The UK is the region’s main export market and it is investing more in Britain as sales dry up in the home market due to a struggling Spanish economy.
It admits volume sales have stagnated over the past year in the UK and now plans to drive value into the category by highlighting the high-end wines it offers.
Luis Alberto Lecea, president at Wines of Rioja, told OLN: “The challenge for this year is to position the Rioja brand at the high-end level.
“Supermarkets are a very important part of our business but that’s not our main goal. The brands are doing well there so the focus is on independents and on-trade.
“Our aim is to show consumers and the trade the top Reserva and Gran Reserva wines. Our strategy started at the tasting, to encourage journalists and the trade to talk about the top Rioja wines. That’s a way to reach consumers.
“We are trying to teach the trade to approach Rioja differently and look at white wines, varieties beyond Tempranillo and so on.
“Starting in 2014 and mainly next year we are steering our budget towards on-trade and independents.”
Lecea believes the push into more premium tiers does not need to cannibalise the business the region is doing at entry level.
“Both entry-level and premium can work together,” he said. “We have really good value-for-money wines, but the diversity gives us the opportunity to work on both sides – value and premium.
“The UK is the main export market for Rioja and we are dedicated to it, but it’s known for entry-level wines and there is a long road to run to educate consumers that Rioja has wines at higher price points.
“Another handicap is that the Spanish category is known for cheap wines and we are part of Spain, although we command a higher price point than the overall category, so that makes it more difficult to push the quality message, but this is the next logical step. We have made Rioja into a consumer brand and now we can premiumise it.
“Rioja production is limited and volumes can’t just grow forever, so now is the time to grow values.
“We can talk about where the grapes come from, bottling on- site, the quality control system.”
He added: “Wineries are growing their ranges. They are not just producing two or three wines any more. They have added white wines and new varieties and more contemporary wines.”
Lecea concluded: “A criticism of Rioja is that it stays still, but that’s not true. The winemakers are trying new things, but we have to make decisions that are good for the region.”