Ligia Marques is the first woman I met in the Port trade who had achieved an executive position; at a time when that was quite a rarity. I was immediately struck by her encyclopedic knowledge of the historical aspects of Port, as well as her exceptional understanding of the viticulture and viniculture of the Douro. Ligia was working for Sandeman at the time and has since been promoted to take on even greater responsibility, as the Brand Ambassador for Sogrape Vinhos.
When I think of Ligia, the first descriptors that come to mind are: “impressive and “dynamic” -- as I’ve met very few women in the trade with her global perspective on Port, and her sheer magnetic personality. I was fortunate to catch up and spend some time with Ligia along with George Sandeman last month during our group’s visit to the dazzling, remodeled Quinta do Seixo, fittingly our final appointment in the Douro. It affords me the opportunity to introduce you to Ligia Marques:
Here is Ligia’s story in her own words:
1. How did you break into the Port trade and at what age?
Wine business has quite a few great stories that are the result of sheer luck. Mine is no great event in our industry … but my introduction to the Port wine trade is also the result of a lucky strike as well. As you know, I am native to another great wine region in Portugal – the Dão region; vineyards, lagares, wine, etc., are part of my childhood memories, both at my parents’ and grandparents’. Nothing commercial though. Port wine has always been present at home, but that’s all I knew about it.
I took my studies and graduated to work in foreign affairs and, following university, worked in Lisbon for several years. Then I decided I wanted to move north, to a different city, none in particular. I had several work proposals, none of them “the” one. One fine day, I got the word that Sandeman had a public relations position open and wondered “what if…” I decided to call in, passed through the first interviews and had the final one with … George Sandeman (“Oh my god, Mister George Sandeman” – panic!). And that’s it – the beginning to my story, one that I feel has been a very rewarding one. The year was 1991, I was 26.
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?
It depends on each moment; my refrigerator usually houses one White Port and one or two Aged Tawnies (10YO or 20YO). They normally keep company to a Fino and/or one Amontillado Sherry, some bubbles. I use Port wine a lot either in an aperitif, cocktails, enjoy a glass while I’m cooking or to accompany a cheese bite, a pâté or terrine; and indulge with a dark chocolate and a tempting half bottle of Sandeman Vau Vintage.
It is difficult to pinpoint 2 or 3 of the greatest Port wines I ever tried as there are many outstanding wines out there. Flashing back to some moments that marked me, I would list a couple of Vintage Ports – the Sandeman 1927 (tasted at the “Vintage of the Century Tasting” held in 1999 in Oporto, hosted by the IVP) and the Sandeman 1945 Vintage (I tasted it three times over the years and it has always charmed me). And I have to list a wine that we can find today and that I must confess a sweet spot for: the Sandeman 40 Year Old Tawny. I can joke saying that maybe it’s the age factor as I also classify as a 40 year old 😉 … But it’s beyond it. I remember well when Carlos Silva, the head taster, blended it in 1999, after several years of focusing more on the 30 Year Old. It’s a magnificent wine, a perfected jewel that shows the alchemy of nature, man and time working together. With this wine, I often catch myself gazing at its mesmerizing amber color and, while savoring the never-ending layers of its lively age, thinking about the decades of quiet care and attention by generations of anonymous people. It’s a very unselfish wine; yet the best tribute to everyone who cared for them along the way.
3. Besides Ports from your own company, what others do you most enjoy drinking?
As you very wisely put it, I drink more often Port wines from brands that are part of Sogrape Vinhos – and that is equivalent to saying I am spoiled as I have the opportunity to choose from outstanding Ports from both Ferreira and Offley, besides Sandeman. A Porto wine like the Ferreira 10 Year Old White, for example, is another one that makes me think “thank you God for all the ‘stubborn’!” that keep believing there’s a place for aged whites in the ‘youthful’ world we live in. With other companies and brands, and fortunately for the industry, there are many good wines to be enjoyed, but I confess I feel awkward to single one out. I hope you will forgive me for that…
4. What brings you the most joy in what you do within the Port trade?
Naturally, I’m always happy to see our wines succeed as a result of my direct activity. But it’s never about one single person’s accomplishment. I’m also happy to see others succeed as that makes a stronger Port wine trade. Other than that, the things that bring me the most joy are at a very personal level:
1) the sparkle in anyone’s eyes, regardless of how much or little they know, when they have tasted something different or something got a new meaning – that elusive moment that changes their perception forever, the “coup de coeur” as they fell in love for the first time or yet again with Port wine;
2) when a co-worker or anyone in the Douro or Gaia – whomever, in the vineyards, cellars, tasting room, etc. – is eager to tell me, also with a glow in their eyes, about a new accomplishment (a new system in the vines, a new wine, any breakthrough…). They are so happy to add something to a great heritage and share it. It humbles me and makes me proud to be to a certain extent “their voice” when I am travelling.
5. Would you please share one piece of unique trivia or historical information about your company that would be new to FTLOP readers?
There are so many things that build over centuries… I’ve chosen one historical curiosity I’m not sure you’ve seen before referring one of our advertising posters – “The Centaur” (1926).
“The Centaur” is a fantastic poster from a very creative era that would soon bring the “Sandeman Don” poster (1928). It was a quite controversial poster, creation of Jean d’Ylen. That leads us to this story as it impressed one particular lady so much she decided to write Sandeman and complain.
The letter dates from Aug. 25th 1926 and was signed by Mrs. Smith of Smith and Co., a bakery in Leicester, UK.
The letter reads:
Going down Nedham St, yesterday, I noticed a poster advertising your noted Sandeman Port Wine. To say the least of it I was thoroughly disgusted with the picture. The ‘supposed’ man’s expression is absolutely diabolical and lustful. The woman’s pitiful and pleading. Is the woman to climb up the devils back (excuse the expression) for a glass of wine? As a business woman & one who likes a glass of Sandemans in reason I very much object to it, especially as my friends – both male & female – are commenting on the advert and not to its credit.
On receipt of the above letter, Mr. Hugh Ponsonby (the Export Manager in Sandeman’s London Office) felt inspired and wrote the following limerick:
It seems there’s a lady in Leicester
Who wouldn’t say no if you pressed her
But the trollop who rides
On the wild horse’s sides
Has put her off Port and depressed her
On May 1926, the “Poster and Outdoor Advertising Magazine” wrote:
It is a very characteristic example of d’Ylen fantastic art, and will no doubt win the hearty disapproval of the conservative school in the advertising world.
6. Which individual has been your greatest mentor and how have they inspired you?
I’ve told you I’m spoiled! I mean it as I have the chance to come across, meet and work with (now and in the past) people that I admire and respect, people that make me better, and that are in my view the kind of people history is made of. At Sogrape Vinhos there are names for history and names that will be only ours to cherish as bonds of a greater body, the team. Inspiration makes us dream and a solid body will get us there – Mr. Fernando Guedes, a living legend from whom I always learn something when I’m with him.
Great winemakers like Luis Sottomayor, responsible for our Port and Douro wines. His true passion for wines is served by knowledge and always delivered with seemingly no-hurry and a boyish smile that lights his face.
But, if we are to consider a mentor, the natural name is George Sandeman. I am honored to work with him for almost 20 years now. We have shared good and challenging moments. George is a gentleman, with a one of a kind sense of humor; he is knowledgeable and willing to share. He challenges you but never forgets to give you his critique in a good way or thank you for a job well done. He will tell you what he thinks but always avoids hurting anyone. He honors his word, fights for his beliefs and dares to move further. If he is wrong he will recognize it, but he will always try to make it right, at the first attempt. He won’t ask of you anything he wouldn’t do. He is unpretentious and truly reaches out to anyone. That is a top factor in my list of what turns good into great. He continues a lifetime endeavor to defend Port and Portuguese wines.
7. What is the greatest challenge facing the Port trade today?
Risking sounding too obvious, I believe it is consumer tasting, i.e. getting people to really taste Port wines, the real Port wines and as they should be tasted. I’m not sure this is “the” greatest challenge but, personally, I think this is a critical one. And that regardless of age brackets or drinking habits.
What do I mean?
Getting people to taste Port wines – in my daily experience I often meet people that haven’t had a Port wine in their life, ever, and some already “know” they don’t like it. Or so they think and tell you; the moment they taste it the words you hear the most are “wow”, “I didn’t know I liked Port”, “where can I find it”, etc. It feels like some people have some taboo towards Port wine that, as an industry, we need to address and strive to make it always even more appealing. But there are other elements contributing as well as many people don’t have that taboo and can enjoy Port wine… if we help.
Examples: sometimes it isn’t easy to find Port wine in a wine shop – often they are on the farthest possible shelf or one with difficult access, or placed amidst “exotic” wines, spirits or liqueurs, showing dusty bottles,… in short not appealing or user-friendly to any consumer that surely wouldn’t be tempted to try it. This then becomes a cycle as someone will conclude Port wines are not selling because they are old fashioned or some other reason that has nothing to do with it. To support this example, a wine shop owner/manager needs to think Port wines in the same way they need to think any other wine in the shop and make them appealing and adapted to their clients. Still thinking at shop level, often people buy wines for a dinner or party with friends at home; systematically they forget about dessert – that crucial moment that seals a great gathering! A simple suggestion at the wine shop would make a huge difference to those people as they enjoyed a glass of a chilled 10 Year Old Tawny with their apple pie or of a Founders Reserve with a cheesecake with berries. Sometimes, it just takes a suggestion.
Taste the original Port wines – another challenge as sometimes people have a poor impression of Port wine and they never tasted a real one. They may have tasted other fortified or a dessert wine, they may even have tasted a so called “cooking port”, but they never had the real thing. Yet, their idea of a Port is built and it’s a wrong one. Try the real thing. There are so many options and prices…
“How do I know it’s genuine?” - look for the guarantee stamp in the neck of the bottle, ask at the shop.
Then, one may say I prefer this or the other style, I prefer this or that brand, but they have tasted it.
Enjoy them as they should be enjoyed – and I do not mean at the end of a large dinner or in a winter day by the fire place! That’s also a great experience but this is a wine not just for the holidays or during the cold season. It’s way beyond that. In fact, we are now in a great season for Port wine as it may be warm outside but homes and restaurants in the US are quite cold during summer months!
Port is also one of the most versatile wines around, mostly bottled fully matured and ready to drink and, once opened, a non-Vintage bottle keeps for several weeks expanding its life/usage. If we consider everyone has a sweet tooth and there’s dessert everywhere, wouldn’t it be great if you were offered a Port wine option matching a dessert rather than asking if you want a coffee or tea? A Port wine matching your chocolate dessert or crème brûlée would add to your experience and expand knowledge. Sometimes we don’t think of it and it’s great to have a wine recommendation or endorsement. Speaking of experience, why not consider using a nice white wine glass to enjoy a Port wine vs. a tiny liqueur glass where the wine feels almost trapped! Sometimes people comment they don’t have a proper glass but they just need to look again at their glassware and they will find one that works well. Last but not least, Port wines are also left open for months, loosing freshness and sitting at the bar or in warm areas, rather than being stored in a cooler place or cellar with other wines. “Open bottle” life and temperature are simple factors that make a huge difference. Would you enjoy drinking a great sparkling or champagne served a bit warm from a bottle open 2+ months ago?! Probably not…
There are so many things that daily contribute to building a poor rather than a good perception of Port wine. The challenge the Port wine trade faces is bigger than this, with many elements to consider, but I believe the daily “small” decisions taken by all of us in the industry – at any level, by anyone that is in contact with Port wines, from producers and institutions to importers, distributors, retailers, restaurateurs, sommeliers, press, educators... – add up and make a huge impact. We all can do our part to help consumers taste Port better.
8. Can you share one new project or improvement that your company is involved with?
As you may imagine, we have several projects working, from viticulture and environmental areas to corporate and social responsibility. By its relevance in future behaviors towards wine, I probably would highlight the Social Responsibility – promotion of moderate consumption as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Wine is part of Iberian culture for over 3,000 years. Wine now faces growing challenges as it has alcohol content and that places it among the beverages that can create health issues when consumed in excess. However, we feel:
1) wine consumed in moderation can be part of a healthy lifestyle;
2) wine is part of the history and culture of Southern European countries, involving millions of people;
3) social responsibility is the key to our future.
Sogrape Vinhos is fully committed to promote responsibility in the consumption of wine and encourage a culture of moderation through the “Wine in Moderation” program (www.wineinmoderation.eu). This is a unique opportunity to secure the legitimate place of wine in European society, to allow the sustainable development of responsible business and educate consumers in the culture of wine as part of a healthy diet.
The “Wine in Moderation” program is an initiative of the European wine sector aimed at promoting moderation and responsibility in wine consumption and contributing towards preventing excessive consumption and misuse of alcoholic beverages in Europe. The program has a common message, supported by three platforms:
Wine Communications standards – that build on existing national self-regulation codes inducing moderation and responsibility in the consumption of wine.
Wine Information Council (WIC) – that shares “best practices”, information and scientific research as well as creates a data base across the European wine sector organizations in the EU member states.
“Art de Vivre” educational programs – that encourage a cultural change in the approach to consuming, educate consumers to appreciate wine responsibly as part of a healthy lifestyle while familiarize them with the risks of abuse and misuse of wine allowing informed and responsible decisions.
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?
I believe we need to encourage more consumers to taste Port wine while communicating more efficiently. I’m a firm believer in promoting new ways to enjoy Port wine, complementing the “classic ways”, enriching the range of sensations it can give you. The new ways to enjoy should bring Port to consumers as part of their normal habits and daily life rather than trying to impose dramatically different ways. You know I like to “challenge” people and surprise with disruptive things but we also need to have some level of “comfort zone” otherwise it becomes an oddity soon to be forgotten.
Having said that, I would say cocktails – everyone loves them and Port wine based cocktails have the great added value of offering lots of flavor with lower alcohol (base is 20ºabv vs. the double in distils). Cocktails bring Port wine to other drinking moments, before or with meals, can enter the lounge and club scenes (usually out of reach to a traditional Port wine glass) and are a great alternative to expand the usage of a bottle. Restaurants and bars have the glassware and the ingredients needed, more mixologists and bartenders are discovering Port wine’s versatility, and consumers will always try new cocktails.
In terms of communication, there will always be a need to educate as new consumers enter the market daily and the world today is very fast. As an industry we need to adapt to the new communication codes, flows and media. Always keeping it simple and effective as too much information … is simply too much! We also need to take full advantage of the magnificent Douro Valley and the traditional ageing cellars as privileged communications tools to all the potential consumers that visit us and Port wine in Portugal. Just think of the recent feeling your group had when they visited us at Quinta do Seixo in the Douro… It’s a unique experience that lives forever and can be locally revived when they went back home not only by photos or videos, but also when they choose to enjoy a Port wine simply or in a cocktail, with cheese or a meal, with a dessert or a cigar.
10. What non-wine activities do you enjoy?
I’m dull! I’m sorry, I cannot share anything very exciting. I like things most people like, I guess. I like to be with my family and with my friends. I like to read. I like music, art (painting and photography), opera. I like fresh air, sun and wind; I like to walk. I’m not a sports person; other than occasionally climbing steep vineyards in the Douro, I like to swim. After an intense work period, I like to just vegetate wherever, do nothing, almost as in a mental rinse.
Strange as it may seem given my activity, I like to travel, wander and discover new places, cities, cultures. I like food and travelling naturally includes gastronomy… and wines, but that’s not work.
The FTLOP series, Port Personalities in Focus, which alternates with A Question for the Port Trade every other month, proudly introduces one of the most dynamic women in the Port business. 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!