The nectar, sweet by nature, has a loyal following and is starting to become increasingly popular with a younger crowd, helped along its way with cocktails such as the Porto Tonic.
The first thing we should know about Port are its origins, like many wine producing regions in Europe, it was the Romans that decided to plant the vines alongside the Douro valley (Duero for our Spanish readers). It beggars belief that a wine region that has been producing for over 2200 years still remains one of the most relevant and recognised wine regions of the world. It also seems a good time to mention The Douro valley being the third oldest protected wine region in the world. Its success; its geology, climate, humidity and temperature and of course not failing to mention the highly experienced vihnateiro/-as and makers.
It was following the 1386 Treaty of Windsor, the oldest peace treaty in Europe, that Portuguese wine started to reach the British Empire, and by the mid 15th century England were actively trading their salt and cod (Bacalhau) for the increasingly demanded wine, unfortunately a lot of Portuguese wine never survived the longer sea journey to England and the supply was willingly provided by France. I would like to think that the ongoing bickering between the British and French is a well documented affair, however what many won’t know is its impact on the wine sector. Alongside the discovery of a fortified Portuguese wine during the latter parts of the 17th Century, the Methuen Treaty of 1703 and the boycott of French wine during the Anglo-French wars, was it that Portuguese wine truly cemented its place in the British Empire.
Port wine was finally in English drinks cabinets and soon the droves of wine and Port exporters filled the streets of Viana Do Castelo and Vila Nova de Gaia (Gaia). Many of the merchants established Port and wine cellars in Gaia, the funny thing is that Port wine never actually set foot in Oporto, for it was King D. Alfonso III that produced a Carta de Foral to Vila Nova de Gaia as a ploy to direct commerce away from Oporto where the Catholic Church and Bishop were truly benefitting from trade. The wine traders and merchants all established their operations along the south side of the Douro and took full advantage of not paying the Portagem da Terra (tolls) set by the Bishop across the water. Those same cellars and Port houses dominate the landscape of Gaia today.
By far the most visible and visited are the Cálem Cellars, with a peak of 300,000 visitors per year before the Covid pandemic, the same company boasts the most popular Port consumed in Portugal and its territories, Cálem Vehlotes, its honey fruit nose and nutty wood notes extremely popular to local and foreigner alike. After its acquisition by the Port and table wine group Sogevinus in 1998 (owned by Caixanova) the group started purchasing other port and wine labels, Burmester (2005), Kopke (2006) the oldest Douro brand, established in 1638) and Barros (2006). They have consolidated their Port wine brands and since 2006 have established themselves in the Portuguese viticulture space, now managing four Quintas, including the Quinta da Boavista, a historic 36ha vineyard with hand-built schist terraces previously belonging to famous shipper Joseph James Forrester (Baron Forrester). This latest acquisition spearheaded by CEO Sergio Marly Caminal, the group’s leader since 2018.
Sergio‘s distinguished career within the wine sector over the last decades will have been an attractive proposition for most wine companies. Pernod Ricard recognised his talent for over 20 years, but it was Sogevinus that to chose him to man their helm. His efforts to strengthen Sogevinus’ portfolio of DOC wines, particularly in the premium segment is very evident. When we spoke earlier this week Sergio explained the trends and traditions of the sector.
It has been very evident that Covid has benefitted many alcoholic beverage companies, many leveraging their positions in this last year, even with their lowest tourism figures in years (revenues of Sogevinus in 2019 were generated by 20% Tourism, 40% Domestic Sales and 40% Export Sales). However, very much like Gin 15-20 years ago, the consumption of Port is currently decreasing. It is a drink that is very popular with older generations, and like Gin successfully achieved over the last two decades ago, Port producers must now target a much a younger audience. Mr. Marly states that only with a collaborative effort from the whole port sector can they overcome the shortfall of sales that will come.
Cocktail creation, like the aforementioned Porto Tonic and working alongside mixologists will the sector begin to generate the product awareness necessary to target a younger demographic. “I think Port should be drunk cold, it makes a huge difference, its easier to consume, you tend to drink more, you feel the effects more and ultimately we can attract a more diversified audience,” Sergio explained, and I have to agree, traditionalists will most likely be proclaiming blasphemy by now, but bear with me, you don’t have to have it cold, it is up to the tour guides, bars and cellars to offer the alternative, that’s all, let the market dictate its desires.
The IVDP (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto) regulate most aspects of the Port wine industry as well as promote the sector on a global scale and alongside the AEVP (Associação das Empresas de Vinho do Porto) members that account for 90% of the Port market is where most of the promotion occurs. It is during their monthly meetings that the efforts of engaging markets such as Asia are coordinated, where an education of the country, sector and product are paramount over individual brands. In recent years traction has been gained in South Korea and other countries, however for further market penetration in the region a systematic education of the sector needs to be undertaken.
Tourism has and will always be a driving force for new Port consumers and as the city begins to open its doors, I am certain to see the streets of Gaia once again bustling with travellers, each a potential future consumer. Sergio looks forward to the future of the sector and is currently in the process of building a 150 room Kopke Hotel in Gaia that aims to be completed by 2023. Fingers crossed over the next few weeks, I for one am looking forward to heading down by the river and enjoying a cheeky dram of this delectable liquid.