Wine has been a long-lived craft in Portugal for thousands of years. The unique grapes and the Atlantic climate lends itself to some fine nuance and flavours. This coupled with recent investment and improvement in growing techniques means that Portuguese wine is now becoming a growing export of the country, yet, there is still room to grow in different markets – Belgium is one of them.
Patricia Marques aims to bridge that gap between Belgium and Portugal. Patricia is a Portuguese expat who has lived in Brussels since 1990. She began here by working for the Portuguese government in tourism and commercial promotion. This path lead her to learn the intricacies of wine in order to present the exports to Belgium and Luxembourg. So acquainted with the craft that when she left her government job in 2008, she decided nine years later that she wanted to continue her mission of bringing the wine to the country and so she started her own company in order to realise this goal.
What does your company do?
It acts as the link between wine producers in Portugal and retailers in Belgium. I source wineries in Portugal who produce wine which I find to be good quality and then enter a partnership with them in which they add their products to our collection. I then go and find partnerships with companies in Belgium who would be interested in purchasing these wines in whatever capacity and continuity they choose. And we distribute ourselves these wines in some restaurants, wine shops and wine bars in Belgium.
Why did you want to export Portuguese wines?
When I was working for the Portuguese government here in Belgium, I got a great understanding of wine and learned to really enjoy the craft. In 2000, when I began to be involved in the promotion of wines and agros-alimentaire, I saw that Portugal has such unique flavours and quality. I wanted to help them to get the exposure they deserve, so I was sent on various courses to learn and learn I did.
At the time, the wine produced in the country was usually just for the domestic consumption but new opportunities appeared thanks to the EU. Namely in terms of exports. I wanted to take the chance and do a part of that job in Benelux.
How did you first start your business?
The first four years I was working with other two companies and running some events to gain exposure to both my company and to the potential wines we could offer. After doing this for a while, we started gaining momentum and getting contracts. As of now, my company has now grown to be one of the most important in Belgium which offers Portuguese wine.
How has it been going so far?
It has been going well. I think that the new techniques and technology in the Portuguese industry has made for some fantastic wines and people are beginning to realise this. We have now connected distributors around Belgium with producers in Portugal, have an office and shop in Ixelles and have just started a partnership with Grand Chais de France for international distribution from a specific brand created in partnership with Joao Portugal Ramos Wines and Vinhos de Darei. Since 2006, I have also helped the organization of the international contest “Concours Mondial de Bruxelles” which is the first one that features over 9000 wines from 48 countries. This year’s contest took place in Beijing. It was the first out of Europe, and the Portuguese wines won 324 medals out of 1062 wines!
What is your hopes for Portuguese wine in Belgium?
I aim to bring the wine from the different regions in Portugal from various producers and have them widely available here in Belgium. Currently, more than 70% of wines consumed in Belgium are still French, with 80% of these wines bought from a supermarket. Although it seems like a cornered market, after success with the Horeca sector, we have now even managed to carve a space out for ourselves in retail. Now, the majority of Portuguese wines sold in supermarkets come from dealings with my agency.
What wines have been doing well?
Belgium was for a long time the biggest consumer per capita for port wine. They know the region of Douro from which it comes, and thus, they are quite interested in buying from that region due to experience.
As for the other variants, people have been a bit hesitant to try because they feature grapes that they’ve never heard of before. But they are now leaving their comfort zones to try these new wines from the country, but usually, they are preferred if they feature recognisable grapes blended with those native to Portugal. Wines from Lisbon and Alentejo are proving particularly prevalent in the supermarket, especially amongst younger consumers, who want a lighter and more fruity wine.
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