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June 2, 2021

Alentejo the Last Frontier of Europe w/ João Gomes de Silva, Sogrape and Herdade de Peso

Alentejo the Last Frontier of Europe w/ João Gomes de Silva, Sogrape and Herdade de Peso

“The last frontier of Europe,” “A pristine region,” “A mosaic of soil varieties and temperatures” are all ways João Gomes de Silva, Board Member of Sogrape, describes the Alentejo wine region. João tells us about the evolution of Portugal’s wine industry


“The last frontier of Europe,” “A pristine region,” “A mosaic of soil varieties and temperatures” are all ways João Gomes de Silva, Board Member of Sogrape, describes the Alentejo wine region.  João tells us about the evolution of Portugal’s wine industry, the complexity of the Alentejo wine region, and how the industry has been promoting and building the brand of Alentejo wine.  From “seasoning” to amphora, there’s plenty to get excited about with Alentejo and its wines!  

Detailed Show Notes: 

  • João’s background
    • Family is in agriculture and farming
    • João is a wine lover
    • Worked in food retailing
    • Lived in Italy and Latin America
  • Sogrape background
    • Founded in 1942 by Fernando van Zeller Guedes and launched with Mateus Rose
    • A family business where they work as a professional team
    • Combination of concept wines (e.g. - Mateus) and fine wine estates (e.g. - Barca Velha, Sandeman)
    • Mateus Rose - Sogrape’s founder said it had to stand out
      • Unique bottle shape - shaped after WWI cantil (soldiers’ water bottles)
      • The label has a picture of a manor house in North of Portugal, which was to look like a French chateau
  • Portuguese Wine History
    • Early-mid 1990’s - Portugal joined the EU, lots of investment in the wine industry and a surge in domestic demand
    • 2005-2010 era - a lot of modernization happened in the wine industry
    • 2010+ - a boom in tourism in Portugal led to a boom in demand for Portuguese wine
    • Covid - demand for Portuguese wines did not dip
  • Alentejo as a wine region
    • South of Lisbon, between Lisbon and the Algarve (a beach area popular for tourists)
    • The same size as the state of Maryland, but with only 700,000 people - a sparsely populated farming area
    • One of the last areas dominated by the Moors (until the 13th century)
    • Traditionally the breadbasket of Portugal, lots of cereal, grain growing
    • Dry, warm climate (>100F in summer)
    • During Roman times, made wine in clay amphora to preserve temperature during fermentation
    • 8 sub-regions
      • Portalegre  - north part of the region, the influence of the mountains (a colder, wet climate)
      • Eastern area near Spanish border - very dry, arid, pre-phylloxera vineyards
    • A mosaic of soil types, climates, and grape varieties
    • The notion of “seasoning” important in the region (e.g., using small amounts of different grapes varieties to blend)
    • Grape varieties - a mix of traditional and international
      • Traditional - Aragones (Tempranillo), Trincadera, Moretto, Arinto, Tourigal National
      • International - Syrah, Alicante Bouschet - the star of the region
    • Vinho de Talha - wine made in the traditional Roman way in clay amphora, the only region in Portugal that has this regulation
    • Wine style - fruit-forward, rounded tannins
    • Current consumers - wine explorers and hedonists who know what they like
  • Alentejo Wine Consumption
    • Domestic - 80%
    • Export - 20%
      • Brazil - 30%
      • US, France, Poland, Switzerland - ~10% each
      • Canada, UK, Angola, China - ~5% each
    • Entry-level pricing ~$7-9 USD
    • The sweet spot is ~$20 USD to really show terroir
  • Marketing messages
    • A unique, single message (especially for US/UK markets) - “taste of the last frontier of European wine,” a pristine region
    • Brazil - talk more about individual producers as people already know Alentejo
    • Journalists / somms - talk more about winemaking techniques, bringing people to Portugal
    • Consumers - the experience at the estate or virtually tends to grab them
    • Broad / “Generic” promotion - through Wines of Portugal and CVRA (Alentejo region wine marketing body)
    • Herdade do Peso - invests in social media
    • Being closer to the distributor (and owning them) helps - has been important to the success of brands
  • Herdade do Peso, a Sogrape winery
    • Sogrape’s founder believed he could change the Alentejo industry
    • Introduced Alicante Bouschet to the region, blended it with Touriga Nacional
    • “A mix of man’s ingenuity, dream of a family, and the natural conditions found there”
    • 16 soil types, 160ha of vineyards
    • Use clay amphora to season wines, but no pure Vinho de Talha
    • Wine positioning
      • Entry-level, single estate - ~$20 USD
      • Reserva, a blend of blocks with the best expression, can age
      • Essencia - block series, best block of each year
      • Icon - only been produced twice in 30 years, the highest expression of the grape
      • Another wine (collaborating with others) in the works
  • Climate change - brought back Gobelet training, new grape varieties, use water from the artificial lake to protect plants against extreme weather
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