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Workers in a Malaga winery a century ago. SUR
A century of Malaga wines with their own protected brand
Food and drink

A century of Malaga wines with their own protected brand

In 1924 the need to protect the brand and quality of the sweet wines against imitations made by other regions forced the winemakers to patent the name

Ignacio Lillo

Malaga

Friday, 16 February 2024, 11:43

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Brands are not a modern-day thing, far from it. There is evidence that, even back in the 18th century, brand names were already important to the then star products, wine being one of the most in demand. Businesses often associate their products with the land and location as a sign of quality and distinction. Thus, as key brands emerge, other regions seek to copy them. Labels from the larger producers start to appear, selling products "like" or "in the style of". With global trade expanding, this phenomenon of copying and defrauding can only multiply.

Renowned wine expert José Manuel Moreno Ferreiro accompanied SUR on a visit to the Wine Museum (Plaza de los Viñeros 1, in the Carretería area of Malaga city). For more than 30 years he was general secretary of the regulatory council that assigns the following designations of origin: Málaga, Sierras de Málaga and Pasas de Málaga. Now retired, he acts as our guide for the day and the council's spokesperson on the occasion of a very special anniversary: this year marks the centenary of when the name of the province legally became the collective and patented brand for the makers of its characteristic sweet wines.

José Manuel Moreno Ferreiro next to some wine storage jars.
José Manuel Moreno Ferreiro next to some wine storage jars. Marilú Báez

"We have very important insight into what a Malaga wine was," he says. In the year 1792 there appeared in Spain one of the most interesting books from the world of wine, written by Cristóbal de Medina Conde, "although, as he'd been outlawed, it was signed by his nephew Cecilio García de la Leña". The volume was titled: Dissertation in recommendation and defence of the famous Malaga wine Pedro Ximen, and how to make it.

Since at least the 18th century, there is evidence that local producers have been faced with imitations from other regions

The text starts with a statement that demonstrates the situation over two hundred years ago: "A rumour or deliberate lie has been spread across France that Malaga wines are blended from other wines... Even in the 18th century there is evidence that Malaga's producers were dealing with imitations and fraud," explains Ferreiro.

The first logo for the Vinos de Málaga brand.'
The first logo for the Vinos de Málaga brand.'

During the 19th century product copying really took off. Associations such as the Brotherhood of Vineyards were fighting against this state of affairs, controlling and certifying their products exported to half the world through the flourishing port of Malaga. However, during the reign of Ferdinand VII, these institutions disappeared and, as a consequence, there was an uncontrolled explosion of producers making any type of wine. "The copying reached the point where books were published explaining how to make Malaga wines... Without using a single drop of the real thing," says an indignant Moreno Ferreiro.

Worldwide recognition

Today, Malaga is a world-famous denomination and is placed among the most established names such as sherry, champagne, port and madeira, among others. Being so centre-stage, some winemakers were concerned to protect their products against competition, and so the first trade associations of winemakers came into being.

The drive to copy is not exclusively carried out in other designated areas. In Malaga province they also make, for example, a port-style tipple and vermouth "like the one from Turin". "In the world of wine, there has always been a link with the wine's place of origin, with the land."

Malaga once had120,000 hectares of vineyards, close to what all of Castilla la Mancha has today

Nevertheless, the Malaga style has been copied in many regions of the world. So, at the end of the 19th century, the magnitude of the problem, together with the new awakening brought about by the industrial revolution and so many inventions, led to the appearance of intellectual property as a concept.

Beautiful old wine labels from bottles of Malaga wine exhibited in the centre. Marilú Báez

A brief history of wines with ancient roots

Malaga province has an ancestral link with wine. José Manuel Moreno Ferreiro, a renowned specialist and our guide for the SUR visit, explains that it had always been believed that the Phoenicians brought wine to these shores, although some pottery fragments recently discovered in the neolithic Menga Dolmen burial site in Antequera bear signs of having contained wine.

The concept of provenance is also very old. The first to colonise these lands were already bringing wines here from Egypt and Samos. In Roman times, wines made in Malaga were traded under the Malaga seal. Wine production continued during the period under Muslim rule with 'Xarab al malaquí'. Andalucía's poets have also dedicated some of their most beautiful verses to these wines.

Wine really came to the fore after the reconquest of Spain by the Catholic monarchs, taking on the role of a sacred product, an integral part of mass. So that link was carried to the Americas, giving rise to the great wine-producing regions of the new continent, in particular Peru and Mexico.

It was at this moment in history that the catastrophic disease, phylloxera, arrived from America. At the time, the province had about 120,000 hectares of vineyards (now there are about only 4,000). "Today the largest wine-producing area is Castilla la Mancha, with about 160,000 hectares". Malaga vineyards were close to that size and yet it was infinitely smaller, a province not an entire region. Grapes were grown not only for wine, but also for raisins and brandy. "Malaga's economy revolved around the vine."

As a result of the disease, almost all wine production across Europe was then lost and serious social problems arose: abandonment of the countryside, overcrowding in cities, etc. In response to the crisis an agreement emerged between the main European countries, and the first laws for the protection of industrial property were pronounced.

Patent office

Spain signed the agreement in the early 1900s, leading to the creation of the patent office (now the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office). So, this is where this story begins and ends. The trade association of winemakers and wine exporters of Malaga was the one to request that this new patenting authority register Malaga as a collective, unique brand name.

The Malaga brand, referring to a wine-producing territory, was one of the first to be patented in Spain

"A group of vineyard owners came to an agreement with rules and a user manual to request this official label: Málaga". Finally, in 1924 the patent was formally registered, and so 2024 marks one whole century - an important anniversary, which will be celebrated with various events.

This milestone is important, because Vinos de Málaga is one of the oldest collective wine brands to be patented in Spain. In fact, researchers from the regulatory council have not as yet been able to locate any other from that era. There are brands with this name or that of Jerez that precede the patent, but they were actions undertaken by a specific, individual winery.

Malaga wines on sale at the museum in Malaga.
Malaga wines on sale at the museum in Malaga. Marilú Báez

This was also the precursor to what would become a DO (designation of origin), which arrived a few years later in 1932. From that moment on they had set a standard protection for wines with certain characteristics that made them special and unique. That year a total of 16 DOs came into being in Spain. In the following year (1933) the regulatory council made an official declaration, with government support, stating what a Malaga wine is, where it must be produced and under what conditions, which was then written into a statute in 1935.

"We are celebrating the creation of a collective brand, which gives it special value because it took some effort to unite people, to share an overall vision and to value the name that we want to protect, which is that of the city and the province. With this one learns the importance of working together to achieve something, and it feels really good," says the expert. "Wine and raisins don't belong exclusively to our wineries, all of Malaga has thrived because of them. It is a collective heritage that builds landscapes and architecture".

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