Ξ July 29th, 2009 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Interviews, Wine History, Wine News, Wineries |
At 9:00 pm on Saturday night ViniPortugal and the European Wine Bloggers Conference hosted an ‘After-Hours Tasting Party’ at the Flamingo Resort’s Alexander Room. The event was essentially put together by Gabriella and Ryan Opaz of the fine Barcelona-based website Catavino. Ryan, Gabriella, and Robert McIntosh of The Wine Conversation are the driving forces behind this Fall’s European Wine Bloggers Conference.
Wines of Portugal are very popular now, at least the talk of them is. Being a great fan of the Portuguese wines I have tasted in the past year, I was very interested in seeing what was offered. But it remains difficult to find them readily offered in wine shops, restaurants and grocery stores. One typically finds a bottling here and there. Even the otherwise excellent K&L shop in San Francisco carries no more than three, sometimes four, reds. Whites are just as uncommon. So it was with great pleasure I tasted through the WBC/ViniPortugal line-up.
I can only hope the event sparks discussion of the wines on wine blogger’s sites, paying especial attention to price and food-friendliness. The structure and bright acidity of many of the wines I tasted, many in the $10 to $20 range, was a delight. The interviews below is my small part at the promotion of these fine efforts.
Follow this link for a full list of wines, producers and prices: wine-bloggers-conference-showcase-wines-information1 And here is a good map of the regions: wine-regions-map-docs
A note about grape nomenclature. I was in a wine shop one day buying a wine from Cahors made from a variety I had come to call Côt or Auxerrois, but it is also known as Tannat and Malbec. I noticed an Alsatian bottling of a white wine also called Auxerrois. Well, it you think that might be a bit confusing witness the regional names of the Aragonez grape. Besides Tempranillo we have
Aldepenas, Aragones, (Portugal), Aragonez Da Ferra, Aragonez de Elvas, Arganda, Arinto Tinto, Cencibel (Castile La Mancha, Madrid, Aragón, Extremadura, Murcia), Cencibera, Chinchillana (Extremadura), Chinchillano, Chinchilyano, Cupani, Escobera (Extremadura, S. America), Garnacho Foño (S.America), Grenache de Logrono, Jacibiera (Castile La Mancha, S. America), Jacivera, Juan Garcia, Negra de Mesa, Ojo de Liebre, Olho de Lebre, Sensibel, Tempranilla, Tempranillo de la Rioja, Tempranillo de Perralta, Tempranillo de Rioja, Tempranillo de Rioza, Tinta Aragones, Tinta de Santiago, Tinta de Toro, Tinta Do Inacio, Tinta Monteira, Tinta Monteiro, Tinta Roriz (Portugal), Tinta Roriz Da Penajola, Tinta Santiago, Tinto Aragon, Tinto Aragonez, Tinto de la Ribera, Tinto de Madrid (Toledo, Cantabria, Salamanca, Soria, Valladolid, Madrid), Tinto del País (Castile/Leon, Rioja), Tinto de Rioja, Tinto de Toro (Zamora), Tinto del Toro, Tinto Fino (Castile/Leon, Madrid, Valencia, Extremadura, Rioja), Tinto Madrid, Tinto Pais, Tinto Ribiera, Tinto Riojano, Ull de Llebre (Catalan for “Eye of the Hare”), Valdepeñas (also in California), Verdiell (Catalonia), Vid de Aranda (Burgos), Tinta Santiago (S. America) and Tinta Montereiro (S. America).
I first spoke with Carrie Jorgensen of Cortes de Cima. The winery’s site describes her this way:
Responsible for administration and marketing. A Californian born girl, Carrie grew up in the San Francisco bay area, and studied Economics at UC Berkeley, before moving to Malaysia where she met Hans. Since the early days of Cortes de Cima she has been actively involved in both production and sales of our horticulture products.
Pioneer in Portugal of selling online direct from the winery.
The Cortes de Cima winery is located about 2 hours from Lisbon, in the north-eastern corner of one of the larger wine regions, Alentejano, specifically in a sub-region of the Alentejo DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) called Vidigueira.
Admin So, who are you, and what brings you here?
Carrie Jorgensen I am a wine blogger.
Yes, you’re a wine blogger. But you are also associated with the wines of Portugal, shall we say.
CJ Yes. I’m actually a Portuguese winemaker. Cortes de Cima. The ones you were just trying actually. I hope you enjoyed them. I’m a Portuguese wine maker but I’ll tell you a secret: I’m from Marin County, I’m from California. I guess you could hear that! (laughs)
A little bit.
CJ I left when I was 19, well, I was at Berkeley, UC Berkeley, and I left California and went to Malaysia. I met my husband, who’s Danish. And I lived in Malaysia with him for 9 years. Then we decided to leave Malaysia and move to Europe. So we bought a sailing boat and we sailed to Europe, and we sailed around Europe looking for a place to start a vineyard. Then our boat arrived in Portugal and we thought we’d found the place. One thing is it reminded us of California quite a bit. We liked the people. That’s how we ended up in Portugal.
How much property did you buy initially?
CJ We bought something that was the size of Central Park, 375 hectares. But it is not all planted with vines. Of course, when we got there it wasn’t planted with anything. It was dry farming. There was no electricity, no running water, no nothing. We planted our vineyards in ‘91 and we now have 100 hectares of vineyards.
Were there vineyards nearby?
CJ There were a lot of vineyards in the area, yeah. It was a wine-growing area. In fact, the Romans grew wine there. There’s a lot of tradition there in growing wine. Mostly white wine varieties. And we planted red wine grapes which was quite different in those days. Everyone talked about it. They thought we were nuts because we were foreigners and we didn’t know what we were doing!
What varieties did you start with?
CJ We started with Aragonez, which is Tempranillo, we call it Aragonez. We started with some Trincadeira. We started with Periquita which we don’t like. After a while we pulled that up. And then we planted something we weren’t supposed to do: We planted Syrah. It was illegal. But we did it anyway.
How did that go over with the locals?
CJ Of course, we didn’t tell them. No one knew. When we finally had our first vintage of the Syrah and we didn’t know what to do with it. We had a visit by Oz Clarke and Tim Atkin. They tried it. They said ‘you’ve got to try to find a way to bottle this wine and show the world that you can grow Syrah in Alentejo, and how great it is.’ So we found a label. We decided to call it Incognito. And there is an acronym on the back where you can see it’s Syrah. We have a Bob Dylan quote “to live outside the law you must be honest”.
Did you ask for help from the locals?
CJ We kind of mingled a bit. We did our own thing.
How was your Portuguese?
CJ It’s good now, after 20 years. (laughs) Yeah. Our kids were born there, they grew up there. They went to school there.
So the secret must have finally come out, that you were growing Syrah.
CJ Oh yeah, it’s out. When Incognito became very famous. It was went to London for the Wine Challenge where it won a gold medal. And everyone was talking about it. It was known because it was illegal.
Illegal in the same way a Super Tuscan is illegal?
CJ Yeah, same thing. We actually violated a lot of things. We also violated with our trellis system. We used a Smart-Dyson system. Under the DOC rules you’re not allowed to do that either. We did a lot of things we weren’t supposed to do.
Has your example changed winemaking techniques in the area.
CJ Winemaking techniques have changed a lot in the area, thank god. I don’t know if it is our example or if the just had to change with time to become competitive.
When you first bought the land was it expensive?
CJ No. It was after Portugal had joined the EU. It wasn’t dirt cheap. The standard of living has changed quite a bit, for the better, after they joined the EU.
And how has the response been to the Portuguese wine tasting this evening?
CJ Oh, fantastic! A lot of people are very excited about Portuguese wines; a lot of people don’t know about them but they want to learn.
Thank you, Carrie.
CJ You’re welcome.
I next spoke with Oscar Quevedo, the export manager for Quevedo, a family owned wine business in the ‘heart of the Douro‘. He and Adria were funny, energetic people. Always smiling.
Oscar Quevedo My name is Oscar Quevedo. I came from Portugal, from the Douro Valley. We make Port wine and still wine from the Duoro. We use traditional varietals, over 100 different varietals. And my family has been making Port for over 120 years.
What do you think of this evening? The room is absolutely packed!
OQ Yes, it is packed. If every one of the 250 people came here it would be impossible to taste anything. But I think it is a little bit late. People are maybe tired. Just enough are here!
How many wines were brought for this tasting?
OQ We brought three Ports. In total, around 40 different Portuguese wines, 35 still wines and 5 Ports.
And how was this arranged between the Open Wine Consortium and ViniPortugal?
OQ As you know, Ryan Opaz [of Catavino] is one of the admins of the Open Wine Consortium. He was invited by ViniPortugal to organize this tasting here at the Wine Bloggers Conference. It is a way to promote the European Wine Bloggers Conference that will take place in Lisbon at the end of October, but also the wines of Portugal.
What are the price points of the wines that have been brought here? [The full list and prices may be found here: wine-bloggers-conference-showcase-wines-information].
OQ I think we should have wines from $10 up to $60-70. I think there are some good wines from Portugal between $10 to $15 range. That makes us very competitive.
Especially in this lousy economy.
OQ Exactly. People are moving from $50 wines to the $20 wines. And those that bought the $20 wines are now buying at $10. So Portugal is getting some points ahead of some competitors.
Did you do much touring of the Napa wineries today?
OQ I did. I visited 4 wineries. I was really surprised and impressed by the marketing that is behind each one of the wineries in Napa. It is amazing. We in the Duoro really care about the vines, the grapes and the winemaking, and eventually about the tourists. Here I think they begin to build the concept, the label, by the marketing, the merchandising, and then they care about the wine and the grapes. I don’t want to say they [Portugal] make better wines because that is not true. They have very good wines here as well.
What are tasting rooms like in Portugal?
OQ Well, in the Duoro the land is very steep. So the tasting rooms are beautiful places to look out over the valley. That is in the North. In the South they are not so comparative, so professional as you are here. We don’t care so much about all the space where you are tasting the wines; we have a lot of work to do to impress visitors.
Do you offer horizontal tasting?
OQ Yes, both vertical and horizontal tastings of Port wines. We really like to taste different vintages from different vineyards because, as you probably know, in the North of Portugal all the vineyards are very small parcels, vineyards of just one acre. That’s what we have. So a vineyard of 50 acres is big. So we have a lot of different terroirs. The final blend is made with a lot of different wines. We allow our visitors to taste the different wines to let us know what they prefer [in the final blend]. It is a good way to learn and to improve from our consumers, they help us do our job.
Which Europeans are the most common visitor? And do you get many American visitors? Who buys your wines?
OQ We have a lot of tourists from the North of Europe, France, Denmark, Germany, UK. The UK market is very important for Port wine. There is a growing interest from the Portuguese society to discover the wine regions of Portugal.
The Portuguese society?
OQ The people of Portugal now have more purchasing power. Portugal is growing and people know more about wine; they want to visit the wineries, they want to meet the winemakers. This is improving and making the wine industry grow.
I understand. Cool. Is there anything else you’d care to add?
OQ It was a big pleasure to meet you, Ken. We had a tasting two days ago at Twisted Oak making a blend of the Spaniard ‘08. It was a big pleasure to be in your group and to share with you some thoughts on what should be the final blend.
It was because of you that we won!
OQ No, no, no! Definitely not.
Thank you, Oscar.
OQ Thank you, Ken.
Lastly, I spoke with Marcio Ferreira of ViniPortugal itself. His business card states that he is the Area Manager.
Marcio Ferreira I am the director of marketing for ViniPortugal. That is the wine marketing board for Portuguese wines. It is a not-for-profit organization, a private association. We have close ties to the government. But we are not government. We are a private association.
How did you make arrangements with the Open Wine Consortium to come to the conference?
MF Well, it has been a long way for us. We wanted to get on this side of the bloggers and to meet these people. It happened through Catavino. Being American and being in Spain like they are [Ryan and Gabriella], they are trying to approach the wine business that is closer to them. They approached us. I’ve known them for a few years and we got to work with this now.
We do this with great pleasure. It is very important to us to be here. When I think that when you are in the wine business and you want to be competitive, you have to capitalize on your opportunities. That is what we are doing here.
There is quite a crowd gathered. What is your sense of their response?
MF For us the American market is reacting very well to our wines. One reason is that Portuguese wines don’t have the brand that we wish they would have, and so we have to lower our prices. Best values from Portugal are really good, good wines for a very decent price. And that has helped us make a footprint in the market. We are currently number 9, we just passed South Africa, in exporting wines to the United States. I think the future will smile on us. Not everybody can say that in a recession you increase your sales. Portugal, we started in January, February, it was tough because we came from a nice increase in 2008. And now we break even in June ‘09. It’s been interesting for us, the US market.
So how were the wines selected?
MF Usually how we do this we open event to the Portuguese wine producers, all of them. We have a few criteria to select. First, the wines should be available in the states already because when you’re a blogger and you taste a wine, if you want to write about it, the wine should be available for people to buy. You can actually kill a brand, and harm a brand rather than promote it [if it is unavailable]. So the wine should be available in the United States. That’s it. Producers make arraignments with their importers, and importers submit registrations to us and we select a few wines that are adaptable to the market. We have about 35 wines here, we received probably 40 applications. So we didn’t turn out that many.
How does distribution work? How many distributors for the wines?
MF That’s our biggest handicap in the US. For a small wine country like Portugal we have pass the barrier of distribution because the biggest part of the consumers who buy our wines are Portuguese descendants and Portuguese immigrants, the ethnic market. The challenge for Portugal right now is to break off the ethnic market and to market the wines to other ethnic groups. That’s the biggest challenge.
And also market Portuguese wines to the global cuisine. Our wines are great food wines! Our wines are driven by fruit, acidity and freshness. They make amazing food-friendly wines.
Why do so many wine stores have so few wines from Portugal?
MF The reason is simple. A distributor, a retailer, when they think about buying a Portuguese wine he thinks ‘can I sell it off the shelf?’ Portugal does not have the brand yet. They’d much rather buy an Argentinean wine or a Spanish wine or a Chilean wine because they know the brand is there and that the consumer will grab it for that intangible that Portugal doesn’t have yet. That is our biggest fight.
We are a small country. We have 10 million inhabitants. We are a country engraved in wine culture; 7% of all Portuguese work in the wine business. We are the most densely planted wine country in the world. We have around 500,000 acres of vineyards in Portugal. So we are number 10 producer in the world; being that small it is quite an astonishing number.
Well thank you very much. I’ll let you get back to your pouring.
MF Thank you.