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Portuguese Wine Retailer, Vitor Mendes, and his Passion for Portuguese Wine

Every blogger loves comments, as infrequent as they may be at times. Without them, our job becomes relatively meaningless, as if we get up in the morning to write only for ourselves. Comments give us perspective, direction and a gauge to understand if and where our stories are hitting most profoundly within cyberspace.

But for niche bloggers like ourselves, who are writing for a foreign market, when we do have the great fortune of receiving a comment, it almost always comes from outside Spain and Portugal. To receive a comment from a wine aficionado here in Iberia is like hitting the jackpot. Granted, language is obviously the main barrier that detracts Spaniards and Portuguese from commenting on Catavino, but equally true is the idea of communicating via the Web simply because Latin culture thrives on personal interaction using eye contact, hand gestures and words to convey meaning. Consequently, you can imagine how elated we were when we received this comment on a post approximately a month ago:

It is very nice to see that the Portuguese wines have these kinds of critics. I have a little wine shop here in Portugal, where I try to have some “pearls” that are hard to find at the large surfaces [in the big wine shops] that we have in our country. Our objective is to give personalized treatment to our customersâ€Â¦

So what did I do when I got this comment? I hounded this poor man with questions! Vitor Mendes is one of four partners of a small Portuguese wine and tea shop located 40 km south of Oporto in Santa Maria da Feira. Over the past month, I’ve had the honor of corresponding with Vitor, learning of his passion for Portuguese wine, his upbringing and his motivation to open a quaint little shop. What follows is a piecemeal Q and A of our conversation where I have taken his emails and fashioned them into a response as requested by Vitor.

What sparked your passion for Portuguese wine?

My passion began many years ago, when my father drank a glass of Vinho Verde from the Minho region every day. Eventually, the habit of drinking wine passed on to me. As you know, Vinho Verde is a fresh and effervescent wine, logically, making it his favorite wine. He was not a great expert in wine, but he knew how to choose well. I am talking twenty years ago, when the Vinho Verde was the poor relative of Portuguese wine. Now, this wine is one of the most appreciated wines throughout the world, as a result of its fruity and light characteristics. I really enjoyed this wine for years, because of my father’s influence, but now, my recent attention has been drawn to the Douro.

What motivated you to create a wine and tea shop?

The primary reason is that I was bored of working for people who held to ideas that I considered were unprofessional, motivating me to start a new stage in my life based on what I thought was a good, quality product sold with care.

Vinixá was established in May of 2006 as a joint partnership between myself, my wife Helena, my sister-in-law, Fátima, and her husband, Telmo; however, the idea for our wine and tea shop began well before then. Because my wife, as well as her sister and husband, were born in Germany, I learned about the culture of tea from them. After visiting several tea shops in Germany, I eventually fell in love with the concept and wanted to introduce it in Portugal. The Portuguese adore coffee, and although women tend to drink tea on occasion, men generally believe that a “macho Latino” only drinks coffee, not tea. Fortunately, this cultural battle didn’t affect us, and in a year after opening, we had attracted over forty clients who appreciated our quality loose-leafed teas. As for incorporating wine into the our store’s concept? It was easy both because I love Portuguese wine and because of my expertise in the subject. And with a little investment, we’ve been able to provide our customers with unique Portuguese wine made with love and passion.

What does love and passion mean? Take a look at the Douro region where steep mountains line the Douro River completely covered in vineyards. The passion and love I speak of is exemplified by producers committed to elaborating wine in almost impossible conditions. Land so steep you can barely stand on it without falling off. That is my definition of love and passion. And Douro wines reflect this commitment as part of their personality. I am not familiar with every Portuguese wine, but I do know that I love this region. And as I mentioned, I have discovered some smaller producers from the Douro who are making high quality wines from this land. I have chosen a few to sell in my store, and I am very proud of them. I hope that one day soon, you’ll have a chance to taste them.

How knowledgeable do you feel the Portuguese are of their wines?

In my experience, I don’t feel as if the Portuguese have an adequate understanding of our wine, primarily due to marketing and advertising. Years ago, the Portuguese drank Portuguese wine to primarily fuel our economy, but as a result, they were familiar with it and appreciated it. Nowadays, as a result of large wine companies, many Portuguese people are drinking new world wines as a result of advertising. Although I am happy that people are falling in love with wine from around the world, the image of wine has now been reserved as an elitist beverage, instead of a beverage for the common person. Coupled with large Portuguese companies taking over marketing in our own country, smaller Portuguese producers are not been seen. This image is horrible for our wines and often makes me sad when I think about it. Wine is a wonderful product and should be appreciated by everyone, not the chosen few.

Therefore, I think that Portuguese producers must be more humble. We have good wine, but I feel that they need to know our place in the wine world. France is a great country that makes wine in a professional way, and now we need to convey the same image. Some of our regions, like the Douro, have too many little producers competing with each other, which isn’t helping anyone. If we want to succeed, we need to join efforts and combine knowledge. I think this is only the beginning of the revolution of our wines, but I’m only a wizard’s apprentice.

What do you feel is the single most important act Portuguese producers can do to have their wine acknowledged outside of Portugal?

I think we have good wines made from several unique native grapes, which allows us to produce wines with personality. But on the other hand, this “advantage” seems to disappear when competing with wines from France and Italy, not to mention new world wines from Chile, Argentina, etc. who have grown European varietals, making them more approachable. Hence, I think Portuguese producers must try to send a message that we are different. We have high quality wines and are capable of competing on an international level.

How would you introduce someone to Portuguese wine?

I think the best way to introduce our wines to foreigners is to try and educate them about our wines. For example, Portuguese winemakers are extremely passionate about their wines at times with centuries of winemaking experience pumping through their blood; our indigenous grapes which give our wines a big and unique personality; and finally, the rare sensations they’ll experience while drinking a Portuguese wine. Our wine is like our country. From the salty beach to the flat countryside, and from the lowlands to the mountains, you can experience every landscape you can imagine within a very short distance. Depending on the region, you can buy two Portuguese wines and have a completely opposite experience. We may be a little country but our wines are vastly different from one region to the next.

Considering that November is Port wine month at Catavino, what Port wines do you suggest people look out for?

As for my choices of port wine, a wonderful product, I recommend the Barros 10 Year Tawny and any Quinta do Noval port, as they are all simply fantastic.

Vinixá – Chás, Vinhos e Acessórios, Lda.
Rua Dr. José Correia de Sá, 53
4520-208 Santa Maria da Feira
Phone/Fax – +351 256338110
e-mail: vinixa@gmail.com
blog: www.vinixa.blogspot.com

I want to thank Vitor for allowing me to share his story with others. If you’re interested in learning more about Vitor and his store, Vinixá, you can check out his recently created blog! You can also see exactly where Vitor’s store is located on our Catavino Map.


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