It’s all in the game

20 June, 2017

Shay Waterworth teams up with veteran winemaker David Baverstock to find out what it is about Portugal that has kept him there for 35 years


PORTUGAL’S WINES are comparable to its national football team. Over the past few years, both have produced great individuals, featured at all the major events, but neither have ever quite been seen as powerhouses of their respective sectors.

This trend, however, was broken in 2016 when Portugal lifted the European Championship trophy despite starting the tournament as outsiders. So the question is, can the country’s wine industry repeat the trick? One producer hoping to score for Portugal on a global scale is David Baverstock.

After graduating from Roseworthy Agricultural College in Australia, the young wine lover travelled 9,000 miles to work on harvests in France and Germany, but a spontaneous beach holiday led to a romance that would ultimately dictate his career.

“I met my Portuguese wife-to-be on the beach – as you do. So I came to the end of my European adventure.”

Baverstock then returned to Australia to work for well-known winery Saltram in the Barossa Valley and six months later his girlfriend at the time joined him Down Under to get married.

“After a while my wife began to get homesick and I moved to Portugal

with her in 1982, so it was a connection of wine and romance,” says Baverstock.

Since settling in Portugal 35 years ago, Baverstock has been seen as a pioneer of Portuguese wine and a bit of a celebrity in the industry. During this time he has witnessed a transformation of Portuguese wine.

“It’s changed out of sight. The wines were very hit and miss 35 years ago –there weren’t very many top producers for a start. There were very old-fashioned wines and there were red wines that one year would be good but the next year you’d open it up and it’d be fizzy. And white wine you may as well have forgotten about. Portuguese wine was all over the place.

“The first trained Portuguese wine-makers came out of the university in Vila Real in 1986, despite Portugal’s rich history of food and wine culture.”

Baverstock is now the winemaker at Esporão in the Alentejo. “One thing we’ve done better than anyone else I know, certainly in Portugal, is produce big volumes of high-quality wine. We can do that because of the region we’re in, the climate and our winery set-up. We export our wines all around the world and they’re always consistently good.

“Picking a favourite wine is like picking your favourite grandkid, but it’s the consistency of our wines that has made Esporão what it is today.”

A small crowd of industry experts followed Baverstock around the Portuguese Wine Fair in London earlier this year like teenagers at a Justin Bieber concert, but as well as playing the role of wine pop star, the Australian has worked with the real thing – British icon Sir Cliff Richard.

The singer’s wine, Vida Nova, is still available in English supermarkets today and Richard’s vineyard is located in the northern regions of the Algarve, an area of Portugal often associated with higher temperatures and beaches, golf and tennis rather than grape-growing.

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