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Spain outstrips France and Italy in wine exports

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Spain's King Felipe and Queen Letizia enjoy some cava on a visit to a Spanish vineyard. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP
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Spain is the biggest exporter of wine in the world, but why are exports mainly in bulk, rather than bottled? The Local finds out.

Spain is a relative newcomer on the international circuit, compared to the French and Italians, yet it has beaten records to become the biggest wine exporter in the world.

According to data published on February 23rd by Spanish wine market observatory (Obervatorio Español de los Mercados del Vino – OEM) Spanish wine exports reached 22.8 million hectoliters in 2014, a 22.3 percent rise on 2013.

But while the volume of sales has increased, profits have fallen 2.2 percent since 2013.

According to the latest data, France is now the biggest buyer of Spanish wines; guzzling 5.8 million hectoliters in 2014, a 40 percent rise on the previous year, followed by Germany, Portugal and Russia.

But if Spain is the biggest exporter of wine in the world, why have profits fallen? The answer may lie in the fact that the majority of wine exported from Spain, 55 percent, is sold in bulk, i.e. not bottled.

"Wine must be exported each year to make space in the wineries for the new grape harvest," Nairy Chaglasyan, Area Manager for J García Carrión, which exports wine to 155 countries worldwide and is the biggest wine producer in Europe and fourth in the world, told The Local.

"Most of the cooperatives sell their wine in bulk - it’s much quicker than having to bottle it - and although there isn’t much profit at least the costs are covered."

Spain, home to the biggest vineyards in the world, has always sold in bulk to its neighbours but profits are falling - the latest figures reveal that in 2014 the average price was 40 cents per litre, compared to 60 cents the year before.

It is often more economic for France to export wine in bulk from Spain and then label it, rather than growing the grapes and making the wine themselves.  

"France has been buying wine in bulk from Spain for years to bottle and sell as its own, (with an EU denomination) or not clearly identifying the origin," said Chaglasyan, who points out that the company she works only sells bottled wine with declared Spanish origin. 

"The French import Spanish bulk for their 'vin de table', for blends and also for re-export - there have been lots of scandals involving French producers mislabeling 'their' wine destined for export to the US."

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Another important factor in why Spanish wines are so cheap compared to their competitors, according to Chaglasyan, is that Spain opened up to the international market relatively late.

"Both France and Italy have a much better international presence, they have more experience in marketing their products and have been exporting for much longer than Spanish producers."

According to Chaglasyan, if Spain wants to keep its crown as the world’s biggest exporter along with increasing profits, the country has to work on selling itself and its wine, focusing less on the distinct regions of the country and pushing Spanish wine as a whole. 

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