Marimar Estate: A Woman-Owned California Winery Sprouted from a Spanish Dynasty
…and the next generation of talent poised to usher in a post-COVID-19 era in Sonoma
K E Y
M = Marimar Torres C = Cristina Torres
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I N T R O D U C T I O N
Blonde Tasting had the pleasure of speaking and sitting down with Marimar Torres and her daughter Cristina Torres. Our conversations began in December of 2019, the day after a jubilant holiday party. We chatted about their family’s prestigious history in wine, the origins of Marimar Estate, and Cristina joining forces with her mother. As 2020 progressed and the wine industry pivoted, so too did our dialogue. How have they adapted amidst COVID-19? How are consumer purchasing habits changing? Are boutique wineries going to survive all of this? Where is the wine industry going? Let’s begin where one ought to begin, at the beginning - and a fun one at that.
D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 9
It feels like yesterday and simultaneously a lifetime ago. December 2019. The most wonderful time of the year in arguably one of the most ideal settings – wine country. Northern California wine country to be exact. Quite far west in the Green Valley AVA where pockets of vineyards peak through dense forest on rolling hills. Marimar Estate was hosting their annual Christmas event in Sebastopol, California, an evening that
embodies the spirit of the season – family, giving, gratitude. Marimar Torres, the founder of Marimar Estate Vineyards and Winery, and her daughter Cristina, welcomed a small group at Torres' vineyard home. It was pouring rain, but that didn’t dampen the mood one bit, as we enjoyed home-made hors d'oeuvres on the covered patio with the outdoor fireplace ablaze. Entertainment for the evening was world class concert pianist June Wu. She played classical pieces with charming interludes about the composers, drawing you into a peaceful and reflective state of mind. Caroling followed before a Spanish inspired dinner with wonderful wine pairings, naturally, and an educational discussion about the wines. An ugly sweater contest capped off the evening in laughter to end a joyous day, and new friends departed with wishes of happy holidays and a happy new year. Little did we know, COVID-19 was lurking around the corner and about to rock. Our. World.
A D Y N A S T I C W I N E F A M I L Y
If you haven’t heard of the Torres family already, they are the most prominent wine family in Spain. The name Torres is inextricably linked with Spanish wine history. The family company, Bodegas Torres, was founded in 1870 when they built their first winery near Barcelona in Vilafranca del Penedès. They are credited with successfully bringing international varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, to Spain while adopting viticultural best practices and winemaking technology that ignited a wave of change and elevated quality throughout the region. Today, they are the largest family-owned producer of wine and Spanish brandy in Spain with 6 wineries throughout their native country plus a winery in Chile and sister winery, Marimar Estate, in California. Here is a bit of background on the Torres family and their Family Business Tree:
M A R I M A R T O R R E S: V I S I O N A R Y A N D
M A T R I A R C H O F S O N O M A C O U N T Y
Marimar was born in 1945 to Miguel Torres Carbó and Margarita Riera Puig into a Spain under Dictator Francisco Franco. During this time, a young lady’s key ambition was to marry well. Or, so Marimar was told. She wasn’t supposed to be in the kitchen, cooking, because that was for the kitchen staff to do. She wasn’t supposed to get too interested in the family business, because that was for the men. Basically, as a lady of an aristocratic wine family, she wasn’t supposed to speak up or get her hands dirty. Marimar Torres, however, was determined to carve her own path.
While traveling with her father in North America, promoting Torres wines, Marimar met and fell in love with wine critic and writer Robert Finigan. They married, and she moved to San Francisco in 1975, much to her parents and family’s chagrin. Although they parted ways after four years, Marimar had also fallen in love with the food, the culture and her new life in San Francisco and wanted to stay and handle exports for Torres while pursuing food writing. She proved herself more than capable of representing the family and increased US sales from 15,000 cases to 150,000 cases annually.
Meanwhile, Marimar started looking at land and lobbying her father to invest in a property in California, as she dreamed of starting her own wine project. It took several years, but she finally convinced him to support buying a property in Sonoma County in 1983. With her brother’s help, she replanted an apple orchard with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The first harvest was a 1989 barrel-fermented Chardonnay, released the spring of ’91. That spring, Marimar traveled to Spain to visit her family, with a bottle of her just-released Chardonnay in tow.
Cristina Torres recounts the story as we munch on freshly picked persimmons and gaze out over the vineyards glistening in the sun. Cristina shares her grandfather’s reaction when he tasted her mom’s first wine.
C: “As a man and as a member of a family that doesn’t lavish too much praise, he remarked, ‘This is the best white wine I have ever tasted.’ He then turned to his wife, and said, ‘Margarita, we must have a winery in California.’”
So, in 1992, they built the Marimar winery in the Green Valley of the Russian River Valley in Sebastopol and haven’t looked back. Sonoma matriarch, Marimar, was among the first to plant Pinot Noir in Sonoma, before it really took off in popularity.
Marimar has since produced numerous highly rated wines gaining critical acclaim and published two Spanish cookbooks;
She is known for hosting wonderful events, like the Christmas party I attended, as well as a Pinot Noir blending workshop, paella lunch and flamenco show - bringing Spanish culture, cuisine and winemaking methods to the community and club members in her slice of paradise in Northern California.
Today, Marimar remains at the helm of her winery, with a sustained passion for letting the grapes and land express themselves in the wine. She also sits on the board of Bodegas Torres and organizes regular trips to Spain, which will hopefully resume soon.
C R I S T I N A T O R R E S:
M I L L E N N I A L P O W E R H O U S E A N D
H E I R E S S T O M A R I M A R E S T A T E
Marimar’s daughter, Cristina Torres, was born in 1988 and raised in Sonoma County, growing up amongst the vines her mother planted. Being part of such a prestigious wine family and having a pioneer mother, however, was just life as she knew it.
C: “It’s always just been the two of us, my mother and me, from day one, so she took me around with her everywhere she went. She took me with her to promote wines at tastings, business meetings and traveling a bit to meet with distributors and work the market. I would just go into my corner and read a book or take a nap. I remember reading books under the dinner table, while the grown-ups talked about boring things.” Cristina smiles.
“As I grew up, I started to understand and see the difference between my life here [in Sonoma] with my mom, and when I go to Spain and am called Miss Torres.”
Early on, Cristina wanted to be either a hairdresser or cashier at a grocery store, determined she could make things go faster and get to interact with lots of people. Those aspirations evolved in her formative years as she watched her mother build a business from the ground up, certainly with support from the family, but ultimately successful in its own right under Marimar’s leadership.
C: “It was really clear to me how much I wanted to continue my mom’s story and carry on her business. I feel honored to have that opportunity. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a pretty cool business with good food, good people, good wine and beautiful places wrapped up in it.”
While the Torres family wine business has been passed down across generations for more than a century, it has always been from father to son. This is the first time in Torres history that a business will be handed down from mother to daughter.
Cristina has amassed quite an impressive resume already with a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Princeton University and an MBA from The Wharton School. She has worked for a number of years outside of the family business, state-side and internationally, partially to expand horizons and gain experience working for other people. She speaks four languages fluently including Catalan, Spanish, English and French, and I can assure you it is quite impressive when she switches back and forth with a precise accent. She has also achieved her WSET Level 3 certification with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and continues to study working on obtaining the WSET Level 4 Diploma.
When Cristina joined forces with her mother in January 2020 as Director of Sales and Marketing and a fifth generation Torres, her expectation was that she would be fine-tuning an already flourishing family business. She could never have predicted what the coming months would have in store.
Cristina recognized that the quality of the wine and the strength of the Marimar brand was already in place, so as a millennial, her goal was to keep the integrity of the brand, the consistent quality of the wine and focus on connecting with their customers to make their lives easier. She would drive a technologically friendly approach, improving areas like online ordering and event signups. Other areas of focus would be collecting and analyzing data to understand their clientele more holistically, as well as using social media to connect with people more regularly.
C O M B A T I N G C O R O N A V I R U S
It turns out that Cristina’s instincts and initial digital initiatives in January were one step ahead of COVID-19. The global pandemic has pushed wineries into a more tech-oriented approach. On March 17th, wineries across California had to shut their tasting rooms - the same day that Sonoma County began a mandatory shelter-in-place. Without a physical presence, wineries have had to adapt.
C: “The tasting room is a really important sales channel, both for selling wine and signing up new club members.”
Winery tasting rooms and restaurants closing meant a huge hit for the boutique premium wine category. Marimar Estate has never had a retail presence in grocery stores. In contrast, large producers of bulk wine that do sell at grocery stores in the $15 and under category have exploded. For the time being, consumers, generally speaking, have less disposable income and/or questionable job stability and thus may be inclined to trade down in wine purchasing. Shelter-in-place and social distancing has also led to an increase in alcohol consumption per capita. In short, people are drinking more, but cheaper alcohol. Is it possible that the premium wine category is hurting the most?
Simultaneously, there’s lingering questions in the wine industry about consumer preferences and future demand. Some are hypothesizing demand for premium wine will continue to fall and, consequently, are wanting to produce less. With 2018 and 2019 being relatively large vintages for yields in Sonoma County, some wineries are also facing declining grape sales.
So, how have wineries been adjusting their business models amidst this tumultuous time? Certainly, many wineries have turned to social media with a more hands-on approach. Some have begun offering virtual tastings, heavily discounted shipping, and wine bundles. Phone and even text message sales to customers is becoming commonplace.
Additionally, Marimar and Cristina have launched some unique initiatives both for their local restaurant community and wine customers. For example, they made the decision in support of partnerships with some local restaurants, to let the restaurant keep all the profit from any Marimar Estate wine sales. It is beneficial for everyone – the restaurant, the workers, the community, and the winery – if local restaurants stay in business and survive all of this.
They are also airing a free cooking show every Friday at 5pm Pacific on Facebook Live and Instagram TV. This features recipes from Marimar’s cookbooks, with wine pairings and the dynamic mother/daughter team demonstrating the step-by-step recipes with educational notes on the wines. It’s a fun way to kick off the weekend, and they want to connect with people in a way that is accessible to anyone and everyone.
M: “I feel very lucky that Cristina joined full-time in January! She has launched all of these digital initiatives. I don’t know what I would have done without her. We hardly had any online sales before.”
During quarantine, their online sales are up 4,987% for the three-month period of March-May, making up for the losses elsewhere and, thankfully, sustaining relatively flat sales year-over-year. They are evolving and remain optimistic about the future.
L O O K I N G A H E A D
M: “We are really excited about reopening our outdoor dining and wine tasting offering. We are following recommended guidelines from the CDC and reopening slowly, and with care.”
As of Saturday May 23rd, over two months from when the tasting rooms first closed, Sonoma County announced wineries can reopen for outdoor seating, initially, only if the wine was served with a meal. The situation has evolved further, and now wineries in Sonoma can serve wine again with or without food. As such, Marimar Estate is now open for seated tasting appointments with optional tapas pairings on their sprawling outdoor patio in Sebastopol. For additional information, including tour options, click here. Rest assured, they are following all guidelines and taking every precaution.
Speculating on what the future may hold, Cristina predicts the wine tasting and restaurant-going clientele may look a bit different for some time. With the 50+ year old community being a bit more cautious and opting to stay at home and the younger demographic itching to get out, wineries may see a younger customer base in their tasting rooms.
S U P P O R T I N G T H E W I N E C O M M U N I T Y
How can we, as wine lovers, support family-owned wineries like Marimar Estate Vineyards & Winery? Answer: buy wine directly from the wineries you know and love! Or try some new ones. If you would like to purchase some Marimar Estate wine, they are kindly offering a $5 flat-rate shipping (to all states) for 4 or more bottles with the code: BLONDETASTING
T O L E A R N M O R E
W I N E S – click here to explore their wines.
Marimar Estate practices organic farming techniques, all of their vineyards are certified sustainable, and they are 100% solar!
F L A T $ 5 S H I P P I N G – remember to use BLONDETASTING for the discount.
C O O K B O O K S – foodies click here to check out Marimar’s cookbooks.
V I S I T – the winery in Northern California, N O W O P E N !
H O U R S – Mon-Thu 11AM-4PM
T O B O O K – call (707) 823-4365 Ext 114
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
M A R I M A R E S T A T E V I N E Y A R D S & W I N E R Y
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