Portugal was considered safe to travel to and then almost overnight was put on Britain’s amber list, a problem compounded by the added cost and bureaucracy of Brexit. For Sandra Tavares who, with her husband Jorge Serôdio Borges runs Wine & Soul in the Duoro, these are just some of the issues facing a small, independent wine producer as they enter the ‘new normal’ of a post-pandemic world. Peter Dean got the lowdown.
“Exporting to the UK changed a lot… and this is not positive as our wines get less competitive in terms of prices compared with other countries where these laws are not applied,” writes Sandra Tavares.
Sandra Tavares and Jorge Serôdio Borges started Wine & Soul in 2001, with the belief that there is a strong connection between old traditional vineyards in the Douro that have been used in making Port and the best vineyards for making the greatest Douro wines. Low yielding vines, minimal intervention and winemaking that expresses the terroir of the region, have all helped their 30-variety field blend Pintas and Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas be regarded as some of the most outstanding wines in the Douro.
PETER DEAN: How was life for the past 18 months?
SANDRA TAVARES: Life changed totally on the last 18 months, first we were all very scared with the situation and we had to adapt all the procedures at the winery and field team. But with the time everyone was aware and taking all the cares. We are a small team so it’s easier to create like a shell and to explain everybody the concerns and the risks.
How has the pandemic affected your winery?
It affected a lot specially the first 6 months, because this is a world crisis and all markets suffered. And because our key chain is Horeca, all restaurants and wine shops were closed, so we were not selling anything. So we had to reinvent ourselves, by organizing a lot of virtual tastings, sending samples, contacting our clients via zoom meeting to keep in contact… and step by step things started to change in some markets…
Has life returned to normal yet?
Not yet, and we have no prediction… everything is still very unstable…. But, as we export around 80% for 35 countries we can balance sales with a lot of effort.
What has been the hardest thing about adapting to the ‘New Normal’?
Being a very small and familiar estate, it is very hard for us not being able to be together with all the team as we used to do very frequently.
Has anything good come out of it? If so what?
We learned a lot to be more resilient, patient and efficient…. And another thing was to learn new tools in order to be in contact with our clients, consumers and press by using virtual meetings, tastings and seminars.
What lessons do you think have been learned in the past 18 months?
The most important lesson was that we are so fragile… so we have to thank all that we have, specially health and that we have to appreciate life with more intensity specially in the most simple things.
Has it led to anything new in the pipeline? …
In fact, not being able to travel as we used to, Jorge and myself have been much more focused in blending, creating and dreaming in new things that will be released! And this has been great!
In terms of the effect on your winemaking – how impactful has Covid been compared to Climate Change?
Climate change has been much more impactful in terms of winemaking, Covid has been impactful on the procedures, sales and social life… not in terms of winemaking…
What stage of the current growing cycle are you?
We are at véraison stage, but it has been a cooler year than previous vintages so we are a little bit behind that a normal year. But it depends now the following weeks!
Is 2021 going too be a good harvest?
In Douro we had a very good rainfall during winter and spring so we have good water reserves, the average temperatures are a little bit below than previous years. We are having cool nights and breezy days until now and we achieved higher temperatures (higher than 35°C) only for 2 weeks. The yields are normal, higher than 2020 which was very small in quantities, but the grapes and the vines look very healthy and beautiful! So we expect to be a good year!
Any particular characteristics to note?
We have been very lucky until now with the climate during this year, but this final weeks are crucial for the quality of the harvest…
How have you changed your business model over the past 18 months?
It has been very challenging times, markets are very unstable and unpredictable … so we had to find new ways to keep in contact with our clients and specially we made an huge effort for finding new markets and being more present on digital marketing, like social media, newsletters, press, etc…
This effort resulted that we opened five new countries, which balanced the lost in other markets that were very important to us.
Did you go direct to consumer?
We decided not to create an on-line shop as we don’t want to compete with our partners, like wine shops and all the distribution channels that we created good connections and loyalty with. What we have is a physical shop at our winery for those who visit us!
Are you going to continue with a different trading model moving forwards?
I think we all learned a lot with this pandemic situation, one lesson is that we can be more efficient with new tools and we don’t need to travel as much as we did because we can keep in touch in some cases by virtual meetings. I hope in future we can start to have events again, because wine is a social product that we need to explain and tell the story behind the wine.
Have you changed which countries you are distributing to?
There was countries that still are suffering a lot and are being very conservative, so we had to balance with new countries that we started to work on the past year. Hopefully this situation will change soon.
Has exporting to the UK changed at all – is it logistically more difficult and if so – are other countries more attractive/ profitable?
Exporting to the UK changed a lot, specially in terms of bureaucracy and taxes, which just takes more time on the export paperwork but has more impact on prices… and this is not positive as our wines get less competitive in terms of prices comparing with other countries that this laws are not applied. So we loose sales…
The wines of Wine & Soul are imported and distributed in the UK by Corney & Barrow, which is a supplier partner of The Buyer. To learn more about them click here.