Ξ November 3rd, 2009 | → 6 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, PORTUGAL, Wine & Politics, Wine History, Wine News |
This first visit to Portugal shall not be my last. Given an extraordinary opportunity by ViniPortugal to attend the European Wine Bloggers Conference, I have come away with a deep respect and lasting affection for the culture of the country. Ten days is not enough time. How could it be? Ten days is not even enough time for a fruit fly to hatch.
I would like to take a moment to thank a few of the people of Portugal who have enriched my visit.
Three of the staff of the VIP Grand helped me in very significant ways. Paulo S. provided his translation skills for passages in books, magazines and internet web pages otherwise impenetrable to me. He went so far as to surprise me with a two-page compilation of vocabulary. Always alert, he never showed the slightest frustration with my naivete, if not stupidity!
Paulo R. is a special gentleman. He has written hundreds of poems himself and can quote long passages from the Portuguese canon. He told me of the best Fado club to visit, and worked the background arrangements. A bit of a philosopher, he explained to me subtle cultural distinctions, Portuguese syntax, how best I might leave a smaller, more discrete footprint than most tourists. His life story is one of struggle and victory. A good man.
Though the gentlemen above eyed me with amusement, it was Antonio B. who was most skilled at sizing this traveler up. He very gently reminded me in various ways that I should look a little more deeply into cultural matters. After I would return from a particular adventure he would say that I should also do this other thing. Never at a loss for suggestions, it was Antonio who turned my attention to Carcavelos.
I would also like to thank the maids at the VIP Grand who every day cleaned my room and made my bed.
Prof. Virgilio Loureiro of the Instituto Superior de Agronomia generously came to the VIP Grand to speak with me. A great champion of tradition and terroir, he is the self-described Don Quixote of the Portuguese wine industry. My interview with this august figure, to be posted in about a week, will be among the finest I have ever had the opportunity to enjoy. Special thanks must be given to Jonathan Nossiter for his assistance in making this encounter possible.
Enologist/winemaker Francisco Figueiredo introduced me to the vineyards of Colares. He took two hours out of his day to educate me in the ways of Colares viticulture. I was then taken to the adega for a very thorough explanation of what it is they do and why. He has an excellent sense of humor, as may soon be read. My interview with him is forthcoming.
Jose and Licete. Words fail me. The warmth and generosity shown by mother and son was a profoundly moving experience, one that I shall remember the rest of my days. Meeting them gets at the core value of travel: Get out of the tour bus. Abandon the cocoon of the canned itinerary. Put yourself at risk. There are no greater rewards than to meet people like Jose and Licete. Jose calls it ‘fate’ that people meet, that we met. The fragility of that thought astounds me.
Rita was our two-horse carriage driver when members of the EWBC went to a cork forest in the Tejo and then to a perfectly simple lunch on the grounds of Quinta da Logoalva. A magnificent visit in every way. There are horses in my family and Rita herself owns one. We enjoyed an excellent exchange on horsemanship and training. An ethereal soul, I learned much that was unexpected from this very lovely woman.
Last but certainly not least (!), the extraordinary people of ViniPortugal; how can I thank them for this opportunity? To Andreia, Ana and Marcio, thank you for all of your help and attention.
About the wines of Portugal, a personal note.
Portuguese wines have consistently, day by day, been among the very finest I have ever tasted. And taken as a whole, no country’s wines has awakened such curiosity and excitement in me with each new bottle as has Portugal’s. That is the simple truth I take away.
It is a truism of the human condition that one becomes habituated to styles and flavors most commonly experienced. And one may certainly be forgiven remaining fixed in wine preference if no opportunity, such as I’ve been granted, ever comes one’s way. But what cannot be forgiven, should one find a way here, is being unmoved, unchanged by the direct, face to face encounter with the variety, quality, the sheer difference the vinous pleasures Portugal has to offer.
Indeed, as I have previously written, Portugal is one of the last great hopes in the world for the preservation and continuation of distinctive terroirs. For those skeptical of the concept, I can do no better than point you in Portugal’s direction. And I mean the country itself. If living in Northern America, a visit to your local supermarket is a good start. Though good Portuguese wines may be found there, to be sure, and I encourage everyone to drink as widely as possible, nevertheless you cannot let the supermarket’s selection define your understanding of Portuguese wine, just as you cannot let a chain bookstore define literature. The supermarket merely scratches at the surface.
This condition will be modified as more and more variety, as I trust, will be imported from Portugal. Exports edged up this year. But one particular concern of mine, a gnawing worry, really, is whether all the current attention the country is drawing, the growing marketing ‘buzz’, will finally have deleterious consequences. As Freud famously remarked upon the occasion of his first visit to the America, “They don’t realize that I am bringing them the plague”. And true enough, signs of a fever may readily be detected.
It is a troubling irony that some of the wines served at the European Wine Bloggers Conference have already been marked by a compromise to a more international style. The dark shadow of Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, blotted out more than one label. Though this transformation has been going on for more than a few years, it would be a gross, even cynical misapprehension for a participating wine blogger to pretend for moment that they now understand Portuguese wines based on those wines alone. A true understanding of Portuguese wines may only be found by exploring the countryside.
In my opinion, the Portuguese wine industry cannot thrive in the international market without bottling the ‘cure’ that their distinctive terroirs offer. Their general marketing approach must be that of the unqualified celebration of difference.
This is not a controversial summation. Should one plant eucalyptus in a cork forest, the cork oaks will not survive. It could not be much simpler.
And as for me, because of the wine culture of Portugal, her traditions, native grape varieties, and her people, I have become profoundly radicalized by this beautiful experience. Not only has my modest understanding of wine been greatly enriched, but my life as well. I leave Portugal a changed man.
Obrigado a todos, Portugal.