Marqués de Riscal's bold reinvention

These days, many North American wine markets offer hundreds – if not more than a thousand – brands and types of wine. In the face of fierce global competition, most winemakers face a difficult challenge in gaining and maintaining market share. With so many wines for consumers to choose from, wineries cannot rely solely on the taste and quality of the product inside their bottles. As a result, marketing – both in terms of effort and branding – increasingly plays a large role in wine sales.

Branding in particular has become significantly more important and has progressed beyond iconic colors like the famous yellow-orange of Veuve Cliquot or animals like kangaroos on the label. For newer wineries, effective branding can mean the difference between failure and success. However, even long-established wineries can benefit from rebranding exercises. One such winery in Spain, Marqués de Riscal, has undertaken one of the most extraordinary rebranding efforts in the business, creating what it calls “The City of Wine”


As one of the oldest wineries in the Rioja region of northern Spain, Marqués de Riscal is well known and so is its traditional branding, which includes gold wire netting around the bottle. Although several Rioja wines still use the netting to signify quality, Marqués de Riscal was the first to do it, as a way of preventing counterfeiting.

Over its history, Marqués de Riscal has always been known for making quality wines, and was in fact the first winery in Spain to use French winemaking methods. But as the 21st century approached and the world market was exploding with fresh entrants from the New World and wine tourism was taking off, the winery’s ownership knew it had to move toward modernizing all aspects of its operations.

Marqués de Riscal’s Project 2000 envisioned a new image for the winery, improved quality wines and an interactive way for consumers to relate to the product. Six years later, the City of Wine was the realization of Project 2000 and incorporates expanded and modernized winery production facilities, stylized tasting rooms, shops and a 43-room Starwood-operated contemporary hotel spread out over a more than 23-acre site.


At the center of The City of Wine is the hotel, which stands out like a beacon of modernity in the medieval town of Elciego.

Designed by the famous North American architect Frank Gehry, who also designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, some 75 miles away. The Hotel Marqués de Riscal displays a roof of undulating ribbons of titanium in three meaningful colors: red-violet, to represent the wine; silver to represent the bottle capsule; and gold to represent the wire netting around the bottle.

Almost overnight, the hotel transformed Marqués de Riscal and the town of Elciego, says Carlos Ulibarri Echevararia, the technical supervisor of the winery’s public relations department.

“This building has put this village on the map,” he said, noting that similarly, the Guggenheim Museum served as the focus of urban renewal in Bilbao.

Tourists came to Marques de Riscal in record numbers after the hotel opened in 2006.

“Before the hotel opened, we would get between 2,000 and 3,000 visitors per year,” Ulibarri Echevararia said. “We got about 9,000 per year during construction. Now, it’s more than 70,000 visitors every year.”

In addition to the art-like architecture, the hotel features two restaurants, including one that is Michelin-starred, a spa and a library. All of the interiors were also designed by Gehry.

During the same period the hotel was being built and then opened, the expansion of the winery facilities allowed Marqués de Riscal to more than double its wine production to more than 5.5 million bottles annually. That in turn allowed the winery to expand its reach.

“We were sold in 76 countries before construction and now its 110 countries,” Ulibarri Echevararia said.


The rebranding and modernization efforts at Marqués de Riscal with the creation of the City of Wine have not only put Elciego on the tourism map and brought record numbers of wine sales, but have also led to improvements in the bottle.

Perhaps most well known are the Marqués de Riscal Reserva wines – the wines that are packaged in bottles covered with the gold wire netting – which are Tempranillo-dominated wines that also include a small percentage of Graciano and Mazuelo grapes. Some of the grapes used in these wines date back to the 1970s. After fermentation, the wines aged in American oak barrels for two years, giving the wine concentrated flavors usually found in much more expensive wines. Here in Cayman, these wines have a retail price of only $23.99, making them great values for those who like full-bodied reds that show the styled elegance of Old World wines.

Jacques Scott Wines & Spirits also sells Marqués de Riscal Gran Reserva, which is produced from grape vines that are more than 45 years old. The resulting wine is aged in American oak casks for 30 to 36 months and then bottle aged for an additional three years before release. The Gran Reservas, which consist of 90 percent Tempranillo grapes, are very elegant, with spicy aromas of red fruits and a structured, silky finish. There aren’t many red wines priced under $50 in Cayman that show the kind of sophistication evident in Marqués de Riscal Gran Reserva, and at $46.99, they represent great value for quality.

Marques de Riscal also produces some white wines at its Rueda winery in central Spain. Made from 100 Verdejo grapes and prices at only $14.99 retail, Marques de Riscal Rueda is a crowd-pleasing white wine with lots of personality. Highly aromatic with tropical fruit and herbal notes, this easy drinking, fresh wine is ideal for Cayman’s climate and will appeal to those who like Sauvignon Blanc – and to those who do not.


The Marqués de Riscal Hotel, designed by the famed architect, Frank Gehry, is the centerpiece of The City of Wine. – Photo: Alan Markoff

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