In June, Lucy Britner travelled to Alentejo and Dão in Portugal to talk to Luisa Amorim about her wineries, brand Portugal and the next generation of drinkers. To read part 1, click here.
There’s often debate in the trade about Portugal’s indigenous grape varieties, and how hard many of them are to pronounce. Some schools of thought have been that the way to introduce them to more people is to blend them with international varieties. Luisa Amorim, though, sees the value in her country’s own grapes.
“If you go to Italy and France, for example, they do what they are best at. And I think we should have the same philosophy. If you have more than 250 grapes, why should you do the things that belong to others and not to you? We have plenty of grapes to choose from – and that’s a positive point.”
She says she is working mainly with around 10-15 varieties, and we talk about whether there could be one grape that could be the breakout Portuguese variety. The next Cabernet Sauvignon, if you like.
“For the next 20-30 years, this isn’t going to happen,” Luisa says. “I think the world is going now towards traditions and the ‘real culture’ of a place. People want something unique, and they want more experience and emotion with their wine.” Good news for indigenous grapes, then.
Interestingly, Luisa doesn’t put grape variety names on her blend labels. She says they are difficult to pronounce, especially when there are 3, 4, or 5 grapes in the blend – and this can create a barrier, particularly for time-poor consumers.
“I understood that this was stressful for the consumer, for the sommelier. It was almost a problem. So, I understood that first we had to convey ‘Portugal’ – people have some emotion around Portugal. And the brand. It’s important to ask the simple question – do you like the wine or not? Then if you do, you can talk more about the grapes.”
Luisa describes the percentage of grapes used in a blend as a “secret recipe” and she believes there is sometimes too much information that is shared.
“If people believe Touriga Nacional is the best grape and one year I include 30%, then next year 15%, people will say ‘well, last year it was better’. But the grapes change in each harvest. So, the best idea is to make the best wine for that year, and then talk about the profile of the wine and the consistency. It’s not related to the percentage of the grape varieties.
“In my opinion, it’s important to work on the label design, the branding, the message of Portugal. And then if you have time – go deeper. But not at the beginning.”
She also says that with the availability of technical sheets, everyone explains wine in the same way, which “isn’t sexy anymore”.
At Taboadella, Luisa says international varieties were pulled up in favour of indigenous ones. During our tasting, we explore the likes of Encruzado, Jaen, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro and Tinta Pinheira.
For Luisa, the challenges for the Portuguese wine industry lie in consistency, pricing and creating strong brands.
At recent UK tastings, several buyers and retailers have cited Portugal as a place to look for value, as consumers continue to feel the pinch.
Luisa believes this is a shame.
“Portugal has very low wages and salaries compared to other parts of Europe. People are not living well. This also applies to wine producers – if they are putting their effort into selling wine at lower prices, they cannot restore the vines or the wineries. They will struggle.”
And although the country mostly doesn’t face the same costs as others, she does say that the Douro Valley can be compared with Burgundy – not in terms of land prices but in terms of the production costs.
She says some smaller producers get used to being “passive” and always lowering prices. “If you sell your wines at €1.5 ex-cellar, you will never sell at €6 or 7, even if you have the quality. It’s unfair but it is the producer that fails more, because you have the opportunity to say no – and it’s costly for everybody. You cannot be passive; you have to be proactive. There are a lot of countries that understand your quality, but you need to be more proactive – more marketing, better labels, trust in yourself.”