Juan Jesús Méndez: "We have been setting style in the wine sector for thirty years"

The monthly newspaper La Tribuna de Canarias, in its October issue, publishes an extensive interview with our winery director, Juan Jesús Méndez Siverio, which explains Viñátigo's leadership within and outside our borders for more than 30 years, and analyzes the present and future of the Canarian wine sector.

Canary Islands Tribune October 2019 (SPECIAL AGRICULTURE | Economy Tribune)

How long has Viñátigo been in the sector?

As a project under this name, since 1990. At that time he took over from a family tradition of four generations of winegrowers, the result of that tradition that we have so deeply rooted in the north of the island and in the Canary Islands, with five centuries of history growing vineyards.

Were you pioneers when it came to bottling wine and becoming professional?

With initiatives like ours, we resumed the production and cultivation of the vine, we put aside the concept of bulk wine to consume in the guachinches and began to introduce new techniques, refined the processes and began to make wines that society demanded in those moments.

Viñátigo was a benchmark at that time, from improving the elaborations of the listán blanco and the listán negro, the recovery of the Canary Islands vine varieties is championed, even against criteria imposed to the contrary by the public administration such as the Government of the Canary Islands and the Cabildo of Tenerife, who were betting on the incorporation of the varieties that they called improvers, which in my opinion are worse.

Our varieties provide a uniqueness to the wines of the Canary Islands and we champion this entire process, first with the Galician Viticulture Station, then with projects with the Polytechnic University of Madrid and Zaragoza to end up promoting the identification by micro satellites of all varieties of Canaries that are currently in the process of development.

Therefore, we have been setting style for thirty years, being a reference and it must be remembered that, 15 years ago, when no one exported, Viñátigo was already opening a market abroad.

Do you think that a new paradigm is approaching for the sector if we recover the native vineyards?

At the time we said that the future of the sector would go through the study and deepening of the knowledge of these varieties because we have a complicated orography, we must remember that Tenerife has the third largest volcano in the world, therefore, we have a steep topography, which greatly prevents mechanization, hinders costs in cultivation and the size of our wineries are small, so our economy of scale is not comparable with the peninsular or European. Competing in a globalized market at the world level, simply because of prices, would mean ruin and we would be sentenced to death.

How can we survive?

Well, taking advantage of the particularities and singularities of Canarian viticulture, which are not few and allow us to gain a foothold in the market for high-quality wine worldwide and allow us to guarantee profitability that allows the survival of the sector.

The differential elements are very special volcanic soils, the islands are geologically very young and the soils are of volcanic origin, they have enormous minerality. We are 100% free of phyloxera, that allows us to say that we are one of the few places in the world that are in these conditions, it allows us to have all our vineyards on the open foot, with the roots in direct contact with the ground, a tremendously mineral, with which these minerals are transmitted directly to the wine.

This translates into identity, in finding the terroir directly in the glass, which is not easy because, in most parts of the world, where wines are expressed is through fruit, floral aromas, techniques... but the mineral tones are the cum laude of quality in the wines. And that in the Canary Islands is very easily achievable for the two reasons that I have just explained.

The Canary Islands do not have indigenous varieties, but they do have many endemic varieties, many of which no longer exist anywhere else in the world. This gives us a uniqueness and originality of our unique product and is a tool to consolidate our export process, our consolidation in the best restaurants in the world and as support for a tourist destination that can be a differentiator.

Viñátigo is a very important winery whose wines are marketed inside and outside the Canary Islands, it is quite an achievement ...

Yes, when we started with this project we did not imagine the projection it was going to have, it was unthinkable for us to be in the best restaurants and in the big cities of the world. Reaching a market, like New York with how competitive it is, is a tremendous achievement because it is a global showcase, and if you are on the restaurant menus in that great city, you are in the place where trends are generated. All this greatly favours the development of the sector in the Canary Islands.

However, not everything is done, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially in terms of consolidation, research in the recovery of varieties, we have to improve a viticulture that is not very productive and not profitable, we have to make it more attractive without losing the artisan. For all this we need the complicity of the administration, to equip ourselves with the necessary tools to achieve our objectives.

We need to improve the situation of POSEI, because the one we have is not adequate, it has been designed for other subsectors, despite the fact that viticulture is the second-largest cultivated area in the archipelago and with tremendous possibilities for internationalization. We must also improve the issue of agricultural insurance to give security to people who want to risk in this sector.

In recent times the issue of Regulatory Councils has been generating controversy. A clear definition is lacking, especially for people in the sector, especially for winemakers, where some defend the existing appellations of origin, others the insular and others the regional. What do you think about it?

I think that the Regulatory Councils were created approximately thirty years ago, the people who participated in that process, we thought about the regional wine consumption, at no time did the international projection that we could have crossed our minds. Therefore, we thought about that district, because people asked the guachinches for a litre of wine from Tacoronte, or one from the south.

This extreme division into regions has made it difficult to unify criteria, it has made it difficult to market wine and it has become a serious problem and hinders a single voice and image in defense of the interests of the sector before the administrations and hinders a single communication strategy before consumers. Therefore, the situation is a problem.

I believe that we should evolve in another sense, under a concept of Canary Islands umbrella, as Burgundy does, for example, and within that Canary Islands umbrella, islands, regions or parcels can be defined as sub-zones, in a pyramidal structure that share an organization, a strategy, a voice before the administration and fight for winemakers.

Right now we have an archaic and outdated system that should evolve. The problem is the interests of each one, there are technicians who have turned the Regulatory Councils into their way of life and have put the Regulatory Councils at the service of their own interests and not at the service of all. There are politicians who have been using the sector as a tool to capture votes and have put the sector to work in favour of their political interests and not they, as politicians, to work in favour of society and the sector. All this has seriously affected the evolution of the sector.

Do you think that under the Canary Islands brand the projection of the sector would be greater and would even improve the aid of the different administrations, such as the European one?

Of course, we would have many advantages, we just have to look at other models and subsectors that have already done so, for example, the banana, which while they were all separated had many difficulties, at the time they were called Canarian banana, get a tremendous projection.

I feel sorry for the wine sector when it feels super satisfied having a party in a neighborhood and that is the maximum of its exponent in projection, while I see the banana sponsoring basketball.

For me, the difference in dimension is very clear and as long as the operators do not realize this situation, change their way of thinking and fight for what really corresponds, this sector will not have much to go.

Are regional wineries a problem for the future of the sector?

It is an absolutely unusual situation within the European Union. Having the management of a winemaker does not happen anywhere within the European Union.

I understand that the administration may have a hospital, which may favor the development of airports, ports or highways, but that the administration is making wine seems to me an incomprehensible issue.

That has been the policy, from my point of view, totally wrong of the Cabildo de Tenerife, which has been the main promoter of this strategy, but not only in the wine sector because you will tell me what a Cabildo does having Casinos.

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