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.