You have to to give it to Adrian Bridge. He is not just happy being in charge of the Fladgate Partnership, the owning company behind some of Portugal’s most respected Port houses including brands such as Taylor’s and Croft. He is determined to leave his mark on the city of Porto and the Douro Valley for generations to come with his five star hotels and cultural visitor attractions culminating in his role helping to build the city’s very own World of Wine.
Adrian Bridge believes Porto has to be more than just what is in a bottle of Port to become a “bucket list” tourist destination.
One way or another most members of the wine trade will have been lucky enough to have had the chance to visit Porto. Whether it is to visit and do business with the magnificent Port houses that nestle up to the Douro river in the city’s harbour, or on a stop off on the way up to the see the vineyards in the Douro Valley, it is widely recognised as one of the most beautiful and alluring treats no matter how many times you go.
But now plans are well underway to open the world of Port and Porto like never before, reveals Douglas Blyde.
Adrian Bridge, managing director, of the Fladgate Partnership, the owning company behind some of the oldest and most decorated Port houses including Taylor’s and Croft, told The Buyer last week that the city is soon to be home of a new €100m ‘World of Wine’.
Scheduled to open in 2020 in Porto it will bring together a “collection of experiences” (Bridge believes ‘museum’ is too ‘static’ a term) that will be homed in 300 year-old warehouses, formerly used for bottling Port, a process recently relocated to the city’s suburbs.
The roofs of these lofts, tinted black by the angel’s share, adjoin Bridge’s Barão Fladgate Restaurant, across a quiet road from his luxury wine-themed hotel, The Yeatman. The extremely brave initiative, which follows in the footsteps of Bordeaux’s La Cité du Vin, is hoping to garner a million visitors per year.
Capital of wine
The Sandhurst graduate turned UN peacekeeping officer, banker, then MD of a world renown Port house, with roots, through Taylor’s, to 1692, believes the initiative will further position Porto as “a capital of wine”.
Spanning 8.5 acres, the World of Wine will foreground a 3,500m2 wine experience including a wine school and exhibition of drinking glasses to show how people have drunk wine through the ages. However, with 16 Port lodges to visit within the city’s boundaries already, this “won’t just be about Port, but Portuguese wines,” says Bridge.
There will also be a 2,000m2 museum dedicated to the history of the city of Porto, and a 2,000m2 cork experience. Of the latter, Bridge believes “people may not know that NASA had half a tonne of cork in the nose cones of their rockets because they couldn’t find a better material”.
There will also be a celebration of fashion and design referencing Portugal’s role in clothes design. There will also be tributes to the country’s role in producing quality olive oil, no fewer than nine restaurants, artisanal shops, and a new public square is going to be built.
Wine director, Beatriz Machado, a Master of Sciences graduate in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis is California, will oversee the operation, which she sees as “uniting this empire”.
Bridge explains why he is so keen to be involved: “I take a step back and look at what is happening, and what should happen in this city. This year we have seen 60% of foreign visitors. I think, how can we make the season longer, and how do we encourage people to stay longer? The answer is, we need things for them to do.”
With an emphasis on “refreshing irreverence”, the visitor experience is to be curated by Birmingham-based, Scruffy Dog Design. “They are the polar opposite to what a business approaching its 325th anniversary would have chosen. I’m trying to pull back from Disneyland,” explains Bridge.
Another development, in addition to more rooms being added at The Yeatman, will see a new hotel in collaboration with IT partner, Living PlanIT, that will face directly at Porto’s main bridge. “This will be operating by 2018,” says Bridge.
On the move
Over the past 15 years, Bridge has overseen the purchase of six Port companies, as well as overhauling the visitor centre at Taylor’s. Then there is the Yeatman hotel, which opened in 2010 at the cost of €32m. This flagship 83 bedroom hotel incorporates £5,000 mattresses, baths overlooking the city, a Caudalie ‘vinotherapie’ spa, and the largest cork in the world.
Bridge also organised a tour of the recently-acquired, characterful five-star Infante Sagres hotel in Porto’s Filipa de Lencastre district, famed for its nightlife. After receiving planned sensitive refurbishment of its baroque details, this is set to re-open to include a spa and pool, and is homed beneath the existing courtyard which will be covered in glass.
“It predates The Ritz of Lisbon,” says Bridge. “In 1951 it was state of the art, but currently bleeds energy.”
The cultural tourist
Bridge hopes his various tourist enterprises will go some way to addressing what he sees as “not enough sex in wine marketing”.
He is looking, with ever sharper focus, to court culturally-inclined tourists who will then, if not already, become ambassadors for his Port wines. Particularly for the Chinese market. “I want to be on the Chinese bucket list,” he says. “I went to Interlaken a few years ago to Switzerland, which was full of Chinese. Why? Because someone did clever marketing describing it as having the highest altitude railway station in Europe. And now it’s a place they need to tick off.”
Bridge, who drags tyres over the beach as a form of personal training, believes “glamour and space” is the future of luxury when it comes to his properties. “A premium is paid for ever decreasing square footage because people want to move to cities,” he says.
He is also aware that he cannot rely on the drinking habits of older consumers to convince younger drinkers that Port it the drink for them. So if he wants to continue to sell his Ports and wines to 102 markets around the world he has to do a lot more than just talk about them, but shine the spotlight brightly on where they are made.