Manchego wine goes global

Félix Solís is opening wineries in the United States, Chile and Brazil The firm has had a foothold in China since 1998 and enjoys market presence in Japan

A worker at a vineyard in Los Llanos, Ciudad Real province.
A worker at a vineyard in Los Llanos, Ciudad Real province.ULY MARTÍN (EL PAÍS)

In the 1960s, the vineyards of the region of Castilla-La Mancha were the main suppliers of the wines consumed in Madrid, from bars to the finest restaurants. Félix Solís, the father of the current managers of the winery of the same name, was one of those winemakers that almost right after the company was established decided to expand by buying a bottling plant in Madrid.

A decade later, after having cornered the Madrid market, the company started to export. For its first foray, it opted on central European countries such as Germany and Switzerland, which were home to many Spanish immigrant workers, without omitting the opportunities afforded by the markets of the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara and the North African exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla for cheap wine.

Today, the group operates in more than a hundred countries, where it currently makes 55 percent of its sales, and it is aiming to increase this to over 70 percent before 2020 on the basis of wines that run the gamut of pricing and quality. The bulk of the wine made by the company comes from the regions of Valdepeñas and La Mancha.

In terms of volume and sales Félix Solís is one of the big three wineries in Spain

Both in terms of volume (285 million bottles last year) and sales (240 million euros), Félix Solís Avantis is among the three biggest winemakers in Spain. It remains decidedly a family business, now into its third generation of operation. The business philosophy has also not changed with a focus on exports, competitive wines in terms of price/quality and a strong focus on vintages from the region where the group is based.

According to the company's own figures, Félix Solís is the biggest exporter of still wines in about a hundred countries. Viña Albali is the best-selling Spanish wine in the United Kingdom, with a market share of 7.1 percent there, according to figures from Nielsen. It is one of the quality Spanish wines with the highest sales the world over.

Félix Solís Ramos is responsible for the company's exports. "To start off with, you have to enter the market via importers and distributors that know the country best," he explains. "In the second phase, if the market is working well you can set up bottling plants and finally install a winery, above all because of the possibilities this offers in a particular geographical area."

Viña Albali is the best-selling Spanish wine in the United Kingdom

Based on this strategy, in 1998 the group from La Mancha established itself as the first Spanish winery to have production facilities in China. Félix Solís says the Asian giant "is not an easy market; you have to be patient and the proof of that is that during the first seven years we were there, the outcome was negative."

Under the Félix Solís brand the group first set up a bottling plant at an investment of 800 million pesetas (4.8 million euros). The company imported basically medium- and low-priced wines for bottling and distribution in the country. "The good cheap wines drive sales of the rest," Félix Solís says.

In a second phase through the Pagos del Rey company the group set up a new firm dedicated solely to the importation of quality wines. The company's total sales in China amount to the equivalent of some 14 million liters, half of which is in bulk and the rest in bottled quality wines.

During the first seven years we were in Asia the outcome was negative"

The company's second biggest market in Asia is Japan, where it sells over eight million liters of wine, with the focus mainly on the Los Molinos brand, the best-selling wine in the country and one of the best-selling in the world.

Along with its strategy of competing in emerging markets in Asia, the group also maintains a large logistics and marketing structure in mature markets such as the European Union. It is now looking to expand in the Americas, where the company is planning to invest 50 million euros through to 2016.

One of the company's biggest undertakings is in the United States, where it has already established ties with importers and distributors. After having acquired sufficient experience in the country, Félix Solís has just set up its own base in the Napa Valley in California with a view to achieving greater penetration in the Californian market and the rest of the United States.

The company is planning to invest 50 million euros in the Americas

The group is looking eventually to establish its own winery and production facilities in what is one of the most important wine-making regions in the world. The company is also looking to have a presence in Chile, a Latin American country with a well-regarded and historical wine culture. Félix Solís's plan is to have its own production facilities in the country either by acquiring already existing ones or building its own.

Wine is an important product for Chile both in terms of exports and its economy as a whole. As such, Chile has included wine in preferential trading agreements with countries that are major importers of its products such as the United States and Japan, as well as some European Union member countries.

More designation of origin

The wineries of the Félix Solís Avantis group in Spain are grouped under two companies: Félix Solís and Pagos del Rey.

Félix Solís includes the Valdepeñas wineries in the Ciudad Real area, where it has five hundred acres of its own vineyards and uses the output of over 4,500 wine growers. It has a bottling plant with the capacity to fill 159,000 bottles an hour. It is also where the group has its headquarters and operates as the logistics center for all of its wineries.

It has another winery in nearby Moral de Calatrava, which also produces wine under the Valdepeñas designation of origin and yet another in La Puebla de Almoradiel in the province of Toledo, producing wine under the designation of origin of La Mancha.

Pagos del Rey has wineries in the Ribera del Duero, Toro, Rueda and La Rioja regions.

About 70 percent of the wine its wineries produce is designation of origin. The company is looking to expand into the cava-producing area in Catalonia with a view to exporting, and is also considering producing under the Rías Baixas designation of origin in Galicia.

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