Barry Brown



When Barry Brown, the current chairman of The Spanish Wine Society of Canada, travelled to Spain for the first time in 1973, he fell in love with its landscape, its culture and its wines. In the decade of the 80s, Barry Brown, in collaboration with the Spanish Foreign Trade Agency, became the chairman of the first Spanish wine association in Canada, an organisation targeted at heightening awareness about Spanish wines among the North American country’s consumers. After almost 30 years of voluntary involvement focused on disseminating Spanish wine culture, Barry Brown has been an active witness of the product’s progress on the Canadian market, and continues to work on its behalf inspired by an intense passion for and love of Spain.


“At the time in the early 80s – Barry Brown stated – Spanish wines, except for Sherry, inexpensive Cava and a few Rioja bodegas, were considered ‘less’ than most other European wines”. It was during that time that this Canadian, a family therapist by profession and an extremely active individual in the wine enthusiast community of Toronto, decided to create, with the help of the recently established Wines from Spain Department at ICEX, an association to boost the dissemination of information about the variety and quality of Spanish wines in Canada.


The Spanish Wine Society of Canada was created with the aim of enhancing the work already carried out by ICEX in the country, which focused on promoting Spanish wine culture in Canada, with the added bonus of Barry Brown as chairman carrying out the task of establishing branches of the society in cities throughout the nation.


Thanks to the support received from the country’s community of wine enthusiasts, as well as from several wine writers, Barry Brown managed to establish his association in collaboration with ICEX, which included affiliated branches in another five Canadian cities. The first event held by The Spanish Wine Society was in February 1984 which brought Canadian consumers in contact with wines from Miguel Torres, including two ‘Coronas’ from 1953 and 1955. From then on, several themed tasting events based on wines from different Spanish appellations were held on a yearly basis, which “exposed members to regions, bodegas and wines they had not heard of prior” Barry explained.


In 1995, Barry Brown registered The Spanish Wine Society under his own name in order to carry out his work with greater personal freedom, the association being the only non-profit organisation of its kind to date. In addition to the numerous yearly wine tastings, which generally feature around eight wines from a particular Spanish wine region, having showcased close to 30 appellations in almost three decades of history, the association also offers organised trips aimed at discovering the relationship between region, culture, and wine. Currently, The Spanish Wine Association boasts around 240 members, of which “The majority…are interested consumers…people who wish to learn about the wines of Spain and how to pair wines and different dishes…and who welcome an enjoyable evening”.


Barry Brown has been a direct witness to Spanish wine’s evolution, not only in his own country but also on the international scene. In this respect, Barry vividly recalls events such as the surprise generated around the world when a Miguel Torres’ wine ‘Gran Coronas 1970’ reaped victory at the Paris Wine Olympiad in 1979; Robert Parkers’ ‘discovery’ of the Ribera del Duero bodega, Pesquera; the outstanding work of Álvaro Palacio and Rene Barbier in the Priorat region, and the new Spanish regions which have won acclaim over recent years, such as Rías Baixas and Bierzo. “The Spanish Wine Society has assisted, glass by glass, to expose the Canadian wine drinking public to the vinous bounty that Spain offers. An educated consumer is a better customer…I believe that the Society has made a positive contribution to responsibly educate the wine buying customer, who cares to learn more.”


After having been the driving force behind the promotion of Spanish wines via his association for almost thirty years, Barry Brown is convinced that the best and most economical way to market a bodega’s wines is via the affiliated branches of the society he heads. “[T]he bodega nor the region is responsible for the cost of the venue, the food or the marketing of the event. This last method of utilizing established wine societies to promote and market a bodega’s wines is not the fastest…but the process assuredly puts the bodega’s products into the hands of interested and paying consumers”. Furthermore, the events organised by the association are generally a hotbed of opinions and often boast the presence of Canadian importers and hospitality professionals.


In addition to showcasing wines, a little after its foundation The Spanish Wine Society started to organise trips to Spain in order for enthusiasts to discover the regions where the wines are made, for themselves. During these trips, the last destination being DO Toro in September of this year, the association’s members are given the opportunity to enjoy the wine, the cuisine, the art, and the culture of the Spanish wine region in question. To date, Barry Brown has taken delegations from his association to eleven appellations and plans to visit Navarra and Rioja in the near future.


According to US wine writer, Tony Aspler, “Perhaps no one in North America has a better grasp and understanding of the soul of Spanish wine making than Barry Brown”. Indeed, despite being a great connoisseur of wines from all around the international wine scene, Barry has always preferred the wealth and variety of Spanish wines, Sherries, whites, reds, rosés and Cavas; a fact which goes hand-in-hand with his passion for the landscape and culture of the Spanish wine regions, from Catalonia to Andalusia, Ribera del Duero and Galicia.


And finally, Barry summed up his love affair with Spanish wines in his own words: “I am at home in Spain as well as in Canada. With the experience and knowledge that I have gained, I have become a volunteer ambassador for Spain, and I continue to share this knowledge and the fine wines of Spain with those eager to learn….glass by glass”. A passion which keeps him at the forefront, on a voluntary basis, of the Spanish Wine Society; an organisation which aims to continue this year with its comprehensive events programme aimed at marketing Spanish wines in Canada.