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LWF: Unearthing the next Porta 6

Published:  23 May, 2023

There were 20 Portuguese producers seeking representation at this year’s London Wine Fair. As a region, Portugal represents great value and quality wines, evidenced by those on display at the LWF’s ‘Wines Unearthed’ section. 

“Portugal has over 250 native grapes, many of which you won’t find anywhere else in the world,” said Sarah Ahmed, Wines of Portugal ambassador.

“It also boasts a strong diversity of soils and climates spanning 30 regions including the islands such as Madeira as well.

“The country has one of the world’s highest percentages of grape growth relative to agriculture. So from tip to toe, you’re going to find vineyards in Portugal, which created a deep-seated culture of winemaking, lots of families have their own vines, or a little cellar under the house, and all of this has preserved old traditions,” Ahmed added.

“We are seeing it, particularly with this new generation of producers in Portugal, playing around with old grape varieties and reviving old techniques,” she continued.

Portugal hasn’t necessarily gone out of its way to conform to modern winemaking trends, it has simply been exhibiting them for much longer than many of its European counterparts. Foot treading, the use of amphoras (called talhas), and skin contact during fermentation are all commonplace in Portuguese wineries and were employed to produce many of the wines showcased at this year’s LWF.

According to a 2018 study conducted at ProWein by Germany’s Geisenheim University (which polled 2,300 wine experts from 46 countries), Portugal ranked first among the most sought-after wine by exporters along with South Africa.

The single-varietal wines are also gaining traction, a move which has surely helped with consumer recognition overseas. Before, Portugal had a reputation for blending multiple, difficult-to-pronounce grape varieties together, and although the wines often recieved plaudits, they were not the easiest to market to a foreign audience.

Alvarinho, Alicante and Touriga Nacional are all prime examples of single-varietal wines with a strong international presence, including in the UK.

Why then, with all this untapped potential, do Portuguese producers struggle to penetrate the UK market?

Tomás Gonçalves, area export manager at Quinta de Ventozelo, said: “Firstly, price. Although we believe we have good prices, we understand that the custom situation can be difficult and the taxation system is very high. We don’t think it’s fair that wines with 11 or 11.5% abv have a financial advantage over wines with higher abvs in this country."

From August 2023, the taxation of alcohol will shift to a system in which duty is paid by reference to the product’s final alcohol by abv, which will penalise wines with higher volumes of alcohol. 

“In our particular case, we do explore a lot of single variety wines, which makes them easier to market to a UK audience rather than blends that contain multiple varieties that are hard to pronounce,” Gonçalves added.

Other producers cited the UK as a mature market, one that is highly competitive, where exporting opportunities can be few and far between.

André Branquinho, export manager at Caminhos Cruzados, said: “Your offer needs to be specifically tailored for that market with no margin for error, so it takes up a lot of time and effort to focus on the UK. China and Malaysia, on the other hand, are slightly more flexible and you can test whilst in the market.

“We also get a lot of conflicting advice. We were told by one supplier to stop cold calling or making emails, but how are we supposed to showcase our offering?

“If you don’t have the right contacts or connections, then things like cold calling are really your only option,” Branquinho added.

Knowing the right people is a significant step in the right direction, and when a producer has an opportunity to showcase their wines to those people, they need to grab it with both hands.

Paulo Lima, Africa and Asia area manager at Enoport Wines, said:The UK is flooded with wine from all over the world, and it costs money for an exporter to introduce a new wine to the market.

“Portuguese wine is heralded for being very cheap and good value, but, comparatively, the producers aren’t as wealthy as in other countries and don’t have the resources to take the wine to the UK market, “ Lima added.

Luck can also play its part, as evidenced by the emergence of Porta 6, the perennial Lisbon producer which can be found on most supermarket shelves in the UK.

“Opportunities are limited and you need a bit of luck, too. For example, when Porta 6 first came to the UK, there was a cooking demonstration in the Harrods department store and the chef was handed a bottle to try. It was well received by those who tried it and it soon gained traction in the UK market, which was helped by the eye-catching label.” 

The Porta 6 story is a testament to UK consumers’ appetite for Portuguese wine. Unfortunately, Portugal often comes second best to more high-profile European wine regions like France, Spain and Italy.

João Diogo Moreira, export account manager of Caves da Montanha said: “It’s difficult to find an agent interested in importing Portuguese wine, which tells me that the agents find it difficult to promote Portuguese wines in the UK.

“We try to be better than Cava and Prosecco and we are sure that we are but we don’t have the marketing capacity of a Champagne, Cava or Prosecco. We have been producing sparkling wines for over 100 years so it’s definitely not a question of lack of knowledge,” Moreira added.

Unfortunately for Portuguese producers seeking representation in the UK, there are few slots left available to fill in the coveted portfolios. If it was simply about great-tasting wine, then Portugal would be ever-present in the UK wine industry. The UK’s alcohol duties are also proving to be a stumbling block for some producers, and many may target other export regions as a result, which would be to the detriment of the UK wine industry. Only time will tell if UK agents can find room for more Portuguese wines, as those that exhibited at this year’s LWF will hope to be unearthed by 2024.