Apr 13 2016

Marqués del Atrio Expands East

Spanish wine maker Hacienda y Viñedos Marqués del Atrio has partnered with China’s top wine group, Changyu Pioneer Wine, contributing more than fifty wines to the group’s massive in-country distribution network (10,000 sales points), and putting Spanish wines front and center in the Chinese import market


It's no secret that Spanish wineries are delighted to open export doors in Asian markets, where this country's wines are increasingly well-known and valued by a growing population of wine lovers. There is huge potential for new Spanish wine consumers in Asia, and nowhere is this more true than in China. So, when a Spanish winery recently announced that 75% of its shares have been acquired by a top Chinese wine group, promising to make its wines some of the best-known Spanish brands in this massive export market, it caused quite a stir. This is the story of a winery that did just that, embarking on a new commercial venture that – needless to say – is just beginning.

From Spain to China

Founded more than a hundred years ago in the traditional northern Spanish wine making region of Navarra, the company now known as Hacienda y Viñedos Marqués del Atrio is currently under the stewardship of the fourth and fifth generations of the Rivero family. Of its seventeen different product lines – all of which are now consolidated under the Marqués del Atrio brand and scattered throughout Spanish wine making Denominations of Origin Navarra, Rías Baixas, Utiel-Requena and other wine designations – perhaps the most prominent are the winery’s DOCa Rioja Marqués del Atrio wines, which the company has been exporting to great success since the 1980s. Now with its wines available in forty countries, exports have lately represented around 50% of total sales.

Now, thanks to Changyu Pioneer Wines' acquisition of 75% of Hacienda y Viñedos Marqués del Atrio in September 2015, this export share is about to explode. According to CEO Jesús Rivero, the company has plans to explode with it, with the goal of increasing its current sales of 40 million euros a year to 100 million euros by 2020, thereby placing it among the top five Spanish wine groups. Rivero stresses that this expansion is in large part possible thanks to Changyu's more than 10,000 sales points in China, which cover retail, distribution, the hospitality and restaurant industries, private wine groups and much more. "DOCa Rioja currently exports only 2.5 million liters of wine to China (of a total 100 million liters exported). The future is China and the potential is enormous".

In any case, these plans for expansion began long before the partnership between Changyu was formed. Starting in the 1990s, the Spanish wine group had begun looking beyond its origins in Navarre, broadening its offering to include wines from other Spanish regions. Today, the group boasts wineries in Mendavia, Navarre, which has a capacity of more than 10,000 oak barrels for aging wine; Arnedo in DOCa Rioja (4,000 barrel-capacity); and installations in DO Utiel-Requena. Rivero explains that the latter are strategically located in an area where the company is also authorized to produce DO Alicante, DO Valencia, DO Cava and other types of wines. This location is also particularly advantageous for export as it is located on the high-speed Spanish rail line and is very near the Port of Valencia on the Mediterranean Sea. And of course, these wineries account for some but not all of the group's expanding list of product lines and more than fifty brands.

From China to Spain

It was precisely this spirit of expansion that attracted Changyu Pioneer Wine to Hacienda y Viñedos Marqués del Atrio in the first place. Founded in 1892 in the city of Yantai, in the Chinese province of Shandong, Changyu has dominated Chinese wine sales for more than twenty years. The company is currently the fourth leading wine producer in the world, producing more than 200,000 tons of wine a year. In 2015, the group established five commercial departments in China to focus on importing wine from Spain, France, Italy, Australia and Chile. At the same time, it looked towards expanding internationally through the acquisition of wineries in different top wine producing markets, starting with two wineries in France and Marqués del Atrio in Spain (as well as recently announced acquisitions in Australia and Chile).

According to Jian Sun, the Director of Changyu Group, "Spain is the most important wine producer in the world, and Spanish wine has the best quality-price ratio. Wine is a part of the culture here in Spain and the acquisition of Marqués de Atrio is about giving (Chinese) consumers a choice." He adds that, "Spanish wine is fourth in China in terms of sales, but second in terms of liters". According to Sun, the company's philosophy in partnering with foreign wineries like Marqués de Atrio is one of collaboration, not obligation, in which "the two parties must share their willingness". According to both Sun and Rivero, the collaboration began as what one might refer to in Spain as a flechazo, or a sort of 'love at first sight'. Out of the twenty or thirty Spanish wineries that the Chinese company evaluated, it was immediately drawn to the leadership team at Marqués del Atrio, comprised in part by CEO Jesús Rivero, his son, Sales Director Jorge Rivero and Technical Director, Chilean enologist Rodrigo Espinosa. In the words of Sun, "We share the same willingness, philosophy and drive (to move forward)". In fact, such is the relationship between the two companies that Changyu has announced that its future plans to acquire four other Spanish wineries will all be managed through the team at Marqués de Atrio. As Jesús Rivero is quick to point out, this Spanish wine group will continue to operate under the leadership of the Rivero family and, when he retires, the fifth generation of Rivero's will steward its future expansion.

Whatever the future brings, one can be sure that it will include more Spanish wine exports to China, and more Spanish wines conquering Chinese palates.