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Conversation around wine and the miseries of Portugal -

Conversation around wine and the miseries of Portugal

Last night I had dinner with a friend from Portugal and eventually we talked about the economic situation in Portugal and why the country can’t be competitive in the global market. There are a ton of theories but at that point I looked at the bottle of wine we ordered and thought that was a great example of why Portugal is in deep shit. The bottle was a red Rioja from Spain that had ‘Tempranillo’ stamped on the label.

For those who have no idea what this means, most wines from Rioja are blends although Tempranillo is the most prominent variety. Outside Europe people don’t understand blends because it’s too hard to explain. It’s easier to say ‘I like Cab, Pinot and Merlot’, which can apply to several different countries, than ‘I like Rioja, Penedes, Umbria, Veneto and Alsace’ to speak of 5 wine regions in Europe (there are dozens). So if you’re not Bordeaux, the easier way to export is to promote a variety and then allow a bunch of wines from that country to jump in the varietal bandwagon.

Spanish producers have identified this trend and have been promoting Tempranillo as their variety of choice. Then regions like Rioja use that brand to produce varietals that are roughly the same as the blends but with a more consumer-friendly label.

What about Portugal? Not so much. Let’s jump into the facts. Portugal is the 7th-8th largest wine producer in the world. It should be a large exporter given the size of the domestic market (10 million people). In addition, it has the world’s top selling wine – Mateus – and an internationally recognized brand – Port. Despite this solid base, Portugal is usually no. 9-10 in the top wine exporters and mostly thanks to Port – you can hardly find regular Portuguese wine outside Portugal. Why? You can blame the lack of consumer focus. I keep hearing producers in Portugal complaining that the consumer needs to be educated, that you shouldn’t make wine easier to drink just because the consumer wants it, or name a wine after a variety just because it’s good for marketing. They sound like the guy who’s been running his business for 4 years with no success but keeps complaining that users don’t get it. If they don’t get it after 4 years, you should change your product.

As an entrepreneur, this is something that particularly pisses me off. When businesses don’t look at the consumer as the ultimate reason why they’re in business, they’re doomed to fail. As a company, I exist because of my consumers. Consumers could not care less if I exist or not.

P.S. If you want to know my opinion, I think Portugal should promote Touriga as the variety of choice – it’s Portuguese, it’s easy to identify, and most producers are using it anyway.

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