The 'quejío' of the wines from El Marco

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Javier Luengo (@JavierGuiaPenin)

(Read The Superstars of El Marco)

Over the last few decades we have become accustomed to the constant whining of the Jerez countryside and wineries, all of which are desperate due to the tragic situation of their wine growers and also due to the almost eternal drift in the marketing of their products. For those unfamiliar with flamenco terminology, the quejío "is the insertion into the cante of an afflictive and prolonged "Ay!" or of several successive "ayes" which, regardless of the copla, are inserted into it at the beginning, in the middle or at the end" (Source:

We have also been able to see how a brave handful of bottlers and producers searched through history to claim the glory of yesteryear and some of the oldest elaborations, barely visible in the fog formed by the elaboration trend of the last century.

The memory is much shorter now than before. They know this well in politics, and somehow these "historians" of Marco wine have suffered the effects of this collective lack of retention that reigns today.

The positive part of this trend is that when you retrieve an event from the past and bring it into the present the flame of this event can burn brightly, as if it were new, allowing the message to transcend. The negative part is that the force of the first flame is quickly extinguished if you do not add a log large enough for the fire to catch, and these large logs, powerful in terms of calorific value, are here in the Marco the great actors, whose support is capable of moving the complex and heavy machinery of a Regulatory Council (Consejo Regulador) more easily.

All this momentum experienced in recent years: the claim of wines with less long aging, the look to the true origin of wine, the vineyard, and the idea that the processes of criaderas and soleras make sense in some wines and not necessarily in all, has served to some wine lovers to turn their eyes towards this beautiful corner of Spain. Winelovers from all over the world supported this "silent revolution", supporting it through their digital social corners and through an interesting, but still shy, purchase.

Today, its effect is diluted, despite the fact that imaginary commercial actions are carried out in order to ease the consumption of the wines of the Marco. Rock has taken over a good handful of producers and consumers as part of an interesting campaign to add new consumers to the wines of El Marco, the old rockers. However, its capacity for change is diluted by not finding the desirable support among the institutions, nor in the large groups, capable of reaching a more generalist and therefore more voluminous consumer. If the big guys don't move, what can you expect from this whole phenomenon?

The crisis in Jerez is a crisis that has been going on for a long time, increased by the effect that Rumasa had on sherry wine when it introduced a cannibalistic commercial model into the market, based on an aggressive pricing policy and which forced the other big players to enter the game in order to counteract its effect. Rumasa has been gone for a long time, but this policy of unreasonably low prices remained and took its maximum splendour at the height of generic brand wines.

Generic brands, millions of litres sold below price

The phenomenon of private labelling is as interesting as it is destructive. The big wineries supply these wines to the big stores at unimaginable prices. We can find white label finos or manzanillas at prices around 2.3 euros including VAT. But what does this mean? Let's do the math: each bottle of fino or manzanilla sold has a special tax of 38 cents per litre (if the wine does not exceed the usual 15º of a fino or manzanilla; if it exceeds this graduation, the tax will rise to 64 cents per litre). These excise duties are added to the price of the wine and VAT is calculated on this (excise duty + price), which, to a certain extent, means double taxation. So, for a fino or manzanilla sold at 2.3€ if we subtract 21% VAT (0.483 cents), excise duty on alcohol (0.28 cents) and the percentage of the large retailer that sells it, which we calculate at around 20% (0.363 cents), we find that the winery has sold that bottle at a price of 1.17 euros. The price of the grapes, their production, which must be at least two years old plus the costs of printing, capsules, cork or stopper and labelling, should be passed on to this price. Surprised? No wonder.

To complicate matters even further, we are in a delicate commercial situation, with the United Kingdom having just left Europe, although this departure has not yet been reflected in all its splendour in sales to the British market, which is barely suffering a 3% drop but which aims to add up to considerable falls as time goes on until a commercial agreement is reached to stop the bleeding. The US and its threats around wine tariffs would also be a blow to the commercial aspirations of Marco's wines if they finally materialize. We'll know this soon enough.

With such a panorama, are we surprised to see these days the farmers taking the cities to claim a price that allows them to continue living off the land? More than a whimper it should be a heart-rending cry!

Opportunities in a rather pessimistic scenario

The forthcoming entry into force of the wines without headings in the specifications of Jerez and also of Manzanilla de Sanlúcar, which it hopes will soon surpass the last legal steps, opens up a new avenue of work and marketing for the producers of the Marco, who will no longer be obliged to add wine alcohol to their wines, as was the case before. This is a relevant, positive, but insufficient development. It is true that it did not make sense to maintain the obligation of fortification on wines, when there are traditional winemaking practices that allow sufficient degree to be obtained. However, the situation of Sherry wine is such, and it is clear that we are talking about Jerez in its entirety, that this measure will not reverse the crisis situation it is going through. Some producers are demanding that wineries open the hand to the production of still wines. It should be remembered that the PGI Vinos de la Tierra de Cádiz was created to provide an outlet for these wines which, by law, cannot be labelled with the labels of Jerez or Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

The truth is that this small change in the designations of origin could offer an opportunity in the fight to redirect the price of Marco wines, as it would allow the introduction of a range of still wines at competitive prices, an introductory range and also an intermediate one, which could be used to increase the price of their traditional wines. Does it make sense, to cite the best known examples, to sell Fino la Ina or Tio Pepe for just over six euros, La Guita for 8 euros or a Manzanilla Alegría for 5 euros? Are there not products of inferior quality sold at higher prices in areas as wineloving and unstable as the French Jura?

Another aspect to take into account is that the look at the vineyard that has been reborn in recent years has opened up a new field of action, namely regulation. There is ample documentation on the qualities of the different vineyards, and today vineyards such as Carrascal, Macharnudo, Balbaína, among many others, have been revalued. Wouldn't it be interesting to go a step further in this differentiation and offer a higher category to these vineyards? Wouldn't it serve to bottle them separately and sell them at higher prices? Wouldn't it be a way to guarantee that the owner of a vineyard in these unique places would be able to sell his grapes at more dignified prices?

The wines of the Marco always generate electricity, sometimes they are overwhelming because of their complexity, because of their idiosyncrasy, they awaken passions because of their uniqueness and quality and they also generate debate because of the infinite number of theories and sensibilities that coexist in it.

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