Like Robert Mondavi was to California, so, to many, Miguel Torres is Spanish wine. The leading Spanish brand in the UK, Torres sells 4.2m bottles in Britain a year, with Viña Sol, Esmeralda and Sangre de Toro brightening supermarkets aisles across the country. Globally speaking, Torres is one of the most recognisable names in Spanish wine, and inextricably linked with the man behind the brand – fourth generation Miguel A. Torres.
Though respect for the environment has always formed part of the Torres modus operandi, it wasn’t until 2006, after watching Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary film An Inconvenient Truth, that Miguel Torres became startlingly aware of the very real threat of global warming on both the wine industry, and the planet. “It opened my eyes”, says Torres. “Global warming is one of the greatest social and environmental challenges facing humanity this century. Temperatures have already increased by one degree, which has brought the harvest forward by two-weeks. If they increase by five, Southern Europe will be full of arid steppes.”
Torres’ green commitment runs deep. He was honoured with a lifetime achievement award last month at the drinks business Green Awards for his pioneering work towards championing green issues in Spain, and his dedication to sustainable causes, while last year, at the inaugural Green Awards, Torres was named Green Company of the Year.
Torres, who turns 70 this year, has donated £9m of his own money to environmental issues. He drives a hybrid car and has bought 45 more for his staff. Before the climate conference in Copenhagen in December ’09, Torres welcomed 200 environmental experts into his home to prove that the wine industry is worried about the planet and the direction in which it’s headed. “Climate change is a reality. I’m astonished to see the speed at which it is taking place. Everyone should make a contribution to fight against this threat,” says Torres.
Bodegas Torres was founded in Vilafranca, Penedès, in 1870 by Miguel (I), his brother Jaime Torres Vendrell and their father. To symbolise the trio they created the three towers (torres) logo, which graces Torres bottles to this day. Over its 141-year history, the business has withstood everything from phylloxera to Civil War. Torres is expected to stand down as head this year, and speculation is rife as to whether of his son, Miguel Jr, or daughter Mireia will take the helm. “The board of directors is following the issue closely,” is all Torres will reveal.
Working in keeping with the philosophy of co-founder Miguel Torres Vendrell, that: “a good wine always respects nature, everything Bodegas Torres does is focused around minimising the impact of the winemaking process on the environment, with the overall aim of increasing vine and therefore wine quality. This June, Torres will host a Symposium for Environmental Exchange in Vilafranca, where Ricardo Lagos, the United Nations special envoy for climate change, is due to attend, along with green-focused wineries from around the world, such as Chivite, Codorníu, Yalumba, Fetzer and Concha y Toro.
Torres produces 44 million bottles a year, turning over £175m in annual sales and exporting to 140 countries. The company owns 2,440 hectares of vineyards across the world, in California’s Russian River Valley, Curicó in Chile, and Penedès, Priorat, Toro, Jumilla, Ribera del Duero and Rioja Alavesa in Spain. The recent impact of global warming has forced Torres to move his Spanish empire north, towards the Pyrenees, which will allow for cooler grape growing conditions.
In collaboration with the Catalan Institute of Vines and Wine, Torres operates research programmes aimed at recovering ancient Catalan grape varieties in danger of extinction. The region was once home to more than 100 indigenous grapes, but after the phylloxera epidemic of the mid-19th century, only a dozen have survived. In the past 15 years, Torres has, quite remarkably, rediscovered 58 varieties by asking farmers to inform him when they find a vine they don’t recognise. Torres’ great grape revival can be found in Grans Muralles, a DO Concha de Barberà wine made from the virtually extinct Garró and Samsó varieties, along with Monastrell, Cariñena and Garnacha.
The aims of the company’s latest project, Torres & Earth, include making use of biomass to produce biofuels, investing in solar panels, encouraging the use of wind power, and recycling water from waste management systems. But Torres’ green reach stretches all the way round the earth. The company has collaborated with the University of Barcelona to help protect the Bonelli’s eagle and the Ornithologists Union of Chile to safeguard the Andean condor.
“All of us can and must do something. Only by carrying out small acts of respect towards the environment as individuals, will we be able to raise ‘green’ consciousness on a lager scale,” says Torres, in an impassioned call to action we’d be churlish to ignore.