It’s been a tumultuous few years for wine consultant and event organiser Pancho Campo. In 2012 he felt forced to resign his MW after what turned out to be unfounded allegations about his code of conduct. Nearly seven years on he is about to host his second major global summit on climate change having bounced back in some style with an event last year that had President Barack Obama as its keynote speaker. This year the focus is all about wine in what is a return to the issue that he first championed with a series of climate change events in the late 2000s. Here he talks to Richard Siddle about those darker days and how he has brushed himself down and now hopes to play his part in making a real difference in how the wine industry tackles climate change by signing up to the Porto Protocol.
Next week some of the world’s biggest winemakers and viticulturists will join an international delegation at the Climate Change Leadership event in Porto thanks to the efforts of Adrian Bridge, chief executive of Taylor’s Port and Pancho Campo.
If there was a prize for steely determination – or should we call it bouncebackability – in the global wine industry then Pancho Campo would be well placed to win it in 2019. In fact he would have made a very good case for doing so in 2018 as well.
For this is an individual who was last in the international wine media for all the wrong reasons when he resigned from the Institute of Masters of Wine in May 2012 at the height of months of controversy. Six years later he was back hosting a major international business conference on climate change that had none other than President Barack Obama as its main speaker.
Now that’s some come back.
Twelve months on and he is about to help put on a similar event on climate change, but this time focused purely on the wine industry, but again with a heavyweight former White House figure alongside him – former US vice president Al Gore. But more of that in a minute.
It’s all a very different world to the one Campo found himself in 2012, when he gave up the MW he had spent years battling to get, when the accusations against him just would not go away.
Allegations that all stemmed from a trip he had helped organise to Spain for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate magazine and one of its critics at the time, Jay Miller. The fall out from which involved claims of payments being made by wineries to secure time and tastings with Miller.
It all got more than a little out of hand when Campo was caught up in a series of seriously damaging articles from the blogging community that used the furore to question his ethics. A reputation many leading names in the trade were willing to kick further into the gutter having come to their own conclusions despite the lack of any definitive proof that he had done anything wrong.
It all culminated in two investigations; one organised by Wine Advocate magazine; and the other, which arguably proved more lethal, was an inquiry by the Institute of Masters of Wine into whether Campo had been guilty of breaking its code of conduct.
The first, by the Wine Advocate cleared of Campo of any wrong doing, confirming it could not “any evidence of impropriety by (Campo’s organisation) The Wine Academy of Spain” in how it had handled Miller’s trip. The second, by the IMW, was dropped as soon as Campo resigned his MW.
If that was not enough Campo also had the weight of an entirely separate case involving Interpol that had placed him on a Red Notice for 14 years. This followed allegations in the United Arab Emirates from a former business partner about a collapsed tennis venture in the wake of the Twin Towers disaster. The Red Notice meant he was unable to travel outside the EU until, £180,000 of legal fees later, it was removed, again completely exonerating Campo, in January 2018.
“Being cleared by Interpol has really changed my life,” says Campo.
It all reads a bit like the plot line on the back cover of a business thriller, but it has all been very real for Campo and his family.
It is surprising he is not angrier about the succession of events that have dictated his life for the last few years. Instead Campo cuts a relaxed figure. Almost at rest now that all the allegations and controversies are behind him and he can get on with the rest of his life.
Considering the usual pomp and circumstance that goes with anyone getting an MW, Campo is quite comfortable with the fact he can’t put the two letters after his name.
“The biggest things I have done in my life have all been achieved when I was not an MW. I put on concerts with Pink Floyd and Sting before I was an MW and I worked with President Obama after I was an MW. I was also not an MW when I had Al Gore at our first climate change event,” he says.
So looking back how does he think he was treated by the Institute of Masters of Wine, particularly as he was not formally found guilty of having breached any codes of conduct? “I would have liked to have thought the Institute would have been more supportive of me at the time. It seemed they wanted to listen to my attackers more than me.”
He says he took the decision to give up the MW when he was asked by the Institute to “accept a suspension of two years” even though that “came days after” the Wine Advocate investigation had already cleared him of any wrong doing, claims Campo. “To do so would have been like accepting I was guilty.”
He could not now be in a more different place to where he was in 2012. He is, for a start, on the verge of helping to host what will be his second major international trade conference on climate change in two years. The first, also held in Porto in 2018, was when he had the chance to work with President Obama as his main speaker. The follow up, which takes place next week in Porto, will have former US vice president Al Gore as its star turn.
What better way to stick two proverbial fingers up to your former accusers by convincing both a former President and Vice President of the United States to come and work and stand alongside you.
He says the reason he now feels so relaxed and at ease with the world is he is free to do what he loves doing most. Namely putting on major international events and looking to play his part in addressing key issues of the day – and they don’t get any bigger than climate change.
The subject is nothing new to Campo and it is to his great credit that he once again willing to put all his efforts into putting it back on top of the international wine industry agenda.
After all it was Campo who organised three similar events in the last 2000s, that brought producers, winemakers, retailers, importers and climate experts together for the first time to discuss this vital issue. It was also when he first became acquainted with Al Gore when he managed to get him involved in his first climate change event in Barcelona. The third involved United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan.
“We were pioneers when we put on that first climate change event in Barcelona 2008. Al Gore told me it was the first industry he knew of that had done so,” he says. “No-one can take that away from me.”
So here we are nearly 10 years later and Campo is at the heart of what is the arguably the first major event to be held on climate change since he stopped hosting them and the Climate Change Leadership Porto – Solutions for the Wine Industry that takes place between March 5-7.
This time, however, quite understandably, he is happy to take much more of a lower profile role. Instead stepping up to the plate is Adrian Bridge, chief executive of Taylor’s Port and the Fladgate Partnership, who, along with Campo, is the real driving force behind the Climate Leadership event in Porto between March 6-8.
Campo says the idea for the new climate change event came up when he met Bridge in July 2017 and found they both shared the view it was an issue the industry needed to come back to. “So we decided to work together to make it happen, where we could use his expertise within the wine industry and my skills as an event and conference organiser,” says Campo.
The event has attracted a stellar list of names that can all share their own experiences from both inside and outside the wine industry. They include: Miguel Torres; Cristina Mariani-May; Gérard Bertrand; Margareth Henriquez; Professor Roger Boulton of UC-Davis; António Amorim; climatologist Dr. Greg Jones; Dr. José Vouillamoz; Cindy de Vries from Fetzer Vineyards; Gerard Casaubon from Concha y Toro; Jaume Gramona; Joël Rochard; Gilles Descôtes; Jamie Goode; Paul Willgoss and Linda Johnson-Bell, among others. It is also involves wine consultant David Furer who worked with Campo on his first climate change events.
Campo says the focus is very much on looking forward and not making the case for climate change. “This is about solutions not hurricanes and earthquakes,” he stresses. “That is what we have asked all our speakers to address.”
He also hopes it will bring a new focus to all the “talk” we hear about the environment which is not always followed up by any real action. “We see a lot of what I call green marketing. Too much talking.”
There are two main objectives for next week’s event. First it is an opportunity to hold a major international conference on climate change for the global wine industry, but it is not just about the three days of the conference. It is also seen as the beginning of a much bigger sharing and learning exercise for the industry as a whole.
Which brings us to the Porto Protocol which Bridge and Campo are urging all wine businesses of all sides of the industry to sign up to if they are serious about tackling climate change and following sustainable practices in their companies. But this no box ticking or flag waving exercise. By signing up to the Porto Prototol you must also be prepared to go online and share the practical examples of the steps you and your business are taking.
Bridge explains: “We need to share between us the solutions that are making a difference, stimulate new ideas and inspire others to take action. There is no time, and no need, to reinvent things. If we share our successes and experiences we will all benefit.”
He adds: “For the Porto Protocol to make a real difference, we need participation from individuals, companies and organisations from all areas around the globe. The Porto Protocol is an open platform, a dynamic database of ideas, a shared resource from which we can all benefit, whatever our area of activity,” said Bridge.
“We can’t force people to sign up,” says Campo. “It has to be a moral commitment. If you are not doing anything, then please don’t sign up. But if you do then make sure you follow that commitment to share what you are doing, so that people in other regions can potentially follow what you are doing.”
It’s why Bridge and Campo have been hosting a series of events around the world, including New York, Washington, London to not only publicise the Porto event, but to raise awareness of the Protocol and to get as many wine companies to pledge their support, sign up and share their experiences.
Campo expects next week’s event to attract over 400 delegates from around the world, with 45 countries represented.
“It’s going to be an opportunity to hear first hand from people who are really helping to shape our industry and make a difference by changing what they are doing. If you are not at this event you are going to be left behind.”