Imagine you are a grape grower in say, Alella, and you’ve been selling your grapes to a corporation making wine in Madrid. Every year the corporation gives you less money for your grapes, citing all sorts of problems they are experiencing with their internal operations.
Finally, you decide to make your own wine with your grapes instead of selling to the company in Madrid. You let the company know that they won’t be getting your grapes anymore. The Madrid company says no. They say since your grandfather signed an iron-clad contract to sell the grapes to the company with no option for ending the contract (unless the Madrid company decides themselves they don’t want your grapes anymore), you have no choice but to sell your grapes only to them. You are told you have no choice but to live up to the contract signed almost 40 years ago. Or else. The “or else” part is rather ominous and left open-ended.
You talk to your grandfather about the contract, and he says that signing it was better than any other option because prior to contract, the company in Madrid came down with thousands of workers and just took the grapes without any compensation. A little money is better than no money, and a little control over your own land is better than no control over your own land he tells you.
So you take to the press and state your beef with the Madrid company. But all the other big international companies, for fear of losing control of their own grape growers, speak out against breaking contracts. It’s bad for business. It will cause chaos in the industry and the end of civilisation as we all know it.
This is Catalunya. This is why the Catalan region is working so hard to have the November 9th vote happen.
In the context of the above metaphor, many logical people would say the arguments out of Madrid are contrary to how democracy should operate and how the rights of people are to be respected. Independence is the only natural solution to what has become a very bad relationship between Barcelona and Madrid. This is very true, as the government in Madrid has been offering poor arguments, rebuttals and justifications against Catalan independence since the subject gained massive traction in the economic collapse of 2008. Yet, to say independence is a new movement because of 2008, or a new fad similar to the Scottish independence movement in the UK (as many in mainstream media are saying) diminishes what the people of this region have experienced for several hundred years.
Persecution under Spanish kings. Disappearances during Franco similar to what happened in Argentina. Suppression of language. Suppression of culture. Suppression of freedom. Catalan independence has been boiling in a pot for quite a long time, and it’s only natural it has boiled over now.
Catalunya is its very own distinct culture, with a language as old as the Spanish language. Catalunya at several points in history was a flourishing nation which stretched past Valencia and up into France. Catalan was spoken all over Europe, as widely as English, Italian, Spanish, German, and French are spoken today. Yet, in 1714 this all changed permanently.
This independence movement isn’t a fad, it’s been in the making for 300 years. It’s about the ability to exercise self-determination and to control its own region entirely.
On the other side, independence isn’t a one-size cure-all for the region. Independence doesn’t mean a Ferrari in every garage and gold plated streets in every village. It doesn’t mean magical money for the wine industry to do fabulous things. The Catalan government will still have a debt and will still need to raise money for infrastructure plus all the other things modern governments desire.
This always means opening the doors to foreign investment, and history has shown what happens when those doors are opened, and corporations are given free money to bring their business to a new country. Sure, there’s foreign investment now in Catalunya, but it’s different when you’re an independent nation desperate for tax dollars. This type of foreign investment is usually at the expense of those people it is meant to benefit. In the example of the wine industry, land owned or managed by the Catalan government could be given away or sold for a euro to foreign companies in order to make mass production wines, eventually giving massive tax dollars to a government based in Barcelona. History gives us many examples of this all over the world, and during the last 50 years to boot.
If the Catalan wine industry isn’t careful, and fails to keep a close eye on events in Barcelona if independence becomes a reality, independence could actually become more damaging to a wine region which currently is one of the best in the world. It could destroy the delicate balance currently existing between the 205 wineries in the region.
I’ve spoken to many winemakers who bemoan the various political entities involved in the Catalan wine industry and their lack of effectiveness in consistently promoting Catalan wines to the world. They discuss money being wasted, marketing campaigns targeting the wrong international regions, and considerable talk amounting to no action. This could become worse with Catalan independence.
Does this mean I’m against independence? Absolutely not. In fact, I’m for smaller nation states, as the 20th century showed us bigger is not better in the form of the Soviet Union and the United States. An independent Catalunya makes all sorts of logical and cultural sense.
However, winemakers should not rely on government or regulatory bodies in the industry to do what’s right for them. Just as the general Catalan population has risen up to be part of the independence dialogue, winemakers should also become active to ensure their needs are best represented. Relying on a regulatory body to do the job for you, while they have the best of intentions, isn’t always a wise decision. A regulatory body’s job is to ensure wine is produced properly, not to ensure the industry receives the proper attention, recognition, and funding by the Catalan government.
Independence can have positive ramifications for the Catalan wine industry, if the current winemakers of the region are diligent in ensuring their needs and wants are respected in Barcelona. If Catalunya remains in Spain with greater autonomy, the winemakers of Catalunya should still be doing the same.
In our society, no one will look out for your interests just because. They do it because there’s something in it for them, and it doesn’t always benefit you.
Catalan winemakers should become more engaged with government to ensure their needs are met. It’s their grapes, and they should have the freedom to determine what they do with what rightfully belongs to them, whether it’s under the auspices of an independent Catalunya, or as a wealthy region of Spain.
Tim Brown (aka Timmer on social media) has been involved in marketing for over 20 years and a wine enthusiast since his first exposure to Duck Pond Winery in Newberg, Oregon, back in 1995. After coming to Europe in 2012, he made his home in Catalunya in 2013 and became enchanted with the wines and winemakers of the region. Now he shares his experiences so international visitors can enjoy the region’s wines, while continuing his work in the marketing world. Sommeliering and wine snobbery isn´t his thing, and he continues to learn more about wine from a Catalan perspective on a daily basis.