inside the Spanish wine venture aimed at Millennials

Freitag, 30. November 2018 - 13:30

An Organic & Orgasmic bottle is refilled with wine on tap at La Festival wine shop in Gràcia, one of Barcelona’s hip, middle-class, Catalanista neighbourhoods. Underneath the Organic & Orgasmic brand name, in smaller font, is the tagline ‘Wine is Sexy’. 

“Millennial hipsters in Gràcia are willing pay a bit more for NBO [natural, biodynamic and organic] wines, as well as tasting less expensive sustainable refill wines on tap and in bag-in-box wines made by local producers,” says Alex Virgili. He’s part owner of La Festival, general manager of Democratic Wines and one of three Virgili brothers who run the Casa Berger vineyard in the Penedès wine region.

At La Festival, Virgili and his twin brother Albert pioneered Wine Tinder and Grinder tastings aimed at 20- to 40-year-olds looking for love, matched according to their preferred wines. The popularity of the events has led to renting larger rooms at Casa Gràcia hotel. “Wine tastings can be so boring, and can even instil fear in people; we are taking a different approach,” Virgili says.

A new joint venture
Launched in 2017, Organic & Orgasmic is part of the range of wines and drinks distributed in Spain and internationally by Democratic Wines (DW), a joint venture established in 2016 by the Virgili brothers and the Arambarri brothers of the Vintae Group in Rioja.

DW’s owners are a new generation of ambitious vintners in their 20s and 30s, born into traditional big family estates but who, having added financial clout to their respective companies, are using a new dynamism to lure their own age group into wine consumption. It is a challenge indeed, especially in Spain, where beer consumption continues to outstrip that of wine.

DW’s aim is to attract young drinkers away from beer and sugary drinks, through the use of good quality NBO wines packaged in a variety of bright, vibrant formats.  For some, DW’s approach is a little in-your-face, and crass. For others, DW’s efforts show a youthful, energetic endorsement of NBO wines, a valiant attempt to democratise wine by removing any guarded elitism, snobbery and old- fashioned labels.

In London, where this year DW is launching an ambitious promotional campaign, Muriel Chatel, managing director of Borough Wines, swiftly dismisses any disapproval of the branding: “Organic & Orgasmic is not a slogan, and orgasmic is just a fun word, aimed at the younger generation; it’s not offensive at all. I am 50 years old – who am I to say what a 25-year-old thinks about it?” Chatel says. “Whilst it may be like Marmite, love it or hate it, we won’t be pushing it to everybody; it is aimed at younger drinkers.”

In September this year, Borough Wines became the UK distributor for Organic & Orgasmic. “We’re taking on the red, rosé and white, and next year we will have sparkling wine on tap contained in KeyKegs,” Chatel says with excitement.  

During the first eight months of this year, DW’s exports leapt more than 40%, but the young company’s development has not been entirely smooth sailing. Alex Virgili says that having secured a deal in late 2017 with music venue Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam to supply Organic & Orgasmic wines on tap, DW had to switch from the Organic & Orgasmic branding to using the DW logo on KeyKegs due to local laws which prohibit the use of sex to promote alcohol. It has so far sold 50,000l of wine at the venue. Elsewhere, the company has encountered no such stumbling block, and has started supplying wine on tap to sporting events in Washington DC. 

DW already sponsors music events in Barcelona through its Wine is the new Beer campaign. It is in talks with major festivals which do not sell wine. “At music festivals, many of which are sponsored by breweries, we can’t compete with beer; the only way to do so is by selling wine on tap. We need to give people the option of drinking wine,” says Alex Virgili. “Consumption related to music is particularly interesting; in our experience, if it’s heavy metal, a lot of whisky and Coke or beer gets consumed, but with pop singers who attract a female audience, a lot of white wine is sold.”

DW also has grand plans for the promotion of Organic & Orgasmic at food and music festival events in London. Chatel says KeyKegs are economic and sustainable, and they provide a way for wine merchants to compete with supermarkets. With wine prices rising in the UK, due to Brexit, wine on tap is seen as a key growth area. 

Two years after its creation, DW expects to almost double its turnover, from €1.4m ($1.6m) in 2017 to €2.5m by the end of 2018, thanks to growth in its core brands: Organic & Orgasmic, El Bandarra, a vermouth, and La Sueca, a sangria. Any profits would be reinvested into the company. 

DW reckons El Bandarra will generate €600,000 this year, just under a quarter of DW’s annual turnover. “We’re pushing El Bandarra through Love Drinks in London, as vermouth is going to be the next big thing in drinks,” says Alex Virgili.  El Bandarra and La Sueca pay homage to the nostalgic golden age of vermouth in the 1950s, and to the beginning of sexual liberation and democracy in Spain in the 1970s. DW also distributes Vintae’s Bienbebido range, in which the label of each bottle suggests food pairings in colourful lettering.

Vintae, which turned over €24m in 2016, provides DW with logistics, finance and administration, while the Virgili brothers bring stock, marketing and management skills to the company, says Alex Virgili. He says DW has no problem sourcing NBO wines in Catalonia. While Vintae owns more than 200ha of vines in Rioja, it makes wines with local growers in 15 wine regions in Spain, and in five areas in Chile, and has a solid distribution network throughout the country. 

The Virgili brothers’ certified organic wine estate, Casa Berger, at Sant Miquel d’Olèrdola, has more than 40ha of vines on a total area of more than 90ha. It has two further sites, giving it a total of 127ha of vines. It also buys grapes from 328 growers in Catalonia. In one instance it made 7,000l of wine from biodynamic grapes purchased from the revered Cava producer Recaredo, mainly for Organic & Orgasmic bag-in-box. It also sources wine from smaller producers in the Priorat and in the Penedès. Likewise, its partner Vintae, which is known for its cross-appellation and cross-regional approach in the commercialisation of wines, has the ability to secure NBO wines from small producers elsewhere in Spain. 

DW exports El Xitxarel-lo, Casa Berger’s flagship wine (the name is a Catalan insult which means “stupid little guy”), which Virgili says has become the most popular Xarel-lo wine in Catalonia. The bottle stands out on the shelf with its untraditional label covered in Catalan insults and its promotional leaflet is indicative of the Virgili brothers’ approach to wine. Instead of a typical tasting note, the wine is described as: “Perfect to accompany all types of pie-in-the-sky thinking… Made in some godforsaken place, it’s a wine that is perfect to accompany a late-night session until the early hours…”

The beginnings
It was the success of this white wine that paved the way for the creation of Democratic Wines in 2016. Launched with 10,000 bottles in 2013, production of El Xitxarel-lo tripled within three years and about 100,000 bottles are now sold annually, mainly in Barcelona, the Balearic Islands, Andorra and London. Its success triggered the launch of a red wine counterpart, El Cabronet, The Little Bastard or Little Devil. Alex Virgili, who promotes El Xitxarel-lo by posing for photos naked with a bottle of the wine and Xarel-lo grapes, says the first moves to change the family estate’s old-fashioned labels came in 2010, before the creation of El Xitxarel-lo. “We changed the label of Casa Berger’s Vinyet wine to an image of a tractor,” he says. “Having changed the label, we increased the price by 70% and in three years production shot up from 30,000 to 120,000 bottles: the name of the wine, and the wine inside the bottles, was exactly the same.” The combination of the three Virgili brothers’ strengths has proved to be a winning formula. The eldest, Jordi, runs the vineyard and production, while Alex handles sales and management and Albert is the creative thinker and designer. “We created Democratic Wines because we needed to grow,” says Virgili.

Casa Berger is known for making bulk wine; it sells base sparkling wine to large cava producers including Codorniu, and to France and Germany, but now the Virgili brothers are using bulk production in new formats. If the Casa Berger’s Marti Cerda labels were once small fry in comparison with bulk supply of base wines, major changes are afoot. Casa Berger’s own brand now accounts for about 30% of annual turnover, which is expected to reach €9.5m in 2018. Crucially, in June this year, the brothers acquired a further 24% of Casa Berger from its previous owners for €600,000, lifting their stake to 62%. “The acquisition has given us control of the company, allowing us to make structural changes,” says Alex Virgili. “Our priority now is to work on different packaging formats.”

And further innovation lies ahead. One entertaining idea is to build a slide on the outside of one of the estate’s stainless steel wine tanks to provide visitors with a unique experience. “The tanks are where the magic happens,” says Alex Virgili.  “The world of wine has to be fun and easy.”  
Barnaby Eales

This article first appeared in Issue 5, 2018 of Meininger's Wine Business International magazine.