Wines of Portugal Conference: December 9-11th, 2010 | Catavino
…a very responsible blog……[it's] refreshing to see such professionalism.
Robert M. Parker Jr.

Wines of Portugal Conference: December 9-11th, 2010

Starting this December, Viniportugal is launching the Wines of Portugal Conference, which according to their website, is supposed to be the largest international event discussing Portuguese wines. I’m guessing they are correct, as I don’t think there are any other events solely about Portuguese wines outside of Portugal. We at Catavino, have been asked to talk about the “Internet Revolution” and opportunities the web offers wineries today. The conference will feature tastings, seminars and workshops, and we’ll be there covering it every step of the way.

The theme for this year’s conference is “Touriga Nacional“. It is their hope that it will promote Touriga as the national grape of Portugal, an idea spurred by Austria’s successful adoption of Gruner Vetliner as its national grape.

On a personal note, I don’t feel that adopting Touriga as Portugal’s national grape is a thoughtful one, considering that the diversity of native grapes it can boast of is vast and stretches well beyond Touriga Nacional. And in truth, the grape itself represents a very small portion of plantings in Portugal. The notion that a country needs one grape each to sells its wines as a whole is a strange idea when you look to Italy or France where diversity of grapes are their calling cards. Yes, you can say that Burgundy or the Loire are “mini” countries, holding up one or two grapes as their calling cards, but in the end, Portugal has bigger issues to address, such as its anonymity.

A solution that I feel would work for Portugal is to make tourism and culture the focus of their efforts first and by which the wine will follow. My British friends may contend that Portuguese is already a tourist destination, but I would argue that the Algarve is what they know and consider Portugal, but it fails to represent Portugal as a whole. It would be the same as saying Ibiza was Spain, ludicrous.

When recently interviewing Steve Winston of the Spanish Table in Seattle, he made a very astute observation when I asked about people’s understanding of Portugal. He noted that for the US market, the military bases and study abroad programs, that are in Spain, work as ambassadors for the culture. Ex military seek our Spanish fare to remind them of their time abroad. And with more Americans studying Spanish, young college kids return from Spain with stories and longings for Spanish cultures spurred a market for it’s products and wines.

Now, I’m not advocating that Portugal open up a US military base, but I would say that the thought of traveling to Portugal for vacation is much further from the mind for an American than say Spain, Italy, France or Asia. What Portuguese wine needs are tourists who fall in love with this mind-blowingly beautiful country, filled with great foods, people and cultures by wandering the countryside and discovering Portuguese wines. People connect memories and stories with their culinary experiences. And wine would do itself a world of good to help create exciting tourism activities, which in turn, will be remembered over bottles of Portuguese wines.

Regardless, hopefully this year’s conference is a large enough success that it leads to follow up conferences in the years to come, and maybe one of those will address this opportunity as I see it. For now though, I wish ViniPortugal the best of luck and you can be sure to hear more about it from right here at Catavino.


Ryan Opaz

Enhanced by Zemanta
  • I agree with you, Ryan, that Portugal doesn’t really register as a destination for American travelers. That’s something we gotta change.

  • I agree–I definitely fell in love with Portugal wine & culture while there for the EWBC09! I crave the flavors of the foods & the wines too (and I’m really excited that my host, Enoforum wines, finally has a distributor here in the States!) The landscape was stunningly breathtaking. Wish I was at the BOOM Festival there right now!

  • I DISAGREE! 🙂 Whenever I travel in the USA, and tell people that I am from Portugal, the standard reply is, “fantastic! I would LOVE to visit Portugal someday!” So it is on the dream list of places to visit of many Americans. Likewise, Americans also figure among the many foreign visitors who visit us for winery tours and tastings here at our cellar door shop at Cortes de Cima.

    I do AGREE with you about the Viniportugal Conference! 😉 Although Touriga Nacional is a variety included in some of Portugual’s finest wines from the north to the south, (testimony to this is Cortes de Cima 100% Touriga Nacional varietal which won the Portuguese Red Trophy at the IWC 2008) – to focus solely on Touriga Nacional to market Portuguese wines, has it’s obvious limitations- by cutting out many other top wines and producers, and it’s obvious dangers- as grape varieties invariably go in and out of fashion among the global wine trade.

    Cortes de Cima look forward to participating in this new initiative of ViniPortugal, and we are delighted that Catavino will be active participants! Great to know that Ryan and Gabriella are enlisted to help spread the word for Portuguese wines! 🙂

    • @Cortes de Cima I agree that people say they would love to visit Portugal, never asserted otherwise, what I did say is that it’s not on their radar! They tend to over look it when the booking takes place. Also you and us are very biased as all the people we know want to visit us!

      Foodie friends I have who search out new things from around the world consistently say to me they are curious about Portugal, but do not know it.

      People love new things but Portugal needs to become a top level destination before it can call itself a tourist hot spot!

      • Portugal, like most of Scandinavia, is out on Europe’s limb. Most visitors doing a grand European tour, are forced to leave out the countries on the geographical extremes, due to time and money limitations.
        Luckily, there are more and more articles appearing in major circulations like NYT, as well as minor food and wine blogs and websites, about Portugal as Europe’s secret getaway destination!

  • Ryan…you raise some interesting points.

    I agree that a one grape point of view is shortsighted…it’s more like an advertising pitch than a community understanding of the culture. Besides being incorrect for Portugal, it is too shallow for a very rich culture.

    As well, Portugal, is not a destination. It’s just hard for the US traveler who goes to Europe once or twice a year to get past their favorites and head over to Portugal. It should be…it’s just not today in my opinion.

    But certainly this can change although I question what I think I hear about the focus on culture first, wine to follow. You may be right but that is not my point of view. I would intertwine them. What better than the person in SF or LA or in NYC to taste and read reviews of their wines that open up the land and the people and the culture.

    Case in point is a series of tastings and blog post that I’m starting to work on for the Canary Islands. Obscure. Not frequently visited by most. But remarkable wines, a variety of grapes and tied deeply to climate, place and culture.

    Again, thanks. It’s early in NYC and this is the first thing that caught my eye in my Facebook feed and is keeping me from digging into some work.

    • Great points, though I’m not saying don’t include wine. What I am saying is that the wine industry could do a lot of good for itself to promote non-wine tourism since it is often the non-wine fanatics who move wine markets. In my wine shop back in MN, I used to sell wine to returning tourists who did not know about wine before they left, but when they returned they became fanatics for one regions/countries wines. This is the key. Selling wine does not always mean talking about wine, but rather having it show up as you talk about/experience other things.

      In the end both directions are needed, and right now Portugal needs a lot more regular tourism.

      • Thanks for clarifying…

        One piece to add. Wine appreciation is really widespread. Wine knowledge or even remembering what you like is a giant hole.

        For example, friends are taking their kids to Barcelona, Paris and Rome. They love wine but don’t go there for it but at each place I get the FB ping…where are the wine bars? what we be drinking?

        I’ll follow your marketing on this event.

        You folks opening up this event to bloggers just like they do for tech events? No better way to spread the word.

        • That’s my exact point. We need the people who go for tourism to discover wine, or to be able to learn about it when they so desire.

          As for the event, we’re only helping suggest speakers and bloggers. There will be a short press trip, which should help to spread the word! 🙂

          • Good luck with this. They choose well.

            You guys are great and looking forward to meeting you in person in Austria in October!

  • Serge Lescouarnec

    I agree with you on selling wine as an experience, in the context of where it comes from, the history of the place, the food, the sights.
    More passion than bland marketing.
    As for the conference are they inviting US based bloggers like me?
    Take care

    • There will be international bloggers represented. US, UK, EU, and more!

  • Ken Payton

    I will do my very best, along with my documentary crew, to defeat ViniPortugal’s initiative to make Touriga Nacional Portugal’s national grape. Having surrendered to the international model, the org is unfit to represent the richness of wines Portugal has to offer the world.

    Promoting TN as Portugal’s hallmark grape is like selecting 5th Avenue as the key to understanding New York.

    • I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater Ken. ViniPortugal has done many very good things for Portugal. Do they make some strange choices yes, but they are not unfit to represent Portugal, they just need people to help them see the light! 🙂

      Your project is great, and we want to talk about it here when we have time, and hopefully it will work balance the work that VP has done and continue to do.

  • Ben

    Getting people excited about Portuguese travel and culture is a great idea… but it sounds more like a long term goal than a realistic way to market Portuguese wine. And I think you could do worse than focusing on Touriga Nacional. IMHO, it’s Portugal’s best and most distinctive red grape. Yes, it doesn’t account for a huge percentage of production, but that is changing. In any case, most of the best “Touriga” wines are blends. Most Douro and Dao wines have the grape in their blends… that’s where this grape really shines. Touriga can still take center stage without crowding out other grapes.

    Does focusing on a single grape oversimplify things? Of course. But that’s how the wine industry works… because it’s how people work in general. If I need to make a Portuguese recommendation, I’ll tell someone to find a cheap Dao or anything with Touriga Nacional in it. Go into any more detail and you’ve lost them completely. If people need to really understand Portuguese wine (much less all of Portuguese culture!) you’ll never sell that first bottle. I have no doubt that people who travel to Portugal are much more likely to buy Portuguese wine… that just sounds like a very inefficient way to sell liquid in a bottle.

    Granted, I’ve never sold a bottle of wine in my life, so take the above for what it’s worth!