were loud and contradicted the accepted rule that Chileans are too straight-laced for their own good.

The culmination and climax of the launch weekend was the big match, a raucous occasion with goals, grit and the odd snapshot of genius. And, on those hoardings, which company had its name flashing bright and proud, through the Manchester drizzle, as the Red Devils’ first goal went in? You guessed it.

Now, was that God’s work, or the Devil’s?

Written by Mark O’Halleron

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