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'Selling brand Portugal' - by Bernard Barbuk

Published:  23 July, 2008

As far as the UK market is concerned, Portugal has always been the bridesmaid, never the bride. It has often seemed on the verge of breakthrough, but has never quite managed it.

There are just four ways for Portugal's wines to go. It could do what palpably it hasn't done yet: find a way to sell on those exciting varietals. Alternatively it could make a serious effort to promote its regional styles as stylistic 'brands' or encourage the growth of strong producer brands linked to regional styles. Or finally, it could concentrate on value-for-price - convincing consumers that the best Portuguese offer is worth paying a premium for.

Asked to respond to these questions and choices, this is what a group of VIP figures from Portuguese winemaking and the UK wine trade told Harpers.


The UK consumer is accustomed to buying varietal wines but do any Portuguese varieties have a chance of becoming household names? And what would happen if, say, Touriga Nacional, became a major New World grape?

Johnny Powel, of importer Stephens Garnier:

'I don't believe that there is a consensus in Portugual in favour of any particular grape variety - or that there needs to be. The most successful varieties are those that sell. I think if Australia started to follow Touriga Nacional or any of the Portuguese varieties, it would draw attention back to Portugal.'

Nick Room, wine buyer, Waitrose:

'Portuguese varieties are too little known in the UK to progress against the "internationals". The wines must taste Portuguese, but I favour some blending to get the product right for the UK market. Meanwhile the best Portuguese varieties should be grown more in Portugal and sold harder abroad.'

Jean-Luc Vincent, for Domaines Baron de Rothschild-Lafite (Alentejo):

'In world terms I don't think Portuguese varieties have any chance of becoming blockbuster varietals. Nor, as varietals, do they easily make consistent and well-balanced wines. The richness of Portugal is in the blending: the most important step being to blend the right percentage of each variety, each year! '

Franois Lurton, international grower:

'Portuguese wines have a very small perspective on the mass market: they are not known, their production is small, their costs very high. Consequently they must go for very high-end quality. Personally I don't think Touriga Nacional has a future on the labels.'

Luis Pato, one-man brand Barraida producer:

'I believe Touriga National can be our "wine knight", if we avoid vinifying it at over 15%. But it needs to be blended and it will be a problem if it becomes known in an Australian form, with minty and rubberish flavours from over-ripe grapes. The only Portuguese red grape that can be a single varietal is Baga, but it needs time to evolve its primary flavours, and this is against the trend.'

Nick Oakley, Oakley Wine Agencies:

'For now, we believe in coupling Portuguese varieties with international ones - Shiraz/Trincadeira, Castelo/Merlot, Cabernet/Aragones - aiming to eventually offer Portuguese single varietals. Touriga Nacional is too overpowering for the

British market: I'd go for Trincadeira and maybe Castelo.'

Bill Rolfe, of importer 10 International, for D&F:

'I have long thought that Portugal should play to its strengths and promote its indigenous grape varieties, in a mixed approach with developing regional and producer brands.'

Ben Campbell-Johnston, Symington Family Estates/John E Fells:

'Producers should work with varieties and blends that produce the best balanced wines - not sacrifice complexity for simplicity. Touriga Nacional is a top-quality flagship, not generally found in the mass market. It would surprise me enormously if Australia latched onto it in a major way'.


Categorisation by region is traditional for Portugal's wines, but does that make it the best way or just, pragmatically, the only way?

Johnny Powel:

'Most Portuguese wines will continue to be sold on their traditional regional basis. But brand names are also part of the Portuguese tradition, usually bracketed with their region: like Sogrape's Duque de Visieu, Do. Many single-quinta wines are becoming brands in their own right.'

Nick Room:

'I believe it is best to market the regions as distinct entities, allowing the producers some flexibility in making wines true to type but in a modern way, utilising local blending options.'

Jean-Luc Vincent:

'Regionalism is the only possible way!'

Bill Rolfe:

'We are planning to introduce a range of regional wines from Do, Douro and the Alentejo under the Dom Ferraz brand name. This is part of what I mean by a "mixed approach".'

Franois Lurton:

'Alentejo is ideal for UK supermarkets - it even produces decent volumes of international varieties. But it doesn't have the potential to create an elite group of 50 wines, like the Douro, with its famous wine houses from the Port wine business, now investing in table wines.'

Ben Campbell-Johnson:

'We believe Douro will become Portugal's principal region for quality red wine - consumers' awareness that it also produces Port being a further endorsement. Bruno Prats joint venture with us in Chryseia shows he is convinced that Douro can produce wines comparable to the best Bordeaux, Burgundy or Tuscan wines.

Nick Oakley:

'Alentejo could eventually succeed on a stand-alone basis. But supermarket prices at 3.99 don't help, when its strength is in the 4.99-6 99 bracket. The same thing is happening with generic Do, leading to wine that is highly uncharacteristic of this fine region.


Branding is part of the Portuguese tradition too, but the trouble with leaving producer brands to champion individual regions is that their ranges usually include plonk as well as premiums, and their main task is selling themselves. It's more a question of what is on the front label, and in what size letters.

On pricing, Portuguese wine may be great value over 5, but you still have to get people to pay more because it's Portuguese. Much is made of the New Zealand example. But the Kiwis do it in English, and have a very special relationship with the UK.

Nick Oakley:

'It's "brand Portugal" that's important at this stage. My own company is building up Tagus Creek, Cork Grove and Star Mountain, intended to be customer friendly. Portugal needs to bring unit costs down, but it offers exceptional value wines above 5 UK shelf price.'

Jean-Luc Vincent:

'Portugal needs a larger range of premium wines (6-9) to be the strong reference for the image of its wine. The Alentejo has the potential to provide this brand category. The promotion for each region should explain the particularities of its premium/characteristic wines, not the region per se.'

Nick Room:

'Producers should stick to what they do best and they need to think carefully about their presentation, over-deliver on quality and tailor the whole offer for the UK. As for the prices, there are some examples of short-supply, higher-end wines, but there are also some great wines at the lower end.'

Franois Lurton:

'Portugal should follow the Kiwi example, rather than the Chilean model: low (expensive) volumes; rather than (cheap) high ones. An advantage the Douro has as a region is that many of the houses investing in table wines are already celebrated for their Port wine.'

Johnny Powel:

'As the agent for Sogrape - Mateus, Gazela Vinho Verde, Duque de Viseu (Do), Ferreirinha (Douro), Herdade do Peso (Alentejo) - Stephens Garnier feels that those brands probably do more for the ' reputation of their regions than vice versa. But eventually, the benefits of association will be equal. As for prices, Portugal is often over-delivering on value at all price points.'

Luis Pato:

'Small producers must promote their wines as brands; but in Portugal, except for Ribatejo, it is not possible to compete with the cheap wines of the New World.'

Bill Rolfe:

'If you are going to sell wines you may as well promote your own brand name. Personally, I think many Portuguese wines are too cheap. Portugal should concentrate on better quality and ultimately put its prices up.'

Ben Campbell-Johnson:

'We have been very proactive in promoting "brand Duoro" with our very successful New Douro promotions, focusing the wine world's attention on the top 18 quality producers. Portugal will never be able to compete with the big New World brands, because the nature of its production and structure is too fragmented.'

Reality check. Portugal is the world's sixth-largest wine producer. But it ranks 11th in the UK market. Averages for price per litre (see table opposite) are doubtless distorted by the ros and Vinho Verde sectors.