Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What does Portugal need to do?

So Portugal has a problem - what does it do about it?

Well one thing for sure is that consumers need to be taught that Portuguese wine is not all pink, and that the best stuff is red or white.
I have a theory that there is a particular path that regions or countries take when they come to public prominence.

1. Wine writers and critics start to create a bit of a buzz.
2. Independent merchants pick up on it and build a range.
3. They then get consumers tasting more, and build a reputation built on quality.
4. Specialist chains join the fun, promoting wines, and getting them into the mouths of consumers.
5. Consumers start to buy the wines and the buzz builds.
6. Supermarket buyers pick up on the buzz and increase the range, promote and sell more wine from that region / country / grape and the buzz builds and builds.

It appears that ViniPortugal is most interested in trying to come in at stage 6, when in fact they ought to be trying to start at the top. There is also the "tourist" effect - thousands of British holiday makers go on holiday to Portugal every year - it is a tourist destination. If Vini Portugal wants to grow in the UK, then starting with tourists the Algarve could be a terrific way to start.

What ViniPortugal needs to do is a multi-path approach to take advantage of what has gone on before. Lessons can be learned from Argentinian Malbec for instance - the Portuguese are rightly proud of Touriga Nacional (and others) but they don't realise how little recognition the grape has outside Portugal.

So the plan should perhaps look at something like this.

1. Get journalists and writers buzzing - how many really get Portugal and can you wow them?
2. Market and Advertise generically - Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Vinho Verde, Douro and Alentejo would be a good start.
3. Pick some sites in the Algarve and either put in place some wine tourism attractions, or put in place wine bar type things - but get tourists tasting, and recognising what they are tasting. The problem at the moment is that a lot of wine sold in restaurants is jug wine which noone will recognise when they get back.
4. Support the independent sector, provide training for staff, funding for tastings, incentives for listings. Actually pick a specific month / period of time to do a promotion - and give indies a reason to get involved - that way the whole industry gets a push at the same time.
5. Work in specific arenas - Get Vinho Verde the reputation the best wines deserve by serving them at public events - take a note out of Spains Tapas Fantasticas event.
6. Get into restaurants - help wholesalers sell to the on trade.
7. Work with Majestic and Oddbins - get listings and support them to put them into the mouths of consumers. They can influence more people than almost anyone else, so use them. Get them to do a promotion that follows on from the Indies month - if you get the journos talking in week 1, indies working weeks 1-4 and then can follow it up with the multiples in weeks 5-8 then you might be in business.
8. Make the focus on "quality" wines not the £4.49 rubbish that is hawked in the supermarkets.
9. Think about Christmas - merchants across the country sell more wine and are more active with tastings than at any other time - give them money to pay for bottles of wine to be opened at as many events as possible.
10. Only go to the supermarkets with money as a last resort. If people want Portuguese wines the supermarkets will go that way anyhow, if you think the money you give them is doing you any good then you don't understand uk supermarkets who will take money from anyone, lie through their teeth about what it is spent on and will gain you nothing.
11. Remember Jacob's Creek got so big because of independent merchants, Oz Clarke and quality (then) and not because they sidled up to supermarkets. Argentine Malbec came first from Journalists.

All that is very conventional, however there are other routes. The internet is massive - get bloggers on side - host blogger events that are high quality and free to come to, ask bloggers if you can send samples of wines, work with online publications such as Wine-Pages to get editorial written, hit the national newspapers, think of viral advertising - make an intriguing film and post it on You Tube. Get James May and Oz Clarke to do some online live tastings with wines that can be bought in Tesco not Waitrose.

There is so much that can be done, some is happening and some is not, oh and if you are another country looking to get in on the act - then following this advice will work for you too.


Nick Oakley said...

What you describe in your blog is almost exactly the programme that ViniPortugal have in place, currently, for the UK market. There are bursaries for independent merchants, to support activity that involves opening bottles and getting the liquid down the throats of human beings. Journalistic support is excellent - Jamie Goode, Sarah Ahmed, Tom Cannavan, Charles Metcalfe and many others write regularly on the subject. Portugal is the only country that has and Association of Importers (APWI) working directly with the promotional agency (ViniPortugal) specifically so that they can best direct their efforts. What better system than having UK traders direct the sensible use of inward funding? APWI has been instrumental in launching several initiatives over the last five years including the annual Portuguese Wine Awards, held annually at the ambassador's residence, the '50 Great' Portuguese wines event which is chosen by the winning journalists, the 'City tastings' which are directed specifically at distributive wholesalers in the UK regions, and always with wines that are available for immediate distribution.
This post only touches lightly on the activities of ViniPortugal and APWI, but intelligent and clear thinking contributions like your own are more than welcome.
Hope this helps to paint a fuller picture for your readers.

timmyc said...

Nick, You make some good points, and you point out that I don't have all the things that ViniPortugal do.
Equally it seems that my post seems to have left people with the impression that everything is bad - when as your comment shows there is a lot of good things going on.

But, and it is a large but - Portuguese imports are still dominated by pink wines, and for a country that is producing so many high quality wines the sales and number of wines listed by merchants remain small.

You say that journalists are supporting the wines - and yes they are - at least some are - you mention four - I'd love to see Oz Clarke, Jancis, Tim Atkin following suit - the wines I think are good enough!

I still think that training is a big part, both for more wine writers and for the trade.

You ask what better system is there, and I'm not going to say there is a better system - what I will do is point to the figures that suggest that at present it isn't working all that well.

Portugese Wine Awards might be great - but what do they actually achieve in terms of tangible sales?

Look, I'm not saying people aren't trying, I'm not saying that things are not better today than ten years ago - but what I am saying is that things could be better.