This month we are proud to introduce you to Joana Pais.  Joana is the Manager of Press Relations for Sogrape Vinhos, S.A., Portugal’s largest family-owned wine company (since 1942). Sogrape has deep holdings in a variety of Portuguese wine regions. Although known for their leading label Mateus Rose, they also make lots of Douro wines under the moniker Casa Ferreirinha, with well known brands that include Callabriga, Quinta da Leda and of course, Barca Velha to name just a few.

Sogrape’s well situated vineyard holdings in the Douro and especially their ownership of three esteemed and long established Port shippers possess great historical impact: Ferreira, Sandeman and Offley.

Here is Joana’s story:

1. How did you break into the Porto and Douro wine trade and at what age?

After finishing my degree in journalism and having had little experience in the national press, I decided to go for a Master’s degree in Communication – Contemporary Culture and New Technologies at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Right at the end of it and while researching for my thesis, I started looking at the companies I admired and thought it would be a great place to work. Sogrape Vinhos was on top of my mind. Not knowing if they were hiring, I applied for the PR department and few weeks later was already being taught the basis of wine! It was February 2006, and I had just turned 24.

2. What is your favorite style of Douro wine and also Port to drink at home, and can you name two or three of the greatest one’s you’ve ever tried?

I must confess I love those older Douro reds that show great bottle evolution, or I wouldn’t work for the company who proudly produces the Casa Ferreirinha wines! Regarding Port, I’m certainly a tawny person, although the great range and versatility of Port is what makes me love it the most. Not being a winemaker, I’m one of those lucky people who have had the chance to taste some of the great wines Sogrape Vinhos produces with the brands Sandeman, Ferreira and Offley. Some of the greatest wines I ever tried include Casa Ferreirinha Reserva Especial 1962, Ferreira Vintage 1834 or Sandeman Vintage 1997.

3. Besides wines from your own company, what others do you most enjoy drinking?

I’d be lying if I wouldn’t confess my great affection for Champagne and my favorites of all are Perrier Jouët and Mumm’s. Of course with Ferreira, Sandeman and Offley in our portfolio, I mostly drink the Ports from these three shippers, but the other company whose Ports I like to drink is Quinta do Noval.

4. What brings you the most joy in what you do within the Douro wine trade?

The best part of my job is welcoming people from all over the world and showing them the best we can do in the Douro. Some of them are already aware of this and just come to nourish their passion, but others are truly amazed by the region’s landscape and wines. Sometimes it’s a whole new story, and I’m really glad to have the chance to tell it!

5. Would you please share one piece of unique trivia or historical information about your company that would be new to FTLOP readers?

There’s one interesting story to tell about the three Porto Wine brands that Sogrape Vinhos produces. Going back to the origins of Sandeman and Offley, both George Sandeman and Baron Forrester had more than a friendship in common, they were both wine merchants and amongst other suppliers was Ferreira’s Dona Antónia, also a close friend of the Baron. Later, in the 1960’s, Sandeman bought Offley, but when Seagram acquired Sandeman they decided to sell Offley to Bacardi Martini, from whom Sogrape Vinhos purchased it in 1996, 9 years after having entered the Porto Wine sector, with the acquisition of Ferreira. Finally, in 2002, Sogrape Vinhos bought Sandeman, solidifying the companies by putting the three brands back together under one family. All three of these had previously crossed paths in history.

6. Which individual has been your greatest mentor and how have they inspired you?

When I joined Sogrape Vinhos the wine world was something absolutely new to me. If it wouldn’t have been with the help of my colleagues from the wine education team, Vasco Magalhães and Lígia Marques, and of course, the winemakers, it would’ve been really hard! Specifically in the Douro, Luís Sottomayor and António Braga play a very important role in my wine tutoring. Every single time I’m out at Quinta do Seixo or Quinta da Leda, just to mention a couple, or tasting Douro and Porto wine, there’s something I learn from them. And I love that! Every visit and tasting is a lesson!

7. What is the greatest challenge facing the Douro wine trade today?

Given the economic situation, Portugal as a country is facing a huge challenge, and the Douro wine trade cannot escape that. Despite many other concerns, I think it’s time to evaluate and focus on what we do best, maintaining the wines’ quality and not downgrading for economic reasons.What I mean by this, is that some companies are looking for quick returns on their investments and lack the patience to wait for long term profits. As you know that is difficult in the wine world, particularly in the Port wine sector. I truly hope that the idea of offering less expensive wines to the consumer, won’t result in producing lower quality Ports. That would hurt the image of this wonderful beverage.

8. Can you share one new project or improvement that your company is involved with?

Sogrape Vinhos is the premier family-owned wine company in Portugal, and so words like improvement and progress are part of our daily dialogue. But as you certainly know, this intention takes time when applied to wine, or it wouldn’t be a natural and living product. Anyway, Sogrape Vinhos has always invested in R&D, and we’re currently doing some important work in the vineyards, investing in precision viticulture, and the result should be even greater wines!

To give you some specifics for the FTLOP readers to understand, the idea behind this project is to get to know our vineyards better, and treat them accordingly, adapting our production to the desired type of wine. Digging huge holes in the soil to discover many different terroirs in one vineyard, analyzing temperature, rainfall, sun radiation, wind speed and humidity, testing the quality impact of irrigation on specific vines should start showing results pretty soon. Although I cannot tell you yet if new wines will be launched, it’s guaranteed that the current portfolio will benefit from this precision viticulture.

9. What can the industry do to improve the promotion and education of Douro wine and grow market share in the ever evolving beverage marketplace?

I think we need to show the world why Douro wine is so special, and by showing I don’t mean just telling, but organizing tastings and events where that can be proved.

If the Douro wines have a great aging capacity, let’s bring out some older vintages and let people confirm it. If Douro wines have great fruit, structure and balance let’s pour the wine with food, because that’s when it’s best enjoyed, and let’s bring guests to the Douro and show them a truly amazing landscape that will probably conquer their passion.

10. What non-wine activities do you enjoy?

I love spending time with my family and friends, and travelling is one of my greatest passions. Before I had a two year old girl, I’d say that going to the cinema and enjoying a nice movie was also a big attraction, but nowadays, for some reason, that doesn’t seem to happen so often!

The FTLOP series, Port Personalities In Focus, alternates with A Question for the Port Trade every other month. In Focus concentrates on bridging the gap, introducing readers to people who are not usually in the media’s spotlight, with some license to occasionally “interview” someone that is. In Focus brings you candid comments, personal perspectives, and a better understanding of the people inside the trade. From sales and marketing professionals, to master blenders, winemakers and vineyard managers, to distributors and importers, owners and managing directors; In Focus will introduce you to Port personalities who work at small family-owned operations to the largest wine companies in Portugal. We hope you’ll benefit from meeting the people on these pages!