Jan 19 2017

Authentic Bierzo, Where Mencía Reigns

"We are colleagues and friends, we are competitors in the same race, not rivals. We were clear on the fact that we needed to support one another if we wanted to change the future of our region"

Located in the northwestern corner of Spain where Galicia, Asturias and Castile-León meet, Bierzo is a singular wine producing region whose history, traditions, landscapes and microclimates – not to mention old vines and native red and white grape varieties that are unique to this area – have elevated its mostly small and medium-sized wineries to the level of world-class winemakers. Here, the wonderfully fruity, elegant and mineral reds made with red Mencía grapes, and crisply acidic, fruity whites made with Godello grapes, have not only brought fame to Denomination of Origin Bierzo within Spain, but also beyond Spanish borders.

In addition to the inherent quality of its wines, Bierzo's growing international fame can be attributed to the efforts of a group of sixteen wineries that have banded together to form Authentic Bierzo, an association that represents the interests of this region and its wines both in Spain and abroad.

Foods and Wines from Spain spoke with Eva Blanco Moragas, the President of Authentic Bierzo (also known as the Asociación Autóctona del Bierzo), about this association and its role in the promotion of Bierzo wines. Here is what she had to say:

What are the origins of Authentic Bierzo?

Authentic Bierzo was founded as a result of the concerns and friendships among some wine makers in the region of El Bierzo (Adriá, Casar de Burbia, Castro Ventosa, Estefanía, Estévez Bodegas y Viñedos, Godelia, Luna Beberide, Luzdivina Amigo, Merayo, Palacio de Canedo, Peique, Pérez Caramés, Pittacum, Ribas del Cúa, Tenoira Gayoso, and Valtuille wineries). Other wineries soon followed. Our current membership is 16 – all with similar profiles and a shared objective: to export Bierzo as a quality wine that is both authentic and singular. v Authentic Bierzo is exclusively made up of small and medium wineries with their own vineyards, Quality is our maxim, and friendship and shared enthusiasm is our common nexus.

Most of us produce less than 400,000 bottles a year. We realized how difficult it was for our companies to attend international fairs or spread the word about Bierzo individually, so we thought we should get 10 or 15 wineries from Bierzo together to attend a fair or an event. That way, if customers tried the wines, saw their level of quality and then heard about the project or story behind each one, it would bring credibility to our area and make it easier for them to remember us...  and it worked!! We also come together to ask for grants and to save on expenses and management costs.

We are colleagues and friends. We are competitors in the same race, but not rivals. In addition to having common sales objectives, we were clear on the fact that we needed to support one another if we wanted to change the future of our region. One of our main arguments focuses on quality, something that is directly tied to viticulture, the treatment the grapes receive and the wine making process.

What are the association's current goals? 

For the past three years, our main objective has been the USA. This market has great potential for our style of wines: Atlantic, modern, fun and crisp. For the past 3 years, our projects have centered on conveying our image. Our goal is for a bottle of Authentic Bierzo to represent a small piece of our work and enthusiasm.

The three seasons of the [#weareauthentic] web documentary series, which is subtitled in English and geared towards attracting the attention of the American public, focus on the authenticity of the wines and the people and efforts behind each project. The first episode was "Enology and the Vine". The second depicted a typical year for us – the wine making and collaboration from harvest to harvest. The latest episode "Conversations in a Bar", features us, the wine makers, talking about our dreams for Bierzo.

Do you operate on both national and international levels?

Yes. We also have small promotional campaigns geared towards the Spanish market. The objectives are the same: the promotion and association of Bierzo with authentic, singular, quality wines.

We attend events like Fenavin and other fairs together, and promote our own events like the Premier in León, to which we collectively invite our clients and entertain them with good wine, food and music, of course! And we are also very proud of our guides: "El Bierzo para Bebérselo" (Drinking Bierzo) and "Camino Gourmet" (Gourmet Pilgrimage).

We aren’t dedicated to selling, but to promotion – to creating an image and representing Bierzo in a quality way. We feel out the most interesting projects and markets and work together on all levels, including financially, thereby allowing us to do things that we otherwise probably wouldn't be able to.

In addition to the USA, are there other significant export markets for your wines?

In addition to the USA, our main objectives are Switzerland and Germany. We are ambitious, and we are also looking at Asia, but cautiously. Our production volume is small and we can't launch in every market because, when they start to function, we wouldn't have enough to supply them all.

What is the export volume of the member wineries?

The majority of us export approximately 50% of production volume. As I've already mentioned, we are confident that exporting is the future, but it's also true that it's the market where we feel the most comfortable because [our products] really appeal to international buyers who value the uniqueness, limited elaboration and the quality that we put into each and every one of the tasks we carry out.

What other kinds of special activities do you organize?

In addition to our web documentary series, we organize a number of other activities. We are going to invite journalists from the United States here this year and take them to work with us. We are also going to put them up in our homes if they want, so that they can share in our day-to-day lives. We'll wrap things up with a party hosted by all the members and, of course, all of our wines!

We also organize music and wine events to which we invite foreigners who are on vacation in our region. We recommend the best regional dishes and places for pilgrims (on the Camino de Santiago) on our blog. We create fun campaigns for fictitious covers of important magazines like Time and Vogue. We like to spark people's interest, although they aren't always sure if we're joking or not!

Anyway, we always try to support local festivals, events and also our friends in the gastronomy and accommodation industries. Among all of us we want to convey the very best image of Bierzo.

We're also very nice! That must count for something, right?