(OPORTO, PORTUGAL) – Part 1 Past Future and Pertinent Questions. September 10, saw the second Port Wine Day in Porto, Portugal. The event was by invitation only by the Insituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto, otherwise known as the IVDP, which is the body that regulates Port and Douro table wine production in the Douro region of Portugal.
The goal of Port Wine Day was to assemble journalists, trade professionals, and academics to discuss certain trends and challenges facing Port and Douro table wine production. There were close to 40 journalists invited to Port Wine Day.
I was the only Canadian journalist present. France, Port’s largest market had 10 journalists attending.
The first half of the day consisted of presentations by media personalities, trade professionals, and scholars, which took place at The Porto Alfândega Congress Centre in Porto. The first half of the morning presentations were by James Suckling, Roger Voss, and Ana Theresa Lehmann regarding Past, Future and Pertinent Questions.
The panellists were attempting to discuss the bridge between tradition and innovation in the production of Port and Douro table wines.
Suckling was the first to speak and put the audience at ease by saying that being a wine expert is very difficult. He highlighted that quip by disclosing a rather gross mistake he made in identifying wine at a recent tasting.
Even after tasting for the Wine Spectator for some 27 years, Suckling admits he still gets things wrong. He explained that he was first in the Douro in 1985 and was struck by the amazing extent of traditions of the people and the wine.
He returned regularly and began to think of the Douro as the new Tuscany, with its emerging innovation.
Suckling mentioned that in Asia there is almost no knowledge of Port, so that more energy must be spent on exposing such markets to its virtue. In Suckling’s opinion, Port is the flagship of the Douro Valley and it is essential to communicate the virtues of high end Port.
Suckling thinks table wines are all getting so similar, luxury high end Port (as opposed to table wines) is perhaps the Douro’s future.
In Asia, fine wine is all about prestige, face, image, tradition, and price. Suckling concluded that the Douro has a bright future but now is the time for Port to reinvent itself in emerging markets.
Roger Voss, the next speaker, had a different perspective than Suckling.
Voss has been writing for some 25 years and has worked with the Wine Enthusiast since 1997, where he specializes in the wines of Portugal and France.
He believes that the Douro has two great products which are both Port and Douro table wines. He thinks that the Douro is a great wine region with great quality and potential. Port and Douro table wines need each other to develop.
Voss mentioned that in 2010 there were 374 Douro table wine producers and presently there are 429. Clearly table wines in the Douro are expanding and dynamic according to Voss. The focus should be on premium table wines and Ports.
He cautioned that the Douro is a niche destination and can’t handle what the Algarve region can handle in terms of tourism. This warning was repeated by some of the subsequent speakers.
Voss believes that Port will be the dominant Douro wine for years, but that it is very difficult to produce and introduce to a market. The complicated rules pertaining to Port production and start-ups by new producers have crowded out the younger set from entering into Port production, and may therefore send them in the direction of making table wines.
As 90% of Port production is in the hands of five companies, there exists a need for some boutique production. Voss said that the younger generation makes great table wines. If the Port production and start up rules were relaxed just imagine what they could do with Port.
The last speaker on the panel was Ana Teresa Lehmann, who has had a career of two decades focusing on international investment and internationalization, and offering strategies to leading international organizations and governments in five countries.
Lehmann advocates for both the internationalization of Port producing companies and internationalization of market territories. Lehmann noted there is a lack of scale, particularly for table wines of the Douro.
There is a lack of competition and the ownership structure is charming and personal and essentially fearing growth, as it would lead to forging alliances and joint ventures, and a fear of losing control.
Lehman remarked that there must be more internationalization for Port and Douro table wines. Most people do not have a clue about the Douro. Deeper relationships with opinion makers are required and a stronger digital presence is needed.
Voss added that Douro villages need to be developed into an experience for tourists and not just as an outlet for local products.
Suckling interjected the goal must first get people to Porto, then they can begin to understand the importance of the Douro Valley by taking a cruise up the Douro River.
Next: Part 2, Luxury – An Effort and a Strategy