Family man in Beijing: Miguel Torres on Parker, Cava and Chinese vineyards

miguel torres in beijing china

By Jim Boyce

Family is a key theme — perhaps the key theme — when it comes to Spanish winery Torres. Though a huge operation, Torres is family owned and has passed from generation to generation, the younger one apparently firmly in place to lead the company. That theme was evident during a recent meeting in Beijing with patriarch Miguel Torres. I asked about a half-dozen topics — from Robert Parker to China vineyards – and the family man shone through as he often cited his children, the tone ranging from generally proud to an occasional “sometimes I don’t get this generation” acceptance.

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On the potential for Spanish wines in China:

Spain is going to make big progress in China. The value of Spanish wines is very good and we have strong brands, including Torres, that are easy to understand. Other countries have to promote appellations but brands are very important in Spain and in China. Spain is also becoming popular with travelers from China, including our museums, and people know us for our football, especially Messi. Spain should get a greater share of the wine market in China, as it has in Europe.

On starting a vineyard in China:

We started a joint venture in China in the mid-1990s and planted one hectare in Shacheng in Hebei province in 1997. The venture had a small bottling plant because the duties at that time were very high, so we bottled Sangre de Toro there. After a few years, China entered the WTO, the duties dropped and we started to export wines in bottle from Spain, so we closed in Shacheng. We got some good grapes, despite the birds eating many of them and the workers taking them home!

We have also been doing experiments with Grace Vineyard in Shanxi province for several years. We provide roots for grafting and we send an oenologue every year to join the harvest. My daughter Mireia came to Shanxi to make a wine with Grace. She wanted to make something easy for Chinese consumers to understand and to get some experience in China. I liked that wine [called 'Symphony' and made from Muscat Hamburg grapes]. I thought it had a delicate side.

I have thought a lot about [starting a winery in China] but it should be up to my children. My daughter has been to China many times, to all the major wine regions, so knows a lot about viticulture here.

On American wine critic Robert Parker:

Robert Parker has done a good job of promoting wine culture, especially in the United States. One and a half years ago, he gave us very good scores, so we were happy, but those can change. [Later, Torres talked about rising alcohol levels -- Parker is regularly associated with high-alcohol wines -- that many people link with global warming.] We have to adapt a new scenario, you can’t just say, okay, we’ll do wines at 16 percent or 17 percent alcohol. I told Robert Parker we can’t go to market with wines at 16 percent or 17 percent. We can’t change the climate but we can change the viticulture and we are buying land at higher altitudes and with cooler conditions in Catalonia.

On plans to release the first Torres Cava made in Spain and why it hasn’t happened sooner:

The next generation has different ideas. Mireia is in charge of this project and is going to do a top Cava. It’s not to be released until 2015 and will be available in China at the end of that year. As for the grape varieties, my daughter is experimenting, but I think Pinot Noir will be involved.

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