Marimar Torres of Sonoma
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Posted: Monday, 20 December 2010 16:00
Marimar Torres of Sonoma

If Miguel Torres were a Californian Cabernet- big, bold and powerful with firm tannins and a long aging potential, his younger sister Marimar would be like a fine Burgundian Pinot Noir - elegant, velvety, well balanced, drinking well now but will still age well and by no means a pushover, writes Subhash Arora, who chatted with her recently at an exclusive dinner.

Photos By:: Adil Arora

Interestingly, she lives in Sonoma, California, producing 5 variants of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay-both Burundian grapes. She also heads the Torres America and is a shareholder in the Torres wine empire which includes wineries in Spain, Chile and of course Sonoma.

I had the pleasure of dining with her and her beautiful daughter Cristina last Tuesday at la Piazza at the Hyatt Regency, along with a few guests invited by the Indian Wine Academy to meet her as she was passing through Delhi on a private visit.

Although born and brought up in Spain where she was looking after the export business of Torres, she moved to the US in 1975 as she got married to an American living in California. Interestingly, he was a wine centric journalist whom she met after he rated Grand Coronas as the no.1 Spanish wine.

Gender Bias

She does not mind sharing that during her time, girls were not allowed to study or to cook, something that a majority of middle classes will connect with-except that the girls are made to cook even if they don’t want to.  Most women did not go to the university. She had to persuade her father to study in the university as she told him, ‘if I continue working in the winery, I would never be able to find a husband.’

She had grown up in an era when her brothers were looked after well being the boys. ‘I was supposed to help our maids make beds for my two brothers.’

Going organic

Going to the US and setting up her own winery was not the only initiative she took. In 2000 she decided to go organic with her grape farming. Her brother Miguel Torres had raised serious doubts then about the efficacy of the idea. How would she handle pests with organic vineyards? She stuck to her guns and pioneered the organic vineyards in 2003, going certified organic in 2006.

Interestingly, she says that she had some pest problems before but after going organic, she never encountered the problem. ‘I also believe in my workers and their health. It is not good for them to handle herbicides and pesticides,’ she says while sharing that after her success the vineyards in Chile went organic and Spain is on its way too.

She does however add that she did not make her winery organic because that would mean ‘that wines won’t be age-worthy as you have to add sulphur to help aging,’ she says.

The Cook Book Author

It was her background that motivated her to write a cook book in 1986 in the US. ‘As girls, we were not allowed to cook’ So what did the girls do? ‘We would be doing things like sewing. As a little girl, I was treated as second to my (two) brothers. When fruits came to the house, the brothers were the first to get them. I was expected to make my brothers’ beds along with the maid.’

This rang bells about the Indian society where the previous generation at least, meted out second-grade treatment to girls and the practice is still prevalent to an extent. ‘I used to dream of handling the winery but it was my brothers who were groomed to do so and I had to resign to the fact that I would not be allowed to manage a winery.’

Marimar gave vent to her feelings by writing a cook book in 1986-‘The Spanish Table’ followed by ‘The Catalan Country Kitchen’ when the Olympics were held in 1992 in Barcelona. ‘Writing the first one was very difficult and time consuming but the second one was much easier; it was actually a compilation of simple recipes,’ she admits. Is she going to write more on food or wine? ‘No way, it was a lot of hard work. I wanted to prove to myself that I could write and it gave me a lot of confidence. But it is too time consuming.’ So was her father or brother happy that she wrote those interesting books that are still sold in the enoteca in Spain? ‘Oh I am sure, they told people very proudly about what I did. They are very fond of me but in front of me they don’t like to praise me too much.’

Times They Are a-Changin’

It is fascinating to see the social similarities between India and Spain so far as women are concerned. ‘My brothers are horrified when I tell them that Cristina would be ready to join the winery in 8-10 years. She has just finished college in Princeton. She wants to study some more-possibly winemaking or an MBA. Then she must work in another winery for a few years.’ Being the only child, she is expected to take over the management of her winery.

Running the Winery

‘Managing a small winery is not as easy at it sounds,’ she confides. She produces about 15,000 cases, 5000 of which are sold in the domestic market while 8000 are exported; the balance 2000 are sold at the cellar door and through online direct marketing. The two wines-Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with five variants also use the Torres network in Spain for consolidation and shipping, except for the Canadian and Mexican markets.

Part of the reason is that she likes to be involved in all aspects of wine making. ‘I am a very hands-on kind of a person and so like to spend a lot of time in the vineyards,’ she admits.

She also spends a fair amount of time in her mother country. ‘I like to go to Spain four times a year. Besides attending the annual board meetings, I like to meet the members of our wine club- Club Marimar.’ Incidentally, one has to be at least 21 years old to join the club which offers a lot of benefits to the members.

Visiting India for the first time, she also added India to her list of countries visited and gave us an opportunity not only to taste the barrel fermented Chardonnay- an elegant, slightly oaky food wine and the Pinot Noir which was quite elegant and not fruit forward but well-balanced and with rounded tannins and I did not have to wait for my braised duck to enjoy it..

The Cristina Pinot Noir we got to sample was more concentrated and silky and displayed the expressiveness of her organic vineyards and her passion which drives her to look after the winery and the workers as a family unit.

With the winery that gives very small revenues compared with the mega Torres Empire in Spain and Chile, Marimar is happy that she is doing something she always wanted to do- running a winery independently.

Subhash Arora
Dec 3, 2010

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