This month's Question For The Port Trade elicited fifteen responses by the trade, offering a variety of viewpoints as diverse as the grapes of the Douro.
Q: How did you first get involved in the Port business, and at what age?
José F. Falcão Carneiro, Proprietor, Wiese & Krohn
Wiese & Krohn is a family-owned Port company. I belong to the 3rd generation of the Falcão Carneiros who have been owning and running the company (my grandfather entered the company in 1910 and became its sole owner in 1937).
This means that since my birthday I’ve been closely involved in the company. But under a formal point of view, I began working for Wiese & Krohn in 1979, at the age of 32 years, after finishing my study in Economics, doing the military service (3 years at that time!) and acting as a teacher in the Faculty of Economics of the Oporto University.
Joana Pinhão, Winemaker, Lemos & Van Zeller, LDA …Quinta do Vale Dona Maria
I first got into the Port business in 2007, when I did my first harvest in the Douro Valley with Cristiano van Zeller. Of course I knew Port, loved it, and drunk it, but the more serious introduction to it was at Quinta Vale D. Maria. I was 26 at the time.
Tomás Roquette, Oenologist, Quinta do Crasto
As you probably know I was brought up in the Douro Valley and feel like I was born there. The property at Quinta do Crasto has been in my family for more than 100 years. There is a lot of family tradition here, but back in those early days the business was not really under a professional administration and became difficult to sustain. So my father, Jorge Roquette, after purchasing the shares of the other family members, decided to change the way the business was run and invited me to come on board to be a part of it.
It was a big challenge for me at that time, I was a big Port fan, but I didn’t know that much about it from a technical standpoint. As I normally say, living the experience is the best teacher we can have. This took place after I completed a two year stint in the UK, and at that time I was about twenty five years of age. I was spending more than four days per week in the Douro and you can imagine how much I miss that time nowadays. To conclude, I must say that Port wine is running in my veins.
Bartholomew Broadbent, Proprietor, Broadbent Selections, Inc.
Nice one to write … it brings back lots of memories. Of course, as with many in the Port trade, I cannot remember when I first tasted Port. I was only about 8 years old when I first went to the Douro, perhaps around 1970, with my parents, and we stayed at Quinta do Noval, struck by the heat around the pool and the rocky river below. My first job in wine, after a stint at Hennessy Cognac was in the Harrod’s wine department where we sold copious amounts of Port!
When I was 19, I hitchhiked around Australia and got a job working at Yalumba during crush. I guess this was my first professional experience with “port” production, as I was involved with helping to make Yalumba “port”.
On my return to England in time for the Royal Wedding, I landed a job in Pall Mall working for Harvey’s Fine Wine Merchants which shared offices, backing onto St. James’s Square, with Cockburn’s. Harvey’s also had their own brand of Port. During that year, I remember going to lunch at a local pub where I was served a pint of Port instead of a glass. I don’t remember going back to work that day!
I moved to Canada in 1982, where I worked for Schenley, they were the agent of Dow’s Port. At first I assisted the brand manager for Dow’s Port in Montreal, then I moved to Toronto to represent Dow’s Port, among other wines, as the Schenley Wine Consultant.
I was writing about wine regularly in Canada and the first article I wrote on Port was an article called “Jolly good: sticking to Port” for Wine Canada [Christmas 1985 issue] when I was their “Resident Connoisseur” columnist.
In 1986, James Symington recruited me to start Premium Port Wines. After setting up office in Toronto, handling the US market from there, I moved to California to set up the Premium Port Wines and start importing Port. I was the first person in America to be uniquely specialized in Port and, in 1987; I re-launched Madeira in the US after the Symingtons had acquired the Madeira Wine Company.
I was President of Premium Port Wines for just shy of ten years, and then set up Broadbent Selections, Inc. in 1996. Our first suppliers were Ferreira and Offley and we started Broadbent Port at the same time, buying the 1994 Vintage from Dirk Niepoort, just in time to work on creating our own blend. A year or so later, we started working with Quinta do Crasto. Although we no longer represent Offley, we still represent Quinta do Crasto and Ferreira.
Dirk Niepoort, Winemaker/Proprietor, Niepoort Vinhos S.A.
I was born in the port trade. At home my father always involved me in pouring / decanting / serving the port (and wines) . Effectively I started working with my father in 1987 (at the age of 23 years old) , the year we bought the Quinta de Nápoles. That means I m in the trade already for 25 years.
Cynthia Jenson, Writer of the Graham’s Port Blog
I came to wine generally and Port particularly relatively late in life - suffice to say, if I were a fine port myself, I would be described as reaching the point of becoming really interesting, elegant and indefinably complex! My first glass of Port was a Warre's 1963 which a friend kindly brought along to a celebration dinner in 2001. I was astounded by the complexity and richness of flavor; I simply never knew wine could do that. The finish was extraordinary - I think I went to bed around 2:00 AM and when I got up four hours later to start clearing up the dishes, that finish was still clean and clear and an absolute joy on my palate.
Some years later, after many tastings, wine dinners and professional courses, I decided to quit the City of London and enter the wine trade. With some command of French and harvest experience in Vosne Romanée I first tried to find an opportunity in Burgundy, but to no avail. Fed up with the French after six weeks and no luck, I made the epic overnight train ride across Spain and into Portugal and arrived in Porto early in the morning, 23 July 2009. I had no map of the city, but figured if I headed downhill I would find the river. In fact I stumbled out onto the upper deck of the Dom Luis bridge and had my first sight of the famous lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia from there. It was love at first sight, and then and there I decided to return and settle in Gaia and try to find work in the Port trade. I knew no one in Portugal, had no contacts in the trade, and didn't speak a word of Portuguese beyond "por favor" and "obrigada", only a gut instinct I would find a way.
The rest, as they say, is history. I moved, I took some language lessons to get myself started and I travelled around Portugal and blogged my heart out on my personal site, Wine Woman Travel, as a way of demonstrating my knowledge and love of wine and the region. It worked. One day I received an email, "Love your writing about the Douro... my father wants to talk to you" and the contact details for Paul Symington. Since July 2010, I have had the honor and pleasure of chronicling the making of Graham's Port through the Malvedos blog and Graham's Port Wine Facebook page, as well as re-launching and managing The Vintage Port Site. That first glass of Port in 2001 has had a longer and more extraordinary finish then I could ever have imagined!
Rupert Symington, Joint Managing Director, Symington Family Estates
As a member of the Symington family born and raised in Porto, I think I can safely say that from a fairly young age I have always been involved in some way or other in the Port business.
My first conscious memory of the business, aged five of six, was visiting the company bottling line with my father and being allowed to take away some corks and labels, as well as the odd miniature bottle. This would have been in the late 60’s when we were still bottling in the lodges adjoining our present offices. Around the same time, a regular Saturday morning excursion was to drive down to the docks in my father’s company Lancia and inspect the stock of pipes (barrels of Port) standing on the quayside and awaiting loading onto ships bound for the UK or Scandinavia. At the time, nearly all port for export was shipped in barrel or in tank and bottled at the country of destination.
My parents would regularly entertain customers at home, and the decanting of the Vintage Port for dinner was always a fascinating spectacle for a small child on their way to bed.
In terms of official landmarks of our company (which was always known as ‘The Office’) I remember being invited for the first time aged 6 to the 300th Anniversary of Warre’s foundation in 1970 and seeing my great-uncle Maurice being presented with the magnificent ‘Warrior’ horseman statue which sits in the corridor outside my office today. We have photos of the occasion with me, my sister Clare and my cousin Johnny atop one of our large wooden Port vats.
But of course my earliest trips to Quinta do Bomfim were one of the great excitements of that period. Back then, if we went by car, it took at least an hour and a quarter to cover the 60 km or so to Amarante where one traditionally stopped to partake of one of the town’s famous cakes. Then came the slow twisty climb up the ‘Quintela’ mountain range, with the inevitable stop to walk the dog at the top, and then down again to Mesão Frio. From Mesão Frio to Pinhão was what seemed an age of tight switchback bends along the river where nearly everybody in the back of the car became carsick, taking up to two hours to wind through the old Douro where ox carts, mules and ladies carrying jars of water on their heads were still a common sight.
Not quite as often we would take the painfully slow train from Sao Bento station in Porto which took up to 4 hours which stopped everywhere, including a more welcome stop to buy orange ‘Régua sweets’ at Régua station. But what waited at the end of the journey was a delight to all, the welcoming family bungalow at Bomfim with the kindly cook Natercia supervising the children’s meals (which were always taken in the kitchen).
At Pinhão, in the late 60’s the river had not yet been dammed and due to the much lower level was unsuitable for swimming or boating. Consequently we spent much less time down there than we do today. During holidays spent at Bomfim, in the absence of TV or swimming pools, the main daily activity for the family was a stroll up through the vineyard to the ‘farm’ where the Quinta manager and his family lived.
Our favourite entertainment as very young children was to visit the chickens, turkeys, ducks and pigs that were raised to feed the vineyard workers at the time, and whose pens were just below the house. At harvest time, on the rare occasions that we were allowed to visit the Quinta at a time of year when children were not especially welcome, we would watch the procession of pickers and carriers, still using the traditional wicker baskets, and marvel at the regular explosions of CO2 from the auto-vinification tanks (at that time still very new and revolutionary).
Going to Sunday Mass in Pinhão or Vale de Mendiz was an authentic Douro experience, where as a blond child of five or six one was somewhat reluctantly the centre of attention of the many black-clothed widows who dominated the congregation. Probably because their own grandchildren were dark, they felt it necessary to regale my sisters and I throughout the service with a lot of clucking and pinching of cheeks. In true Douro tradition, on a very hot or a very cold day the church was shared by many of the local dogs which seemed to be as welcome as any human member of the congregation.
I cannot recollect exactly when I first tried Port, but probably a finger dipped in my father’s glass, or an illicit sip or two from a miniature bottle taken from the bottling line may have been my first tasting experience. I may ask this same question one day of my own three children. One occasion that will surely be memorable for them was a dinner at their grandfather James’s house last year, where a Warre 1908 Vintage from their great great grandfather Andrew James Symington’s cellar was served, a wine of more than one hundred years old but still in perfect condition.
I consider it a great privilege to have grown up in Oporto in the 60’s surrounded by members so many old and famous Port families of various nationalities, and it saddens me today that there are so few of these left still engaged in the trade. Furthermore, I have a certain nostalgia for the old fashioned ways of the Douro that have all but disappeared today, although I fully realise that change had to come to a traditional way of life that was unsustainably hard for the people of the region. It is most fortunate that the improvement of the fortunes of Port in the 1970’s and 1980’s allowed for much of the investment in infrastructure that made the Douro prosper and upgrade dramatically the quality of life of its unique and highly deserving residents. But my childhood memories of the ‘bons velhos tempos’ will never fade.
Ricardo Campos, Commercial Director, Quinta da Romaneira
I first started to work with the exporting of Port wine at “Borges” at the age of thirty three. I am now thirty eight and very proud to work with the excellent Ports of Quinta da Romaneira, made by one of the best winemakers in Portugal, António Agrellos, (who is also the winemaker at Quinta do Noval).
Pedro Poças Pintão, Commercial Director, Manoel D. Poças Junior – Vinhos S.A.
“I think it depends on what you mean by “involved”. At a very early age (5 or 6 years old), I sometimes would meet my father at work. While walking through the ageing cellars, the fantastic aromas that I felt were probably my first “involvement”. Professionally, it was only about 25 years later that I joined the company to take responsibility in the sales and marketing side”.
Luis Sottomayor, Chief Enologist, Sogrape Vinhos, SA
My father worked in a Port wine company as a winemaker and my grandfather belonged to the board of the same company, so ever since I was young, the wine has been a big part of my life. When I finished the army, I went to France to study oenology, and when I came back in 1989 at 24 years of age, I started to work at Sogrape, more properly for Ferreira.
George T.D. Sandeman, Public Relations & Institutional Representation, Sogrape Vinhos, S.A.
“Officially” I started in Port on September 15th 1971 (age 18) when I started an “estage” in Régua and worked one of the wettest harvests to-date. I stayed a year in Portugal and then went to Jerez. My next incursion (after some 14 years in the UK and USA markets) I returned to Sandeman as General Manager.
Ligia Marques, Brand Ambassador, Sogrape Vinhos, S.A.
By accident! Or better – a lucky strike (like so many good things in the world of wines).
I had worked for several years with media and communications in Lisbon, and when I felt the timing was right to move up North; that’s when, among other proposals, I learned that Sandeman was looking for a PR person. It appealed to me, even though I didn’t know much about Port wine. I applied and interviewed, and interviewed; and the last time interview was with George Sandeman (could it be “the” Mr. Sandeman? i.e. terror!!). Suddenly, twenty years passed by. Two amazing decades simply flew, during which time I fell in love with Port wines and have had the privilege of working with great people. That was February 1991; and I was 26 years old. And no, before you ask, I have no problem in giving away my age! I may “classify” myself as a 40 Year Old Tawny Port in the vain hope that I can seize their elegance and retain their vibrant, lively age.
The things I say at this hour!
Food for thought inspired by that and Port wine: what colors would we use to classify our age or maturation? We oxidize, that’s true, but we do not really attain a defined color as the years pass by. We can tan, but then we lose it … to regain it again later. Or get sunburned and become lobster red!
Maybe the dark spots … but who wants those, right?
Paulo Coutinho, Oenologist, Quinta do Portal
My very first contact with grapes was with my father, early in my childhood. He was a grape producer, not only tending to his own vineyards, but he managed a large vineyard area in the Pinhão Valley. In 1992, I experienced vineyard replanting for the first time, in our family’s own vineyard. Today, I am still involved with working on that parcel, and I own that propriety.
My Port winemaking began in 1984, when at only fourteen years of age I worked my first “vindima” (harvest) for the House of Sandeman. Every subsequent vintage over the next eight years, I came back there to learn the art and skill of Port winemaking.
I began making wine for Quinta do Portal in August 1994, after finishing University (UTAD), where I obtained my degree in enology. Since then, I have been involved in making Douro wines, Ports and Moscatels all of which is a big part of my life. I never get bored of making wine because there are always new challenges and always new things to learn and products to develop, like: Late Harvest wines, experimenting with a more modern extra dry White Port, and even a Pink Port. So I can say that I’m still enjoying and inspired by working in the Douro region!
Pedro Branco, Proprietor, Quinta do Portal
I’ve been in the Port world for as far back as my memory goes. I remember the harvests, the “lagaradas”, and the wonderful aromas that filled the air of the cellars at Quinta dos Muros. My brother and I participated in the “vindimas” since we were small kids.
Quinta dos Muros has been a family property since 1881. After 1974, we increased the vineyard area at this estate and then acquired Quinta da Abelheira in 1978. Finally, in 1991 we bought Quinta do Confradeiro and Quinta do Casal de Celeirós, (renamed Quinta do Portal) and 1994 marks the first bottling of a Quinta do Portal Port.
This was really the time when we got into the Port trade, as prior to that we sold the fruits of our harvests to larger companies. When I first started picking grapes, I was 3 years old. I was 19 when we decided to get into the trade and start our own Port house, and 22 when we bottled the first Portal Port.
Jorge Serodio Borges, Oenologist/Proprietor, Wine & Soul (Pintas); also Quinta do Passadouro
Both sides of my family have been involved in the Port business for more than a century. My great-great-grandfather on my father’s side, had built a big area of vineyards during the period of phylloxera and ever since that time our family has been producing Ports to age and to sell in bulk to the big companies, like Taylor, Sandeman, Cockburn's , Churchill`s, Offley, etc.
My mother`s father was the "provador" of the Real Companhia Velha before the Silva Reis family bought the company and was also the owner of a different quinta in the Douro. So, very early in my life, I had the contact with this reality, because my father was managing all of these businesses for the family. In 1991, when I was 18 years old, my sister and I started to manage the Quinta do Fojo and Quinta da Manoella, which we received as an inheritance after the death of my father and grand-father. We continued the Port business and in 1996 we started the production of Douro wines as well. In between I got a graduated as a winemaker from UTAD, (University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro). From 1999-2004 I worked for Niepoort, which was when I really started working more professionally.
Roy’s Note: I heard some excellent news this morning: Jorge Serodio Borges was awarded the 2011 Enologist of the Year by Portugal's top wine magazine: A Essencio do Vinho. Congratulations to Jorge who is not only a fantastic winemaker, but one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.
A Question for the Port Trade appears in every other FTLOP newsletter, sharing this space with Port Personalities: In Focus.