Does Catalonia's Independence Affect Local Wine Industry?

 a Catalan flag hangs from a private home

a Catalan flag hangs from a private home

All photos by Becca Yeamans-Irwin. 

Though it has been just over 6 months since the symbolic Catalan declaration of independence from Spain was made, the issue of Catalonian independence has troubled the region for many years.

One potential fall-out from the Catalan independence movement are boycotts and the reduction of income for Catalan businesses and residents. Specifically, calls for boycotts on such products as Catalan wine, with Cava as a specific target, have been made in past controversies related to Catalan independence.

Cava

For example, in 2004, controversial statements made by a Catalan leader led to a boycott on Catalan products, specifically Cava. According to a 2006 NY Times article, that year Cava’s market share grew only 2% compared to double-digit growth the year prior. Then, in 2005, sales of Cava dropped a further 7%, indicating that the call for a Cava boycott was effective. Fast forward to this most recent call for independence in 2017: according to a recent article by Wine on VI, from sales data, one can see “a massive drop off in terms of domestic Cava sales to the point where Cava is truly an export-driven wine now”.

Other Catalan wines, case study: DO Montsant

While it seems calls for boycotts of Catalan products within Spain appears to be effective for products like Cava, do we see the same drop in sales within the country for other Catalan products?

Take, for example, the wines of DO Montsant. The region is located in Catalonia and is home to 65 wineries with an overall production of 1.8-2.4 million gallons. Unlike Cava, which sees only 35% sold domestically, DO Montsant is the opposite, with only 30% of their wines sold as exports, and 70% consumed domestically (2016 data). Most DO Montsant wines are purchased and consumed within Catalonia itself, with 2017 sales data showing 62% of the sales occurring in Catalonia, and 7% of the sales in the rest of Spain (data from DO Montsant officials).

With most of its wine sold on the domestic market, would a call to boycott Catalan products affect a small wine region like DO Montsant? The answer may lie in how domestic sales are broken down.

According to Pau Sabaté, a DO Montsant official, “for the moment, there’s [no] decrease in sales across DO Montsant as a result of the [Catalan] independence movement”. While Sabaté noted a slight increase in global sales of DO Montsant wines (2016 data), “in the last years…our sales in the Catalan market have increased to the detriment of the export sales.” In other words, rather than seeing a boycott of DO Montsant wines because of the unofficial call to boycott Catalan-made products, domestic sales of DO Montsant wines have increased.

This increase in domestic sales, specifically the sales within Catalonia, is because “people in Catalonia are more aware of the local product, not because of the independence movement, just because people are valuing more of this kind of [locally-made] product”. In other words, the Catalan people seem to be adopting a “buy local” approach to consumption, which has proven to be beneficial for DO Montsant wine sales despite a call to boycott Catalan products in other parts of Spain.

Sabaté cited one area where the Catalan independence movement may be impacting the DO. Specifically, promotional activities throughout Spain and the EU have been impacted, as the funding the DO Montsant receives for this activity (European Union FEADER funds) has been cut off because of the political turmoil and he expects the DO will be without these funds for the next two or three months at least.

Impact on individual wineries

Though the DO Montsant appears to be getting by unscathed during the Catalan independence movement, if you talk to individual wineries, you may not get the same answer.

For Coca i Fitó, a single-estate winery run by brothers Toni and Miquel, the Catalan independence movement has influenced them in different ways. According to Miquel, Catalan people have decreased their consumption of high-end wines and have been purchasing more affordable wines in an effort to save money for possible economic hardship down the road. Since Coca i Fitó’s wines run in the mid-to-high end price range, this change in consumption habits has caused local sales to decrease. Coca i Fitó’s sales in Catalonia are usually about 50%, though recently this number has dropped to 36%.

In terms of sales to the rest of Spain, Coca i Fitó has seen dwindling numbers since 2002 when Spaniards were calling for boycotts on Catalan-made products, from 8% last year dropping further to 4% this year.

A silver lining to the Catalan independence movement, however, is that the movement appears to be drawing attention to the area in general on an international scale, and provoking interest from other markets for wines of the region. Miquel cited an increase in international sales of Coca i Fitó wines, and hopes the global eye on the region will further increase international sales and lessen the impact of the decrease in sales locally.

Miquel also noted some decreases in employee efficiency thanks to the independence movement. Specifically, many of the winery’s employees have been affected by stress and other factors as a direct result of the political turmoil caused by the independence movement, with overall efficiency estimated by Miquel to have dropped by 8%.

While some wineries appear to be impacted by the Catalan independence movement, many wineries in the DO Montsant have not. Ferran Masip, from Celler Cairats, stated that the independence movement has had no effect on sales of their wines. For Celler Cairats, 65% of their total sales go to international exports, and for those wines sold domestically, they are mostly sold in Catalonia itself. At Acústic Celler, winemaker Albert Jane stated that he has seen no decrease in sales and that employee moral and efficiency is just as strong as ever with “everyone working normally as serious Catalan hard workers do”.

Conclusion

Overall, sales of DO Montsant wines don’t appear to be affected by the most recent Catalan independence movement. However, despite the positive numbers overall, there still might be some impacts felt on the individual winery level, all depending upon who you talk to. In general, due to the sales structure of many of the wineries in Montsant, that being a mainly local (Catalonia) and international (export) market, any potential boycotts by greater Spain would be unlikely felt or felt very minimally for most.

As Eulàlia Roca from Celler Masroig explained, the Catalan independence movement is “mainly a media and politician conflict” and that “what you see on television has nothing to do with the real life on the streets. The real atmosphere is quiet and normal. Everyone is working normally and…are working hard and good, as always.”

The people of the DO Montsant, as with everywhere else, just want to live their lives perfecting their craft, and hopefully any political conflicts that may arise will still allow them to do what it’s in their hearts and souls to do — make beautiful wines!

Disclosure: The author was invited to a paid press trip to DO Montsant in Spain. The contents of this article were not influenced by DO Montsant.