Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bocopa´s wines, local marketing success

Bocopa has its headquarters in Petrer at 50 kilometers from the capital of Alicante, next to the road from Alicante to Madrid. As we arrive at 9:00 AM at the parking of Bocopa, Pedro Calabuig, the young, ambititious and above all energetic export manager, smokes a morning cigarette just before he enters the office. We are invited to have an informal cup of coffee in Bocopa´s office kitchen. Gaspar Tomás, the winemaker and managing director of Bocopa, also drops in to welcome us.

A typical office morning start of the week, but Bocopa office is not just any office, it´s Alicante´s most important cooperative and biggest wine producer in volume, accounting for more than 40% of the total production. It also has created Levante´s most important white wine brand “Marina Alta”. There´s no other white wine sold more at the crowdy Costa Blanca restaurants and pubs than Marina Alta.

In 1988 Bocopa started with nothing, just a couple of cooperatives from a remote wine producing area with no clear goal but to produce bulk wines at competitive prices. Driven by the reduction of costs, the market in Spain started to consume considerably less table wine. A worse scenery for the new created Bocopa was hardly unthinkable. A tough job for Gaspar Tomas, the managing director. If keeping satisfied a few hundred members of one cooperative is difficult, just imagine what it must be like to manage several cooperatives, especially in those circumstances.

Marina Alta, marketing succes
Then the winery discovered that the Marina Alta´s young moscatel was a niche market at that time.They managed to create a brand around it. They offered a fresh and tropical fruity light white wine, with a touch of sweetness. A succes formula without forseeing its unexpected succes. Now it is the best sold white wine in the Levante coastal area. The wine is medium priced and goes perfect with all types of food of the Mediteranean. An ideal “summer costa wine”. It beats away traditional selling white wine brands like Peñascal, Castillo de San Diego (Barbadillo) and Blanc Pescador (Peralada). Not quite something you would expect from a cooperative in Alicante, better known as a red wine area. Marina Alta, supported by national broadcasted radio spots, is really taking off now, and expands to other national markets and of course international markets.

The export department of Bocopa started a massive offensive to sell their wines abroad. Pedro hops from wine fair to wine fair and visits all his new and potential clients. Just two years ago the export of the bottled wines was falling behind too much. Gaspar, decided to hire a new staff to boost the sales outside of Spain. Switzerland, Germany and Belgium are very important markets. And now also The Netherlands is catching up rappidly.

The Bocopa´s members together own about 2000 hectares of vineyard. The main grapes are moscatel and monastrell, with some foreign grapes like syrah, cabernet suavignon, merlot. The production is dominated by young wines (70%) and 30% crianzas, for which the winery has about 1200 barrels, 30% French and 70%. Another important range of wines is the ecologic range. Experimenting projects like a own sparkling wine of moscatel are carried out by Gaspar himself. As we walk through the wine shop, that lies next to the professional tasting room, I observe a broad range of labels, and ask Pedro to explain the different styles of wines Bocopa makes. “There are 4 ranges in Bocopa, and some ranges have several labels, which make it possible to serve several clients and distribution channels within the same market”, Pedro explains.

Laudum label
Laudum is Bocopa´s top quality range. Wines made of grapes that come from traditional 20 year old vineyards with very low yields. The selection of the grapes from the 2000 hectares of vineyard available garantees a high quality. The Laudum label has a chardonnay (barrel fermented). The Laudum crianza and Laudum reserva are both made of at least 70% monastrell and the rest with different amounts of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The Laudum “100 barricas” is a special selection of the best barrels. For these wines Bocopa only uses oak with a maximum age of three years. Laudum also has a high level ecological wine of 100% monastrell.

Young wines
Alacanta is a medium segment of fruity young red, white and rosé wines. But in this range Bocopa also includes the premium rosé Terreta Rosado and the white local marketing hit Marina Alta.

Ecological wines
The ecological range is called Castillo de Alicante. Bocopa makes one of tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon and 70% monastrell.

The special wines like Fondillon Alone 1983, Dulce Negra, made of monastrell, and a classic sweet Moscatel complete the range.

For tasting notes see

Alicante´s wine future
Bocopa is determined to play a key role in Alicante´s wine future. Gaspar´s personal goal is to provoke a change in the wine minds of the people of Alicante. “People must know that wine from Alicante is as good as any other wine and certainly as good as Rioja”. He doesn´t use the word but he surely refers to Riojitis (red. Riojitis is a kind of social and cultural “dissease“ that makes people ask for Rioja wine without even considering any other wine available). However, in Alicante the local wine sales are worse than in other places of the Spanish Mediterranean coast. At least in Catalunya everybody offers Catalan wines, Valencia is starting to offer Valencian wine and benefits from the upcoming America´s Cup in Valencia in 2007. Murcia has created a culture around their own Murcian wines, with Jumilla as world center of monastrell. But in Alicante nobody seems to care about wines from Alicante. Although Gaspar can be reasonably lucky with his Marina Alta success. He admitts that Marina Alta is an exception to the rule. In fact Marina Alta is so successful as a wine brand that many waiters offer Marina Alta without knowing this wine comes from Alicante. And as nobody asks where it comes from, Marina Alta misses hereby a huge opportunity to contribute to a positive image of Alicante as a wine region. Marina Alta is just Marina Alta, like any other brand. What only a few waiters and consumers of Marina Alta know is that the wine, in fact, is named after the northern part of the province of Alicante, where most of the best moscatel grapes come from. But who wants to complicate things as long as the wine is the most wanted white wine brand in one of the most visited touristic areas in the world?

In a certain way Marina Alta does and does not help to sell Alicante as a wine region. With the back label Marina Alta stressess its origin. But as a brand, nobody really talks about abut the wine as a Alicante wine. Gaspar comments: “All our wines are sold with the Alicante back label. Although Alicante is better known for its reds, and the white Marina Alta clearly is an exception, Bocopa underlines its continuous search for quality in all styles. Marina Alta just was the right wine at the right place. Bocopa intends to introduce similar wines successes in red and rosé. Rosé Terreta Rosado already received several medals and awards. Also the Laudums are fighting for recognition.

The Regulatory Council should do more generic promotion. Selling Alicante as a wine region was limited to some international wine fairs and local events. Wine tourism has never been a real issue in Alicante. There is still a lot to be done to make it work. Gaspar personally thinks that the sales starts at the table of millions of tourists at the coast. He says: “Just imagine a waiter offering a Alicante wine first in stead of a Rioja. This small change could provoke a radical change about how the Spansih consumer and the foreign tourists perceive the wines from Alicante. Automatically people will want to visit the local wineries and Bocopa will be one of the first to receive them with open arms”.

Wine tourism
Bocopa invested in wine tourism at a time when few wineries in the area even had heard about the concept. Gaspar Tomás is aware of the fact that a bridge between Alicante´s tourism and the world of wine is lacking. Bocopa wants to play an essential role. The professional facilities created some years ago for tastings are outstanding for organized visits. Bocopa also organizes courses and tasting for wine lovers with visits to the winery. But building on tourism is something few wineries can realise by themselves. “Wine tourism has started a few years ago in Spain. First in the most traditional wine areas as Rioja, Penedès and Jerez, but now it is growing everywhere in Spain. Millions of tourists drive from Alicante to Madrid several times a year passing our winery, which is visible from the main road. We should focus more on those passing cars and try to make Bocopa “a must see” local attraction. Now, that will be a difficult task. The winery was built a few years ago in an industrial area in Petrer as a functional office building with its bottling line, airconditioned abovegrounds cellars and warehouse. It is not really a sexy or flashy winery. Although compared to other cooperatives it stands out of the crowd. Gaspar knows that the building itself is not enough. But few wineries open their doors to show tourists around. As an anecdote I told Gaspar that indeed in 2003 I presented myself as a Dutch tourist at the official tourist office of Alicante to ask about wine touristic activities in the region. I received one brochure of a winery in Petrer that I could visit. Guess from which winery this brochure was? A poor result, from a touristic point of view, but at the same time, characteristic for how the situation is in this region. And again Bocopa stood out of the crowd, but this time not only as a cooperative, but as a winery with clear visions.

This summer 2006 I hope to be able to report on the moscatel harvest in Marina Alta, both as a wine and as a region!


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