This winery, Bodegas Manzanos Azagra, is actually one of 10 owned by Manzanos. They all sit within an easy drive of each other in the rolling hills of northeastern Spain’s wine country. But this is the headquarters, the heart of the operation that has been a part of the Manzanos family since its founding in 1890.
It sits in Spain’s Navarra region, between Zaragoza to the southeast and Bilbao to the northwest and the ocean. About 90 miles away, beyond Pamplona and into the Pyrenees, sits the French border. This is Spanish wine country; if you’ve ever enjoyed a class of Spanish red, there’s a good chance it came from someplace Manzanos might consider a neighbor.
And increasingly, if you’re a wine drinker in the United States, there’s a good chance you’ve enjoyed Spanish wine. Historically, the country has not shipped as much wine to North America as its neighbors France and Italy have – Spanish wines such as Rioja, Albariño and Cava have traditionally been more popular elsewhere in Europe than in the US. But now that’s changing. According to the United Nations’ Comtrade database, in 2019, the United States imported $330 million in Spanish wine, second only to Germany. Canada imported $119 million’s worth; the two North American countries and China were the only non-European countries in the Spanish wine import top 10.
When Manzanos began looking more to international expansion, they considered those trends – as well as trends they’d like to see more of. They were brought to South Florida largely by the same forces that bring so many international businesses to South Florida. This is, notes Manzanos’ deputy general manager Laura Mateo Cuadrado, the gateway to Latin America. Or as she calls it, the capital of Latin America. In South Florida, the winemakers that had grown for more than 130 years in Spain could solidify one new market and grow others. Currently US sales represent 10 percent of Manzanos’ total sales, she says, while the Americas overall represent 20 percent.
They arrived in South Florida last October. “We wanted to grow this business, and that’s why we came here with a group of advance people,” Cuadrado says. “And also, we hired South American people.”
The work has been hard, and setting up an international operation during a pandemic wasn’t exactly easy. Like so many international businesses, the wine trade is a complicated and often unglamorous one. The logistics involved in moving a live product around the world can get tricky. At Manzanos today, they’re working hard and setting up the systems.
“We are closing very quickly with an importer,” Cuadrado says. “In time we will be happy about coming here. People think that because we are in (South Florida) we are sunbathing. We have been at the beach, never.”
A Family Tied to Vines
The Fernández de Manzanos family opened its first winery in 1890 in the town of Azagra. The business grew a bit in the early and mid-20th century, before building a new winery in the ’50s and ’60s. In 1990, Víctor Fernández de Manzanos Pastor took over. The fourth generation of the family to lead the winery, he was the father of Victor Fernández de Manzanos, the current CEO and Cuadrado’s husband. In recent decades the winemaking trade has become much more of a studied, science-based discipline, with universities such as Milan’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, the University of Adelaide in Australia and, in this country, Cornell and the University of California-Davis, offering degrees in viticulture and enology. Victor senior had studied chemical engineering before earning a master’s in viticulture and enology from Polytechnic University of Madrid. He brought the new sciences of winemaking to the fields overlooked by the great building in Azagra and elsewhere. He built another new winery and also completed what the family calls his life’s project, the Bodegas Manzanos. In 2007, he saw another new opportunity and began welcoming tourists to the winery.
He was, Laura says, still a young man when he died in 2010. Still young students, Victor and Laura were studying and working in London then. At that point, Laura says, her husband was conflicted about what exactly he wanted to do. But he knew he needed to be back in Spain. Laura was then his girlfriend; there were suddenly one or two choices to be made.
“He said, ‘If you are not coming then we are not dating anymore,’” Laura says. “He didn’t even know if he wanted to work for the company.”
His father had modernized the business, but it remained small, with 11 workers. Victor began getting into the business and, like his father before him, began to make changes. If the father’s focus for Manzanos had been an embrace of the science of viticulture and enology, Victor, the energetic young business and finance man just back from London, would turn his eye towards business growth.
“From day one, we knew that we were winemakers and we wanted to expand the cellars,” Laura says.
Specifically, they wanted to expand to other countries. Spain was in crisis. The global financial meltdown of 2007 and 2008 hit the country particularly hard, lasted until 2014 and is sometimes referred to in the country as the Great Spanish Depression. So they hit the road.
They already had deals with some major importers, but they wanted more. So they traveled the world. They didn’t have salespeople; they packed suitcases and went themselves. They sold more in China, Australia, Poland, the US and Mexico. They acquired other winemakers. They learned of somebody retiring – his kids weren’t interested in the business and he had nobody else to take it over. So he sold. They bought several more. They even bought a business that might sound more familiar to Floridians, a spring water company.
“Every if it is not the same industry, it is kind of related,” Laura says. “For us, it makes sense.”
Through Manzanos Enterprises, the company has diversified even more. The company with growing South Florida ties now also includes groups such as Manzanos Capital, Manzanos Electricity and Manzanos Mobility, an automobile division. (You can’t actually drive a Manzanos; the auto division owns a handful of Porsche dealerships in Spain.)
Point being, the last decade has been one of growth for Manzanos. Growth that led naturally to an office in South Florida and, Laura stresses, no time for working on tans yet.
Today, Manzanos wines are in more than 65 countries, a number they expect to grow. That’s a big part of the importance of South Florida – a place that helps with expanding in the US market while at the same time growing new markets. “I think we are very well-represented in many countries of the world,” she says. “I think we have to be working more in America. I think it makes sense to be here.”