by EMMA BERTENSHAW [email protected]
Wine production in the Algarve region is only a small percentage of Portugal’s total output, around 4% in 2009/2010*, but it remains an ever growing industry.
News that ÚNICA Adega Cooperativa do Algarve in Lagoa, the oldest and largest public cooperative association in the area, was facing financial difficulties came as little surprise considering the current economic woes but it did highlight the importance of businesses developing new practises in order to survive.
Adega Cooperativa de Lagoa was founded in 1946 and represents over 200 members of varying size.
João Mariano, President of ÚNICA, says the cooperative produces around 70% of the wine from the Algarve but there are also several private producers who have started in the last 10 years.
Now ÚNICA is facing debts that are threatening the cooperative with closure.
On visiting the Adega, it clearly needed a new roof and repairs to the brickwork but to restore the whole building would take a substantial investment.
Parts of the building are currently not used at all as production has reduced and growers are paid in wine as economic difficulties have made it hard for the Adega to keep afloat.
Many farms in the region have had vines for centuries, with some of the oldest in Europe thought to have been left by the Romans who exported the wine around the Roman Empire.
In recent years, a number of independent growers with training in viniculture have moved to the Algarve and taken over old farms in order to develop a business.
With a steady stream of tourists and restaurants seeking good quality wines and a new focus on local varieties to offer their guests, it has made wine growing a more competitive industry.
Quinta João Clara is a small vineyard run by Edite Alves in Alcantarilha. Her farm has been in the family since 1975 and they began growing vines in 2003.
Under half of Quinta João Clara’s 26 hectares are dedicated to the production of red, white, rosé and reserve wines that are sold to visitors who come to the quinta, selected wine shops and supermarkets.
Edite shares production costs with other growers in the area on a private basis. While she used to use the cooperative, she found that it was more cost effective for her farm, as a small scale producer, to take more control of the production process.
Algarve wine varieties are defined by several regions, Denominações de Origem Controlada (DOC), which are Lagoa, Lagos, Portimão and Tavira.
By meeting legal requirements and guidelines, the growers can differentiate their wine from others.
João Mariano said: “If the cooperative closes its doors, more than 50% of vineyards will be abandoned in the Algarve. Even private producers will be affected by this because the Algarve Wine Commission, which certifies all Algarve wines, will not be able to survive financially with only a handful of private producers.
“They would have to go to the Alentejo or other regions and the demarcated region for the Algarve could disappear.”
Losing the comission could mean a loss of control over the future success of Algarve wines.
Production on a small scale requires selective marketing to keep the prices competitive and by keeping the wine exclusive it makes the business able to turn a profit and re-invest to improve quality.
This January, the International Gourmet Festival -Tribute to Claudia will take place again at Vila Joya near Albufeira between January 12 and 22, with some events already sold out.
This will mark the 6th anniversary of the exclusive event, which was started as a special tribute to Vila Joya’s founder, Claudia Jung, who passed away 13 years ago.
The attraction of good food and wine in a beautiful setting is something that the Algarve proves it can achieve at a high standard.
As well as Vila Joya, nearby Ocean Restaurant at Vila Vita Parc near Porches was also recently awarded two Michelin stars in 2011.
As part of the lure for this upmarket tourism in the area, the smaller wineries provide a unique attraction where visitors can buy something exclusive to take home.
While some wineries concentrate on making a niche for themselves, in this way the larger producer may have to consider diversifying their business into other areas such as creating a visitor centre with museum, galleries and shops.
As this was already the plan at the ÚNICA Adega, they are currently looking for investment of at least €500,000 to realise their project.
*Figures taken from Instituto da Vinha e do Vinho (IVV)
For further information… UNICA Adega Cooperativa de Lagoa – www.vinhosdoalgarve.pt Quinta João Clara Vale de Lousas, Alcantarilha – Edite Alves -967012444. International gourmet festival Vila Joya – www.internationalgourmetfestival.com
Lagoa winery has potential to become “major cultural centre”
Arte Algarve promoters, who currently run the art gallery within Lagoa winery, have always expressed their wishes to turn the rundown building into a major cultural centre for the region.
However, financial constraints and an apparent lack of interest by investors and the local council mean plans will have to remain in the pipeline for longer than hoped.
Following the opening of Galeria na Adega in May last year in the grounds of the ÚNICA – Adega Cooperativa do Algarve, gallery managers Arte Algarve opened a second art gallery within its cellars in July.
On a tour of the premises, the Algarve Resident was given a preview of the area which was transformed into a unique cultural space, bringing together art and wine.
Arte Algarve president Rolf Osang explained the concept behind the Galeria Arte Algarve: “Wine is also art, so the idea of opening an art gallery within Lagoa’s historical winery made sense. It’s not just another art gallery but a different cultural space that the Algarve needed.”
“So much more could be done with this place but investment is not forthcoming. There is also a lack of initiative by the authorities to do more in favour of culture.”