Monday, March 21, 2011

What were you thinking Maria João de Almeida?

 Last week I attended the 1ST INTERNATIONAL WINE MEETING AND TASTING in Celorico da Beira in Portugal.
The event was organized by Maria João de Almeida and she paid for my expenses to attend the event (flights, hotels and meals).

People who follow me on the “blogsphere” are familiar with my way of just saying positive things about the events in which I participate. I was going to write about the good things that happened during the event as I normally do, such as the good presentations by some Portuguese speakers like Luis Lopes, Antonio Amorin, Andre Ribeirinho, Dirk Niepoort and Luis Pato; and also about the very interesting presentations of the international speakers (Jancis Robinson, MW – Tim Atkin, MW – Jamie Goode – Sarah Ahmed), but then, on the last day of the event, something really bizarre happened: We were taken to a place where a small group of sommeliers (not really, but according to the organization they were) was going to taste 40 fortified wines - “a selection of top wine, including some rarities, divided by the styles - Porto (Vintage and Tawnies), Madeiras e Moscatéis. “The aim is to show the great capacity of aging of these wines” - and it turned to be total disaster. Not for the tasters of course, who had the opportunity to taste some magnificent old wines, but for some journalists were simply in disbelief that they were taken there, but that they couldn’t actually taste the wines...

So, for the first time, I’m forced to post something negative about an event in which I participated. It makes me feel even worse about it, because it’s going to be about an event that took place in a country that I love and that has been so kind to me. So, before I start to go into more detail on what happened last Saturday, I would like to apologize to all my Portuguese friends for talking about these facts.

I’ll make of this article an open letter to Maria João de Almeida, who I hope will come here to answer the questions and tell us her side of the story (and I really hope there is another side to this story).

  • What were you thinking Maria João de Almeida when you took us to Pousada de Linhares da Beira if we were not going to participate at the tasting? Why weren’t we taken to Celorico da Beira where 46 producers were waiting for us? Some producers mentioned that they were there for over two hours standing like fools with almost nobody to taste their wines!

  • What were you thinking Maria João de Almeida when you offered us to go to a paraglide simulator? We were all wine professionals there. We are not tourists and time is one of our most precious assets. If we want to spend time doing something that is not related to wine, we want to do it with our families and friends. And again, why do it where the tasting was taking place? You were really trying to make us see the fabulous wines that were being tasted and that we couldn’t? Another type of “simulator experience”?

  • What were you thinking Maria João de Almeida when you exposed such great wine personalities to such an embarrassment? Hendrik Thoma (Master Sommelier from Germany) offered to Ilkka Siren (blogger from Finland) to share his glasses and table with him... Jamie Goode said on twitter when I asked him about having us there for the tasting: “it was terrible of them - I felt embarrassed”

  • What were you thinking Maria João de Almeida when you tried to convince us that we had misunderstood you? One person can get it wrong... I could have got it wrong... But an entire group of people? I’m a speck of sand in the wine industry, but when you tried to explain to very renowned journalists - Per Karlsson and Angela Reddin (to name only two among many) - that the tasting was only for the “famous sommeliers”... Don’t you think you were offending them?

  • What were you thinking Maria João de Almeida when you could clearly see that you had a bunch of dissatisfied journalists in front of you? Didn’t you consider acknowledging that you had made a mistake and that the damage could be minimized if you asked for help? Dirk Niepoort was there and he told me that he would gladly help (by bringing his wines) if you had asked him. Would that solve the problem? Probably not, but at least people would see that an effort was being made to mitigate the disaster. Instead, you kept saying that you didn’t have enough wines for all of us... How Portuguese is that? I’ve been to Portugal a few times and I can certainly say that the Portuguese are arguably the best hosts of the planet! The will take you to their houses, offer you their best wines and make you feel like you are really welcome in their homes. The problem is: I know it because I’ve been there before, but what about the journalists that were there for the first time? What kind of impression were you giving them? Not a good one I guarantee you.
I was debating with a few people if this should be made public or not. Mostly for fear that this tragedy being brought to light could damage the image of Portugal and its wines. However, I believe that the Portuguese have already proven that they can put together very well organized and professional events. ViniPortugal (who had nothing to do with this one in Celorico) had organized an amazing event in Oporto in December and I think that this fact in itself proves that when things are done properly, they become a huge success.

I have a huge interest (both personal and professional) in the success of Portugal and I’ll keep working hard to promote the amazing quality of the Portuguese wines. Again, my apologies to everybody in the Portuguese wine industry (many of them my personal friends), but I believe that Maria João de Almeida has done a great disservice to Portugal and its wines and (hoping that something like this doesn’t happen again in the future) I had to make this horrible experience public.

Please feel free to express your opinion. Let’s make something good out of this!

Luiz Alberto
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