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Portuguese still wine producers' patience is paying off

Published:  09 June, 2016

While Portugal is still most famous for its fortified wines, Portuguese still wines are gaining ground in the world of wine, but it has been a long road.

Portuguese wine sales are up 6.8%, from January to April 2016 compared to a year before for the same period.  Primarily the change is due to a massive 45% increase in sales in Canada, the largest export market for Portuguese wines. The top three largest markets all saw double digit for the period. Switzerland saw sales increase 19.1% and Germany saw sales increase 35.3%.

China saw an increase of 198%, although from a relatively small base, it is still a significant increase. While Portugal is doing well in a number of its top markets in the UK, Portuguese wines saw a bit of slide in sales for the same period down 1.5% from January to April 2016.

For Portugal's largest family-owned wine business, it is not surprising that the wines are starting to gain traction globally.

"We started making still wines back in 1952- more than 60 years ago. We have always believed in the still wines of the Douro and we have always believed in Portugal.  But even 20 years ago, we were not the only ones to be producing still wines.  Now days there are huge quantities of quality wines being producer in the Douro," said head winemaker at Sogrape, Luis Sottomayor.   

Sottomayor joined the company in 1989 and now oversees the winemaking teams for all the brands of Port and Douro wines for Sogrape.

Portuguese wines more recently are becoming recognised as great value for money because of improvements in the quality of the wines coming out of the region.

"The most important reason that the wines are so much better in quality today is that our viticulture practices are so much better. There is a huge difference in how we maintain the wines throughout the year from pruning to techniques we use for grafting compared to the past. But I believe we can still improve and we can must continue to work at it," said Sottomayor.

There is an opportunity in the UK market today for Portuguese wines as more consumer are looking for something different and far more willing to explore wines from different countries.

"We are a small country and it isn't easy to compete with France, Italy or even Spain in quantities, but we can talk about what makes the Douro different. We are unique and we have native grapes that no one else has in the Douro. We are able to produce beautiful wines that are different. I think consumers now want to try something different," he said.

For Sottomayor, who has been making wine for the Sogrape family of brands for nearly 30 years, it has been a long process, but one that it starting to pay off.

He said: "We must believe in Portugal and we were patient. But this is the best way to get great results. It takes time, it isn't easy and it takes a lot hard work."