Marta Alvarez (Bilbao, 1966) was a teenager when her father, David Álvarez, bought Vega Sicilia in 1982, today the great luxury brand in Spain. The memories of that acquisition -which they celebrate this year with special events-, more than in the retina, are kept in the ears.
“Our father was an old-fashioned businessman, throwing himself into the business one hundred percentTherefore, at home we have always experienced his work a lot. I remember hearing about a great winery and my father saying that it could be an interesting business for us, since we weren’t linked to wine at the time. It was an attractive subject, but it did not have the boom that we have achieved afterwards”, explains Marta, president of Tempos Vega Sicilia.
And by rebound David Álvarez went from being an intermediary for the Neumann Svaton family – at the time in charge of this respected winery in Valbuena de Duero (Valladolid) – to owner. Today, four decades later this family company, led by his son Pablo (CEO), is a global brand synonymous with excellence and its wines receive praise from critics and the public as well as being object of desire of collectors and auction houses.
Artisans, born from tradition, but also with a great commitment to innovation, are unique labels that bear the rubric of this businesswoman, discreet and prudent to a superlative degree.
“It was a tradition that the bottles were signed by the president of the winery. The former owners did it and we have also maintained it in the wineries that we have founded, except for Macán references, where we are associated with the Rothschild family“Martha details.
First his father signed them and then -in all vintages after 2010– her: Marta Álvarez in the bottles of Alión (Ribera de Duero), Oremus (Tokaj, Hungary), Pintia (Toro) and those that will come from Bodega y Viñedos Deiva, new brand in Rías Baixas founded with the idea of making Albariño wines which will be finished in 2023.
But before this world seduced her, numbers did. “I studied Economics and Business and, since I liked the subject of taxesI did a master’s degree in tax consulting. I worked for a few years in this sector, in an office that had nothing to do with the family,” he relives today.
She doesn’t know if it was “because she was the youngest of the siblings or because the rebellion of youth and the desire to see things“, but he wanted to start his own path. “I was away for a few years and I think that was very positive.”
With the suitcase loaded with other experiences and the rebellion satisfied, Marta returned home. In 1998 “I joined Eulen, the service company my father founded. I was first in the Risk department, as you always see, focused on fiscal and economic matters, and then in audits”. And later came the time of wine.
In 2010, she joined Tempos Vega Sicilia as “non-executive president, I also chair andl Board of Directors where strategic decisions are made. My brother Pablo manages the wineries”.
Precisely, this has had a lot to do with the fascination that Marta feels for the wine world. Over the years and contact with experts He learned about vineyards, aging, elaboration… “Pablo has helped us a lot in that, who has also always transmitted his love for the winery and wine to us.”
Forty years ago, the Álvarezes knew nothing about it, but today they make some of the most coveted wines on the planet. “We have been learning slowly, and the winery has also been growing little by little. If something characterizes us, it is patience. Nothing rushes here, and that gives us time to make mistakes and rectify them. We work very long term because we are not looking for quick profit or fast growthbut taking care of the brand and the quality and always looking to the future”. And if a production has to be discarded because it does not meet the desired quality, then it is made and not sold. no hurry. “There have been years in which it has been ruled out, for example, making Único [referencia icónica de la casa] because the grapes did not have the quality we were looking for”.
Things like these have gotten fat the legend of its wines, as well as their presence in unique events. For example, during the historic visit that Barack Obama made to Cuba in 2016: the then president of the United States and that of Cuba, Raúl Castro, shared a Unique 2007.
More elements for the myth. In 1982 close to 90% of sales were destined for the Spanish market (it was only exported to five countries); today 70% leave our borders (they reach 150 countries). In addition, they have an exclusive club to which 3,700 chosen people belong -most are private, although there are also shops, restaurants…- and that it has a waiting list of 2,500 people.
“Before my father bought the winery, the quota system to sell the wine already worked. We have kept it because a very personal relationship is established with the clientSome have been with us for many years: parents, children…”.
They have more demand than supply. Haven’t you considered producing more?
-The vineyard is limited. It’s not like in a factory, where you give a machine and you continue generating parts. We have no intention of going beyond that, it is our philosophy. What we have been doing is creating new wineries with other characteristics and looking for differences, which is why we have opted for Galicia and Albariño.
And it is that Vega Sicilia sells everything. “Well, every year, we reserve a little for our private collection or for an emergency, but yes, It sells well, we can’t complain. We got it with a lot of effort. It is not easy, but we have a part of the commercial department that he travels a lot, and all over the world, to publicize our wines, to look for good distributors… Then it depends on each one’s taste”, Marta acknowledges without losing that slow, unhurried speech, like the hallmark of the house.
-Is it true that they don’t give away wine?
-LOL. Yes, we do not make exceptions or discounts.
-Neither advertising campaigns…
-What Our aim is to make very good wines and that quality is what defines us, not advertising. We attend tastings, international meetings… to make them known. We do not want to be a winery whose wines are stored as if they were a work of art, but to be drunk and enjoyed.
A joy that in some labels is not within the reach of ordinary mortals. “Único Reserva Especial and Único are expensive, but keep in mind that, for example, the latter it takes 10 years from the time the harvest is harvested until it goes on sale. It’s a very long, very laborious process.”
And he continues: “In any case, we are very careful with the price, because we want exclusivity to be accessible. Alion and Pinia are cheaper wines; In Oremus, we also have a white wine, Mandolás, which is around 20 euros… We are not looking for exclusivity per se, but quality”, insists the president of Tempos Vega Sicilia, who has no problem talking about the presence of women in the sector.
“Traditionally the world of wine has been very masculine. Perhaps in the last 20 years it has been changing, since, although women had been participating for some time, was not, as in so many sectors of society, in positions of responsibility. Now they run wineries, there are winemakers, sommeliers, Master of Wine… Women have a lot to say and contribute because they are also consumers“.
-Since we are talking about consumption, do you toast with your wines at home?
Yes, but also from others.
-Of the ones we produce, I like them a lot. Valbuena and Oremus Aszú 5 Puttonyos. Of the rest, the French Burgundies and the champagne.
Discreet and low profile, “We are from the north and that marks us”-, speaks of tradition and also of modernity. “We have been taking care of the vineyard for four decades, without using herbicides or chemical fertilizers; a few years ago we built a new production hall with super-sophisticated systems, we have recovered a large part of the vineyard that Eloy Lecandathe founder of the winery planted at the end of the 19th century…”.
Everything to achieve unique wines, the result, according to Marta, of work, “a lot of work”, of care… And of time, like the one they have and count the historic vintages of Único and Valbuena who have starred in a spectacular tasting, held a few days ago at Asador Extebarri to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Álvarez family in Vega Sicilia.