FTLOP proudly introduces one of the most dynamic women in the Port business, Sandra Marques, who is the North America Export Manager for Sogevinus Fine Wines.

It has been my distinct pleasure to get to know Sandra over the last several years, and I’ve enjoyed watching her career skyrocket. Born and raised in Porto, Portugal; Sandra relocated to the USA in February 2008 to make her mark on America’s fine wine marketplace. As an essential ambassador for Sogevinus’ Ports, helping to educate consumers and enlighten the wine trade here, Sandra has focused on successfully building brands from her portfolio. She represents the #1 selling Colheita in America: Kopke … in addition to Rocha, Barros, Cálem, Burmester and Gilberts.

To provide one quantitative example of her impact here in America: In 2010, there were just 1,956 (9 liter) cases of Colheitas shipped to the USA. Sandra along with her importer/distributor network moved 880 cases for a 45% market share. Kopke alone represented 38% of America’s Colheita imports, an impressive number for any single company. This example spotlights what a great impact Sandra has made in the years that she has been involved with the US market and … Colheita is only one category of Port that she is involved with. It is now time for you to be introduced to Ms. Marques.

Here is Sandra’s story in her own words:

1. How did you break into the Port trade and at what age?

I was born with port on my lips; it sounds crazy but let me explain. As a baby, my mother used to rub my pacifier with a little bit of tawny port to stop me from crying. Believe it or not, it was a common practice in my neck of the woods, as the sweetness and the alcohol have a soothing effect. I lived most of my life literally 5 minutes away from the major Port cellars, and with the Douro River resting at my feet, so Port was and still is a constant and a big part of my culture.

Only in March 2005, after completing my degree in International Trade, I sent my resume to the IVDP hoping to start my career with this unique product that represents and honors the image of Portugal worldwide called Port Wine! Sogevinus, under the Cálem banner back then, was looking for an area manager and they accessed the IVDP database and decided to call me in for an interview. Making a long story short, five years later here I am representing Sogevinus in North America.

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

Picking my favorite ports proves to be a very difficult task! Our company alone now owns 5 major port brands providing me with unique opportunities to taste rare and extraordinary wines, from Vintage to Colheitas. Although I'm a big fan of old Vintage ports, it is in the Colheitas (single harvest aged tawnies) that my love resides. There's something about the barrel aged tawnies that touches my soul. The Cálem Colheita 1961 for its amazing complexity and youth, has been one of my personal favorites, and the Kopke Colheita 1985 for its vibrancy, fruitiness and impressive acidity come at the top of my list.

3. What is your favorite style of Port to drink at home, and can you name two or three of the greatest Ports you’ve ever tried?

The 20 YO tawny from Ramos Pinto and 1963 Dow's Vintage port are two among several that I have a lot of fun drinking.

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

Meeting new people and new places every day is a blessing but the educational part of my work is by far the most enjoyable and rewarding. Everyone that lives abroad and represents their brands like myself, should feel like an Ambassador. I proudly promote my company’s wines by relating them to our heritage and our culture as a whole.

5. What brings you the most joy in what you do within the Port trade?

Sogevinus does not have employees, we have “family members”. We work hard together, celebrate our victories together and we keep ourselves even stronger during unsuccessful times. We share moments and memories just like every other family.
A couple of weeks ago we had our Annual Christmas Party for Sogevinus’ juniors. All our kids get together at our headquarters (Cálem Cellar) to celebrate Christmas. Obviously Santa Claus is also invited and, just for this special occasion, he delivers his gifts way before December 25th. It’s a sight to see all kids jumping, playing, laughing, destroying things… well, behaving like what they are: KIDS!

Another initiative from our family member, Dioniso Oseira, was the creation of the “Olinda Program” in the Christmas of 2006. Regrettably we lost Olinda Alves in August 2006 after a courageous but uneven fight against cancer. Olinda started to work at Cálem when she was 16 years old and she stood by our side for more than 30 years.

Olinda was known for her indestructible will power and eager quest for knowledge. Although life didn’t provide her a higher education, Olinda as a savage self-taught learner, became a key element for our company. We were her second home and even on her final route she never stopped working with a smile and her thirst for knowledge never dissipated. As a tribute to her dedication and craving for knowledge, we award the best junior of each single grade with a significant financial incentive. Keeping the memory of our role models alive is the key for a better future.

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

In these five years I have learned a lot from my colleagues at Sogevinus, our company has great professionals and we all work as a team, but my inspiration and will power came from my parents who always supported me and kept me going strong even in challenging decisions such as my move to the U.S. They have been my role models and I admire their determination and loyalty.

7. What is the greatest challenge facing the Port trade today?

Let’s face it… our biggest challenge is to reverse the steady decline in consumption worldwide. We must magnetize new consumers and reach new markets.

For the current port consumers, our challenge is to STIMULATE their minds and thus revive their consumption habits as well as introduce them to new ways of enjoy Port. Regarding new consumers, our challenge is getting people to EXPERIENCE port for the first time and spread the MESSAGE without intimidating or even over-flooding their minds, by sticking to simplicity.

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

This year we had several new projects, one of them is the release of a full range of Aged White Ports (10, 20, 30 and 40 Years Old) from the Kopke brand. As to my knowledge we are the only House offering this full range. These unique and rare wines have an exceptional quality, obtained by blending several harvest of white port in order to acquire the organoleptic characteristics typical of this style.

Also, we are continuously improving and investing in our vineyard, where basically it all starts. We are planting 25 hectares (61 acres) of new vines at Quinta de Arnozelo located in Douro Superior. We revitalized 13 hectares of old ‘mortórios’ with new vines right by the river bank; and the remaining hectares are being planted at 400 meters altitude in a different part of our Estate to be used in the future exclusively for our DOC Douro still wines project.

Other projects are being developed and hopefully will be release next year (2011), such as Barros Lagrima Red Port. But for now, this is still a secret. Shhh!

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

We need to find more effective channels to expose Port to the majority of consumers. To achieve this it’s necessary to generate awareness at different levels:

At the trade level, by conducting educational seminars and staff trainings, where we can teach how to better integrate Port in the bar and restaurant scene. We need to adapt to a changing market. In the US many beverage categories found the spotlight by association to one mainstream cocktail, I’m saying Tequila equals Margarita; Rum equals Mojito, and so on… a mainstream cocktail made with Port would certainly catapult the image and generate parallel interest and consumption.

At the public level, it’s imperative to simplify the concept. If you think of it, for the first-time consumers we have too many different styles and definitions making it very difficult to understand and assimilate. Port lacks a single, unique and ‘ear-catching’ slogan where people can start connecting the wine to moments of consumption.

10. What non-wine activities do you enjoy?

To begin with, I’m a foodie. I like to experience all aspects of dinning out, the atmosphere, the service and the different and exciting culinary styles. This obviously merges with my other passion which is cooking. I cannot say that I’m a good cook, but this is something that really calms me down when I’m stressed and gives me great joy and pleasure.

On the other hand, what triggers my adrenaline is all types of motorsports. I love to feel the strength of an engine and to hear a motor roar. When possible, I follow Le Man Series, Indycar and MotoGP and dream that someday I will be part of it. Sponsors are more than welcome…

In reality my goal for this upcoming year is to finally get my US motorcycle driver’s license, so I can enjoy some relaxing weekend rides. Perhaps Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway to Seattle? When I’m not feeling like such an outdoor person, I dedicate my free time to do-it-yourself home improvement projects.

The FTLOP series, Port Personalities in Focus, which 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, to the 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!