On a chilly and gray January afternoon in 2003, Ryan and I arrived into the historic Oporto train station bubbling with anticipation and excitement. Our limbs rather sore from sitting for hours in the same position, we begrudgingly put our large backpacks onto our shoulders, and like to old creaky dolls, emerged out station into the lobby and face to face with the Gothic and mysterious Sandeman logo fixed just to the left of the exit doors. Although a rather eerie image to encounter on a drizzly and cold winter’s day, it set the mood for our visit in Oporto as city bubbling with history, legends and secrets.
The undisputed international symbol of Sandeman – the wide-brimmed Spanish caballero’s hat and Portuguese student’s black cape – was commissioned in 1928 by George Massiot Brown. Although I have looked far and wide for more of George Massiot Brown’s work, it appears that this single piece had been one of his most legendary, as well as a symbol which Port lovers around the world have associated with quality Port wine.
The company was founded in 1790 by George Sandeman, a rather determined and innovative young Scotsman, who with his father’s financial backing, began selling port and sherry from Tom’s Coffee House in London. Just a few years later, George was not only carrying the legendary sherries of James Duff of Cadiz (now, Duff Gordon), but also shipping and bottling one of the first Sandeman Vintage ports – Sandeman 1790. After his death in 1841, Sandeman was passed into the trusting hands of his nephew, George Glas Sandeman, who diversified the company’s holdings to include both insurance and the export of linen and textiles. And unlike other Port companies who were established around the same time period, the direct descendants of George Glas Sandeman can take pride in their upholding the family’s tradition and reputation by continuing to successfully manage the firm today.
After founding its own brand name in 1880 as the House of Sandeman, its trailblazing spirit continued as the first company to guarantee quality by iron branding a cask in 1805. Further attesting to their commitment to quality, Sandeman was also one of the first wine companies to label and advertise its wines. And as a result of the company’s prominent marketing and advertising campaign featuring the Sandeman Don, alongside its guarantee of quality port and sherry wines, Sandeman wines were being shipped to several countries in Europe, North and South Americas, Africa and Asia by the 1820s.
But by 1952, Sandeman’s fortune became unstable when it was forced to go public. And to its credit, under the leadership of the late David Sandeman, the company held strong for another thirty years before the beverage conglomerate, Seagrams, took power. Evidently, during Seagram’s reign, Sandeman’s port wines lost some of their unique character and quality – most evident in their vintage ports. Although we have a handful of samples sent to us from Sandeman, the oldest port we have in our possession is their 20 year old tawny. If the rumor is true that Seagrams did lose Sandeman’s ‘je ne sais quoi’ throughout the 1980’s, I can’t say say that it effected their tawny ports. I would have, however, loved to have tasted a vintage port from the 70’s next to one from the 80’s. If anyone has tasted a vintage port during Seagram’s ownership, please share the results with us as we are dying to hear if you’ve noticed any remarkable difference.
1990 was a big year for Sandeman as it celebrated two major successes in its long and rather complicated history – the celebration of its 200th anniversary and the reuniting of the company under the family wing of the managing director, George Sandeman. What made this year notable, wasn’t only the major feat of surviving through wars, treaties and family strife, but it was also the reviving of their mission to uphold quality. Under George Sandeman’s leadership, the company shed a lesser quality vineyard, Quinta do Confadeiro, in order to focus on their higher quality vineyard, Quinta do Vau. Although this decision may have hurt their local image, as 300 workers were left jobless, their international reputation grew as a world class single port brands. By 2001, Sandeman was placed under the rather impressive portfolio of Sogrape, which has run it over the past six years alongside Ferreira and Offley.
Although we associate Sandeman with Port, you might also be interested to know that they have a rather exemplary line of sherry wine, table wine, madeira and brandy. And although we would love an excuse to taste more sherry wine, giving you the secrets behind Sandeman’s solera system, we’ll have to keep your interest suspended for a future article.
As for our 3 week journey touring Portugal in 2003, sadly, we couldn’t visit Sandeman’s lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, but we have had the opportunity to taste some great examples of their port wines over the past few weeks, which will be featured in our pdf at the end of the month. However, this doesn’t mean we wouldn’t like to hear about your Sandeman experiences. What Sandeman port wines have you tried and have you enjoyed them?
The big question: If you were asked to suggest one Sandeman port wine to a close friend, which one would you suggest?
D.O./D.O.C/D.O.Ca: DOC Porto
Address:Largo Miguel Bombarda 3, 4400-222 Vila Nova de Gaia Portugal
Telephone: +351-227 838 104
Fax: + 351-227 833 719
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.sandeman.com – warning: flash-based website
Bodega Founded: in London in 1790 by George Sandeman
Grape Varieties Grown:
White: Malvasia Fina, Viosinho, Códega, Gouveio
Red: Touriga Nacional – considered probably the most important variety for red Porto, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão
*All the above referred varieties have been planted separately in Sandeman’s premier vineyards in Oporto, Quinta do Vau
Enologist: Carlos Silva
Importers: Kobrand Imports
Confradeiro Reserve Red 2000 Porto 10 Years Old Porto 20 Years Old Porto 30 Years Old Porto 40 Years Old Porto Apitiv Porto Founders Reserve Porto Imperial Reserve Porto LBV Porto Ruby Porto Tawny Porto Vau Vintage Porto Vintage Porto White
Whether you want a professional tour, a VIP tasting tour, a museum visit or a simple winery tour, Sandeman covers the gamut of personal tastes. I would highly suggest checking our their website for more information or emailing their visitors office at visitors: [email protected]
*Support Catvavino by Buying this Sandeman Art Print