In 2018 Lagoa-based winery, Quinta dos Vales, decided to take a step in a new direction, and launched its now flagship project, The Winemaker Experience.
The idea was straightforward, rather than just show visitors their agricultural activities, instead they found a way to authentically allow wine-lovers to become fully immersed in the production of their own wine. The aim of the project is plainly stated, “turning wine-lovers into wine-makers”, and they do this by selling each participant a small parcel of vineyard, and each year the resulting grapes are transformed into a bespoke wine for the respective participant.
Not only is each production separate and unique, what sets this project apart is that the participant is in full control of all production-related decisions for their wine. The Quinta dos Vales winemaking team educates and guides participants through the process, providing use of the winery-equipment and specialised personnel, but each participants is encouraged to take the important decisions themselves. Which variety to choose, when to harvest, whether to age the wine in oak, which type of barrel to choose, the type and colour of the bottle, cork, and so forth.
The challenge lies in sharing as much detailed and technical information with the participants as possible, but in a way that a non-professional can understand it, process it and take an informed decision. This is a fine line to walk, as the more the private wine-maker understands, the stronger the emotional bond with their wine becomes, but this project is still intended as a luxury pastime so it shouldn’t feel like work.
The team behind The Winemaker Experience understood that finding this balance was crucial in the success of the project, which is why they took their time. The first harvest which included a private wine-maker was in 2018, and they waited 3 years before actively launching the marketing campaign of the project, back in November 2020. Michael Stock, who acts as the contact-person to the private wine-makers, explains: “There was a specific moment when I realized that we were ready for the next step. This was when I understood that each year our participants ask less questions, but the questions they do ask are that much more in-depth.”.
This realization was helped by the fact that 2020 was, to use a euphemistic term, very “educational” to the team of Quinta dos Vales. In the sense that this project was designed for a hands-on approach, the participants are encouraged that whenever possible they should participate in the harvest, they should be there when barrel-samples are taken, and they should watch the bottling and labelling process.
But as most of the private wine-makers live abroad, in 2020 not a single one of them was able to physically participate in the production of their own wine. A turn of events that was initially seen as a big blow actually turned out to challenge the team to develop the project further. Rather than just consider the year a write-off the aim was clear, what the private wine-makers physically miss out on would be made up to them in other ways.
Through extensive communication with photos, videos, emails and WhatsApp communication, the private wine-makers were kept up-to-date and in control, from the comfort of their respective sofas. This experience, while challenging, has created the structure for the future, from now on The Winemaker Experience is fully viable as a project than can be enjoyed remotely.
There is no better example of this than Brenda & Peter, an international couple who live in Miami and own a parcel of Touriga Nacional at Quinta dos Vales. These two take the description of wine-lovers to a whole new level, even though both work in the world of finance, they are also certified sommeliers and hold numerous other wine-related certifications from multiple different continents.
Their love of wine has seen them travel to over 24 different wine regions across the globe, as they say “from old world to new world, traditional to modern, massive projects to family owned small wineries”. In all their travels there is one destination which stood out, and as you are reading this article in the Portugal Resident it’s likely that you know the feeling: “It only took a matter of seconds to fall in love with Portugal, its amazing people, history, culture, food and wines.”. Brenda & Peter joined The Winemaker Experience in August 2020, their first wine is ageing in oak and they are currently preparing the production of their second wine.
They can, and should, call themselves Algarve wine-makers, however so far this process has been handled 100% remotely. Due to travel restrictions they have never physically been to Quinta dos Vales so far, but nevertheless they say “our experience as part of the Project has been fantastic”. Now Brenda & Peter are eagerly awaiting to visit the estate, their vineyard, as well as their holiday-home (they also own one of The Vines villa-suites overlooking the vineyards at Quinta dos Vales).
All these positive experiences and developments have encouraged the Quinta dos Vales team to not just give more priority to The Winemaker Experience, instead they have decided that this project will become the core of their business. Now that they feel prepared to expand, they have launched a marketing campaign to attract new wine-lovers. And even though this coincided with the worst period of the lockdown they have still almost doubled the number of participants so far.
But their ambitions are far great, as the goal for the coming years is to dedicate around half of their vineyards to private wine-makers, which would bring the number of private productions to around 200. In preparation thereof Quinta dos Vales are already constructing a dedicated cellar for The Winemaker Experience.
Where the private productions will undergo fermentation and ageing, which will also have an event-section integrated therein, so private wine-makers can store, taste and blend their wines in this rustic cellar. Clearly this is the future that the team of Quinta dos Vales sees for wine tourism, not just the combination of agriculture and tourism, but the integration thereof.
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