jamie goode's wine blog: I love Portugal...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I love Portugal...

Post from the road. I'm in Portugal, this time with my family. As well as visiting solo on several occasions, I've been here with Fiona a couple of times before, but this is the first time we've brought the kids along, and I'm really glad we did. There's something special about this country that I wish my two boys could 'catch' a little of.

The reason behind the visit is to learn more about cork and its production, courtesy of the leading cork producer in the world, Amorim. I'm keen to find out more about the sorts of measures that Amorim are taking to eradicate taint issues, which still haunt the industry, and also about the natural cork-based alternative closures they are marketing. I'm also looking at issues such as sustainability, which are of great current interest.

It's the first time I've really tried to juggle a work trip and a family trip in this way. It's fraught with danger, in the sense that if Amorim were to foot the whole bill this would be a significant conflict of interest (rather than just a mild one). I guess the only way to deal with this problem is to be honest, and disclose any such information, and trust that readers realize that at all times, I'm trying to deliver the best, most balanced, most informed perspective on any particular issue that I'm writing on.

After all, my reputation, and thus my future earning potential, depends on this. If gathering data means spending time with winemakers, staying in their homes, eating dinner with them, having flights paid for, and receiving samples, all in order to get the best perspective and inside line on any particular story and issue, then as long as it is disclosed, it is not a huge problem. It's the undisclosed, behind the scenes deals that are worrisome. And for me, in half-term week, being able to combine family time with work on the road is hugely advantageous.

Last night we stayed in the Alentejo at Monte dos Arneiros. It's a beautifully quiet, secluded country retreat just an hour's drive from Lisbon, and we liked it so much we intend to go back there in the near future. While I visited Amorim's plants at Coruche, the kids and Fiona swam and rode bicycles through the 500 hectares of cork oak forest that this property manages. Food was authentic local fare, presented without any fuss or pretension. The weather was atypically cool and damp, but we still had a good time.

Tonight we are staying in Espinho, at the Hotel Solverde. It's on the coast, some 18 km south of Porto, and despite the dire account of Espinho in the Rough Guide, it seems quite a nice spot - well, at least, the hotel is rather plush and well managed, boasting indoor and outdoor pools, a spar, and a helicopter pad. We haven't hit the town, yet.

Much merriment was had this evening when we checked out the indoor pool, and were told that we had to wear swimming hats. All of us. We purchased these from the spa reception - elder son chose pink, younger son red, I was yellow and Fiona was blue. They made us all look very daft indeed, and it reminded me of the time when we fell foul of French swimming pool laws that insisted on males wearing speedo-style trunks and not swimming shorts (so, as a mark of protest, we swam in our briefs, which was, rather strangely, allowed).

Tonight we dined on room service and ordered some wines from the restaurant list. Even in a five-star joint like this, you can drink well reasonably cheaply. The wine list had some good names (alas, no vintages or descriptions), but we enjoyed the Quinta das Bageiras 2003 Bairrada (good, complex, earthy, spicy Baga that tastes wonderfully natural and traditional) and the Casa de Togeira Vinho Verde 2007 (laser-sharp, crisp and attractively fruity). The former was 17 Euros, the latter just 11.
Tomorrow I meet with Amorim's technical expert Miguel Cabral, and then we're off to Antonio Amorim's home for dinner with the kids. I really hope they behave themselves. His kids are of similar age, and ours have been sternly warned...

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At 6:19 AM, Blogger Gabriella Opaz said...

You bring up a great point Jamie and I agree with you that as long as the information is disclosed, you are on the up and up. One of the biggest issues we struggle with as bloggers is to balance our objectivity with financial income. Since we don't have major print media backing our research, allowing us to take a week and dive deep into a story, how are we supposed to do "true" investigative reporting? Clearly, you have gained a reputation for trying to deliver the best content you can, I would like to believe your readers will support for it.

Enjoy the trip, as we took a very similar one last July while in Lison, even eating lunch in the Monte dos Arneiros's restaurant! The area is gorgeous and I look forward to your updates!!

At 9:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could you clarify what Amorim paid for, and what you paid for, to eliminate any confusion?

At 10:51 PM, Blogger Paul Tudor said...

Last year I took my family to South Australia with me for a few days to watch cricket (England lost both mathces, I am afraid...) I paid for everything myself and the two serious meetings I had (one with the Penfolds winemakers) I did not take my family along with me.

As a wine writer it is critical to keep one's perspective. I have been accused by an anonymous poster of having no reputation to speak of here in NZ, but in fact I actually work hard at retaining the rep that I do have, which is independence and the ability to call a spade a spade. This has got me into trouble in the past - but plenty of contacts within the industry tell me privately that they value my independence and that I do not push any one person's agenda.

The closures debate is a particularly thorny one. For starters, there is big money involved. I am also concerned that people are not being upfront about their methodology. A small example - I know that the International Wine Challenge does not hide the fact that judges can see the bottles (albeit that their labels are covered up) they are pouring from, but it is an important fact. In wine shows in this part of the world, wines are served diouble blind. Not necessarily the better system, but different and possibly relevant when it comes to reporting rates. But with closure companies we really need to be careful. I was challenged by Paul White about my attendance at the International Screwcap Symposium, but I actually paid for everything out of my own pocket except for the conference fee. I was not even going to get a pass to the conference dinner, but at the last moment a winemaker pulled out and I was able to attend. Apart from that, I have received a free coffee from the Stelvin people and a burrito and a beer from the Diam people. Nothing else.

Yes, it is important to be upfront, but also we need to be careful with our relationships with these people, especially in contentious areas.

At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Dave Worthington said...

I love Portugal too, the small amount of time I've spent there seems too long ago. Reading things like this is very dangerous!

I think its good to disclose these things, but really unless they are buying you a big screen TV for your house or giving you a bag of cash there isn't much in it. After all, a lot of the mainstream media lives on paid trips in one form or another.

Gabriella raises a good point, how do report on these things on a free site if you don't accept these type of trips? It seems the answer is that you don't.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Thanks guys for your input.

Gabriella, it's a good point - these days, writers are largely dependent on assistance to help for travel. I know Robert Parker has always made a point of paying his own way, but that's an exceptional case where he presumably had the money to be able to do this from a start, and now he's employed people to work for him, things are different - I know Neal makes use of the same press trips as I do.

Sometimes I travel at my own expense where there's an interesting story to be had, but there's a limit to how much you can do this unless you are independently wealthy.

Paul, your points are good. You need to make the relationships to get the access needed to get good information - especially true with regard to the technical details. But you need to be impartial and not let those relationships affect just how blunt you are about the truth, as you see it.

I don't think there's big money in closures - it's competitive and the margins are small. You have to sell a lot of closures at 40 euros per thousand to make a living.

Anon, we paid just over 600 Euros of the final bill.

At 8:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey! ^^
I'm portuguese and I read your text. Thank you! I'm from Lisbon. What did you think about portuguese people? Do you think they are nice? And the food?

Bye ^^


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