Preceding the subject

Ampelographic treasury

Oenology is the science that studies everything which is related to the production and preservation of wine, from the planting, the choice of the soil, the grape varieties, the climate, the harvest, the production, wine ageing, bottling and sale.

I will first explain what I understand to be an Oenologist, profession not always clear to most of people.

An Oenologist is a professional with an oenology diploma, and this title is enough to describe his/her responsibilities and qualities. He/she is usually responsible for all decisions around wine production, from the vineyard to the final product. The Oenologist has to know how to manage work teams, get to know the origin of the wine and the related physical and chemical processes from the vineyard to the bottle, and coordinate all the work and operations made during the production of wine.

His/her experience is essential to the quality of work, for the observation of the terroir - the French word that represents a complex number of factors that influence the vine biology, determining the final quality of grapes and resulting wine - and his/her knowledge is essential for understand and enhance the expression of the raw material and thereby produce an excellent product.

The responsibility of the Oenologist is even greater when the later is responsible of the preparation ot the wine brands. He/her is therefore also a brand image, if this is the strategic business marketing option for the company to whom he/her works.

I will now describe the most precious in the field of oenology exists in Portugal, the grape varieties.

Analysing the 2015 OIV report on the total area of vineyards planted worldwide, it is estimated that there are 7,573 Mha (OIV source) of vineyards planted around the world, as well as a small decrease in production of 10% wine. There is also a vineyard planted area small decrease in Portugal of around 3%.

This decline is accompanied on a European level by a reduction strategy in the area of planted vineyards in favour of more quality, while in other continents there is an increase in total planting area.

Europe produces about 55% of total production of world wines, with Portugal having a mere 1% of this production, which denotes a very small presence in the world volume of wine production. Even with the planted vineyard area decrease in Portugal, there was on the part of winegrowers a salutary work in the last decade, visible in the performance of vineyards which represented an increase of wine production of about 8%; Portugal is the only European country to register such increase. A positive sign for Portuguese winegrowers since the worldwide consumption of wine continues to rise sustainably. Also noteworthy that about 70% of world wine production is made only from 30 different grape varieties, as can be seen in the figure below (Figure No. 5).

After a comprehensive review, I emphasize the ampelographic "treasure" existing in Portugal. Our history reveals the influences many people had throughout their occupation, leaving their marks. In Portugal there are currently 258 different indigenous grape varieties catalogued and approved as Portuguese grape varieties, which makes Portugal the wine producer worldwide with the greatest diversity of native grape varieties.

Such diversity is explained by the fact that the Portuguese culture preserved its oldest vineyards, small sized, and grows different grape varieties in the same vineyard, countering the recent "stream" of new viticulture that is expressed through the long planting and extensive vineyards from a single variety.

The 258 existing grape varieties may be interpreted by some as a problem due to its high number but, in my opinion, they represent instead a historical triumph that we have inherited from our secular culture of planting the vineyard. Worldwide the wine production is too focused on 30 grape varieties, said "international varieties", representing mostly vine varieties of French, Italian and Spanish origin. The ampelographic "treasure" of Portugal allows us to distinguish, immediately, Portuguese wines elsewhere in the world since they are made with native grape varieties adapted to the Terroir of the country. One of the cultural factors that contributed to this heritage was the Portuguese tradition of joining different grape varieties - marriage of vine varieties, cut or blend - in a single wine. In our culture this junction between grape varieties is natural, so we can hardly imagine that Oenologists and professionals from other countries see it as a hard work.

This was one of the many lessons that I withdrew from the days I lived in other countries. During that time I was often surprised by the comments of professionals who I met, when they claimed admiring Portuguese wines for their difference in the world. The comments regarding the Portuguese professionals also surprised me. They were seen as real artists because they had the ability and the "art" of working with seven, eight or more grape varieties in a single wine.

As Matt Johnson, Oenologist at Dana Estate, California, stated: "Associating eight grape varieties to make a great wine and such an association to improve the present grape varieties is impossible in the world; only who worked several years in Portugal can achieve it."

Today there is a Selection Vine National Network (SVNN) which aims to preserve the biodiversity heritage of existing native grape varieties. The awareness of operators at national level in the production of wine should therefore go through the recognition of this issue as inevitable for the development of its products. An appreciation that comes also from the fact that Portugal is the first country mentioned in relation to the diversity of these wines, regardless of representing only 1% of the volume of wine produced worldwide. There are more grape varieties in our country than in all others. We can therefore easily deduce that in many parts of the world, regions are known for only one or two varieties, a limiting and specialization factor in those grape varieties. For most Portuguese it is easy to understand that winegrowers from different regions are viticulture experts since they have the ability of knowing how to work with the biggest diversity of indigenous grape varieties present in the country.

Given this is essential to rethink the need to preserve this ampelographic "treasure", continuing to focus on increasing our productivity in order to meet a growing global demand for different wines. For now we have two strengths: diversity of indigenous grape varieties and wine production know-how combining various grape varieties.

A heritage of this worth has to be carefully managed and preserved. The problem that one will eventually have to face is the information given to the consumer when buying a national wine. It is essential that the explanation of the print quality mark for the millennial selection made in our territory is well explained and understands how to captivate the consumer.

I present now a bit of my vision of how to value the Terroir of Portugal and I will present my ideas and solutions to enhance the knowledge of our grape varieties and wines, the Wine Tourism and new technologies.

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