Tag Archives: Casella Wines

Lunch with Sandra & Jorge

“It is a scientific art, winemaking,” explains Jorge. “It is knowledge and feeling, and you have to be very, very careful with the small details.”

C and I listen carefully. Jorge speaks thoughtfully, almost reflective, as if he chooses the words for us to really understand.

It is so great, being here in this lovely garden, talking wine and winemaking with Jorge. But the lunch did not start in the same happy mood.

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The chair at the end of the table is empty. C and I sit next to the empty place. Chat and have a nice time with our neighbours on the other side. Still, I am a bit disappointed. Had hoped that Sandra should be in that chair, but her place turned out to be on the other end of the table. Far away from us. No talking distance.

The long table stands in the garden at Quinta do Passadouro in Vale de Mendiz. A beautiful valley, close to Pinhão in the classic district Cima Corgo of the Douro valley. It is in the middle of May, wonderfully sunny and warm as a Swedish summer day. The garden is pIeasantly green with trees and bushes and at the end a nice view over terraced vineyards where light brown soil shines between the vines.

Sandra pours us the Passadouro Vinho Branco 2013 and we exchange a few words about the wine. Cool climate grapes, grown about 50 km away, to the northeast. Here the soil is schist. There partly granite.

“The granite brings nice mineral notes to the wine and the grapes get a longer maturation period, even if they are grown at the same altitude as here,” Sandra tells us and disappears. Far away. Had wanted to ask more. It feels like that other end of the long table is so distant, as if it was on the other side of the crafted valley.

Sandra is the renowned Sandra Tavares da Silva. The female part of the married winemaker couple behind the acclaimed wines from Wine & Soul. She is also winemaker at Quinta do Vale Dona Maria and at her parents estate closer to Lisbon, Quinta de Chocapalha. Today it was Sandra who welcomed us to Quinta do Passadouro, as her husband, the winemaker of Passadouro, had been held up elsewhere.

Then suddenly it just happens. A slim, dark-haired man in blue shirt and jeans has materialized next to the lunch table.

“Hello, my name is Jorge,” he says and sits down. Sits down on the empty chair next to C and me!

“Hello, welcome”, we say with one voice and smile to each other. Happiness has arrived. There will be some wine chat between the bites and the wines from Quinta do Passadouro and Wine & Soul. Winemaker conversation with Jorge Serôdio Borges.

Jorge has, like Sandra, many projects ongoing. He is the winemaker of Quinta do Passadouro and, since some years, also co-owner. In addition to Wine & Soul, the familiy owned quintas today also comprise Quinta da Manoella, located not far from here. And he runs the joint project M.O.B. in Dão with his fellow Douro winemakers.

Jorge Serôdio Borges
Jorge Serôdio Borges

We have the next white wine in our glasses, Guru 2012. I make a comment about the elegance and the perfect balance of the wines. And hit the nail on the head.

“Balance and elegance, that is our philosophy of winemaking,” says Jorge.

“Interesting,” I say, thinking about the conversation I had the other day on the subject with Mafalda at Quinta do Côtto. “I say elegant. You say elegant. But what is your definition of elegance?”

“It is a wine that first of all is balanced,” explains Jorge after a short initial pause. “It has finesse, freshness and a very good acidity. Of course, the fruit and the identity of the grape has to be there too. It is the combination of these components that contributes to the profile of the wine. So, it is a wine that gives you pleasure to drink. That is for me elegance.”

That part about the acidity is important. The philosophy turns out to start in the vineyard, not surprisingly. With finesse in the grapes. The yield is controlled by adapting or limiting the amount of nutrition. Vines with too much vigour will for example have to compete with grass between the rows. The pruning is another important part, to get the right balance of the canopy and the right shading of the grapes, to protect them from the sun.

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We smell the aromas from the Quinta do Passadouro Touriga Nacional 2011. Just recently awarded a gold medal at the International Wine Challenge. Floral notes together with the fruit.

To get a wine with finesse, the grapes must not be overripe. That is especially important for Touriga Nacional explains Jorge.

“We like Touriga Nacional when it is not just black fruit, but also some flowers and a touch of vegetables, in a good sense. The combination gives elegance to Touriga Nacional.”

Finesse, acidity, grape character. We discuss picking date. The decision about picking date is very important. Especially for the tannins Jorge explains. The key is to known each plot very, very well, and for each year to learn more.

Jorge made his first wine 1996, 18 years old. Since then, he has made many wines, but “only” 18 vintages. 18 years with different conditions. 18 times to learn. That is the particular circumstance of winemaking, so closely connected to the seasons passing by.

“How do you organise all knowledge?” I wonder and image a huge excel sheet in front of me. That is when Jorge laughs and starts talking about personal knowledge and about feeling. About winemaking as an art, a scientific art. And that it is all in the details.

2011 was a fantastic vintage in Douro. You would think that 18 vintages crowned by 2011 should calm the ambitions. The answer on my question if he still has a dream, a vision to strive towards, shows how wrong I am.

“A winemaker cannot loose the hope to make better wine,” says Jorge and explains that he all the time has the head full of ideas. To test new things, explore Portugal’s treasure of grapes and not least develop the white wines.

Jorge make a comparison with Bourgogne where the development work so to say already is done. In Douro winemakers are in the middle of the process. Which are the best grapes? Which plots are best for what? That is a big challenge for everyone in the Douro valley, a challenge met with excitement, enthusiasm and cooperation between the winemakers. They often taste together and cooperate for example in marketing activities.

“It is really a privilige to work in Douro right now,” Jorge says with emphasis. “I am the fifth generation in a family of winemakers in the Douro. The previous four were totally focussed on port wine. It was only about 20 years ago that we started to focus on the red wines. We are creating a style.”

After our Douro journey we can conclude that the style is far away from the robust and rustic wines of earlier times. Tight elegance and balance are instead the words in vouge.

We remain at the table, enjoying the last drops of port and get a lesson from Jorge in the art of holding a port wine glass. Sandra has said goodbye a long time ago.

What did we get for lunch? Not a clue, don’t remember. Something simple. The gorgeous wines, the people and the winetalk, that on the other hand, will I not forget.

Sandra Tavares da Silva and Jorge Serôdio Borges

About Quinta do Passadouro and Wine & Soul’s wines, to be continued…

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Amazing stories of great wine brands

Passion for wine and business. Two sides of winemaking throughout history. When ingeniously combined, a great and celebrated wine can be born. But great brands? Is it passion for wine or is it passion for business behind such achievements?

The Ho Bryan story
One of the stories fascinating me on this theme is the one about “Ho Bryan”. A history stretching centuries back in time. And a story about a brand still on top after 350 years. It must be the first example of conscious brand building in the world of wine. 

Hugh Johnson has described the remarkable rise of this luxury brand in the book I love most when it comes to wine history; “The Story of Wine”. 

We start around the year 1200. London had then reached the position as the prime export market of Bordeaux wine. The position was realised after a chain of events, which began when the incredible Eleanor of Aquitaine became Queen of England in 1154. It continued when King Richard, known as Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor’s son, wanted wine from Bordeaux to be served on the tables of the royal English court. And was accomplished in 1203 when John Lackland, the next king of England, and the youngest son of Eleanor, removed the heavy taxes on wine exported from the harbour of Bordeaux. His decision opened the gates to London. The claret flowed north, but it was still of ordinary, everyday quality.

We move forward to the 1660s and give the stage for Arnaud de Pontac. Head of the Parliament of Bordeaux and a man determined to take the family wine business to new heights. His plan involved ingredients well known to many modern brand builders. 

Strategy for a luxury brand
Arnaud started to differentiate his product from the competitors’ by raising the quality. “Ho Bryan” was a dark coloured wine with a power that outperformed the previously known standard. There were no lack of resources to put into the production, so the quality was presumably achieved by selecting the best grapes and perfecting the winemaking methods. 

Additionally, Arnaud took a completely new approach in wine business, when he as the first producer put a trade mark on his wine. It was carefully chosen to show the origin of the wine. The name was that of his family estate south of the town of Bordeaux. 

The strategy was to create high demand in England, so marketing was needed. Arnaud selected the channel carefully and put it in total control of the family. In 1666 he opened an exclusive inn, the first real restaurant in London. At “Pontack’s Head” the food and wine were exquisite. So was the price tag. “Ho Bryan” was sold at a price more than three times of an ordinary wine. Arnaud positioned his wine as top-of-the-line, aiming for the market of affluent citizens. 

The success came quickly. A luxury brand was born. London cried for Arnaud’s prime brand “Ho Bryan”, as well as the “Pontac” produced at his other estates. The demand drove prices to ever higher levels. 

The wine, yes, it is the Haut-Brion. One of the five premier crus of Bordeaux. Still on top after hundreds of years. And an amazing history of the creation of a great brand.

Fun and easy
The story triggers me to think of a more recent example of successful brand building in our contemporary global world of wine. We move to the other side of the range. From luxury to wines positioned to attract a larger group of people. A group even larger than the traditional wine consumers. The Australian, family owned, Casella Wines has really succeeded in their aim to provide “a fun and easy to drink wine of great value to everyone”. 

The [yellow tail] brand has since the start in 2001 become a huge success. Available in more than 50 countries and the top selling wine in the US. More than ten million cases are produced every year. And, can you imagine, as much as ten per cent of the Australian grape harvest goes to the production of [yellow tail] wines! 

Passion for wine
Two different eras. Two different approaches. But still basically the same; an ocean of growth and business success created by a clear branding strategy. 

Brand building and market success in the wine business. What is the key driving force? A passion for wine or a passion for business? Hopefully both. What do you think?