Something very strange happened to me recently and I thought I would report on it in the hope that it gets back to the people responsible and that they have a rethink. I am fully aware of my modest position in the world of wine, so none of this is about me thinking - ‘don’t they know who I am!’
Although I would point out that Quentin Sadler’s Wine Page is number 7 in the Top 10 UK Wine Blogs!
I have just returned from holiday in Portugal which is a country whose wines I hold in pretty high regard. The fact that the delights of Portuguese wines passes most UK wine consumers by is a great shame and deprives them of much pleasure and great value for money. I will write about some of the wines I experienced soon.
However I wanted to record a particular incident as I think it says much about attitudes that can be found all over Europe, but it seems to be especially prevalent in Iberia.
I do not often mix wine trips and holiday as for me they are two very different things. However, I was visiting a new bit Portugal and as I have a particular fondness and interest for sparkling wine I was keen to visit the Quinta dos Loridos which was not too far away and produces what some claim to be the country’s best sparkling wines.
To that end I sent them an email explaining who I was and that I would like to visit the winery and taste their wines with a view to reporting about them on my own blog and the highly respected Iberian wine website Catavino.com. - I was therefore rather taken aback by the reply:
Thank you for contacting us.
Our cellars are under renovations so at the moment we are not making any visits there. The only visitable place is Buddha Eden Garden. However we do have wine tastings, below are the information about them.
All wine tastings have to be schedule one or two days before. Wine tastings are made from Monday to Friday between 10a.m. and 4.30p.m. (except between 1p.m. and 2p.m.). They have a cost of 3€ per person and wine. If you chose to taste 2 wines we offer the taste of the Moscatel 99 for 6€ a person. We can add cashew and almonds for 1€ extra or cheese and crackers for 3€ extra.
Now, obviously the renovations were unfortunate and nothing could be done about that, but here I am a member of the Circle of Wine Writers and FIGEV, the European equivalent, and I was just fobbed off with an unwelcoming standard reply. I wrote back, explaining again, but received no answer at all.
Being somewhat stubborn I hoped it was all a misunderstanding and once in Portugal I went there anyway and it was an interesting, if frustrating, experience. The winery and estate is clearly marked with roadsigns and is very beautiful. They have made a great deal of effort to make the estate a destination for tourists with their beautifully done Buddha Eden Garden resembling some of the things you find in American theme parks – there was even a little train to take the visitors around and an attractive café.
However I am a wine writer, not a garden man – even if they are really well done – and this is a wine estate. As entry to the Buddha Garden is free I assume it is a way to get people in to the winery and more importantly the winery shop. The shop was good, it was very big and offered a large range and had the feel of a winery shop in the new world. However there were no wines on tasting – either for free or in return for money. As a consequence the whole place felt dull and sleepy.
When I presented my card and explained who I was and that I wanted to taste their sparkling wines I was informed in a very offhand manner that all tastings should be booked in advance and they could not help me. Now what struck me about that was that surely their wines should be the focus, they should be proud of what they produce and want visitors to taste them and buy them. If they had been giving tastings, whether free or for a small charge, then the place could have been buzzing. As it was the place was deadly quiet and the few customers I saw left empty handed. Handled in the right way every visitor would have bought something.
I am absolutely certain too that most visitors to the region would be unable or unwilling to arrange a tasting in advance – who wants to be tied down like that when on holiday? Obviously the professional visit that I had been asking for needed to be arranged in advance, although actually many of my best winery visits have been organised on the spur of the moment.
It seems such a shame when I think about all the winery shops in South Africa, New York State, Virginia or California that I have seen, all eager for you to try and to buy, all proud of their products and wanting to spread the word about their wines to as wide an audience as possible. Quinta dos Loridos was so promising, they had a lovely building and a car park full of people, but completely wasted their efforts as far as I could see. The whole thing, emails and visit was very irritating and although I wanted a proper trade visit and to be treated with a little respect as a bona fide wine professional, I would have been equally irritated if I was a normal tourist turning up at a well signposted winery only to be told that I could not taste any wines, but was welcome to buy them.
It seems to me that they have wasted all their efforts to make it a place that people visit if visitors are leaving empty handed, as they were. I understand that very small family wineries might find visits hard to cope with, but this place is part of a big company. I urge them and other wineries in Iberia that I have come across to visit some of the bustling, lively and attractive winery shops around the world - like the award winning tasting room at Heron Hill Winery in New York’s Finger Lakes in the photo above – and to see that they are wasting a terrific showcase for their wines.
Hell, they could even employ me as a consultant to help turn that shop into a lively and inviting place…