No-one is indispensable, as Andre Villas-Boas the manager of Chelsea football team discovered this week, after a series of lost games led to his dismissal by the team’s owner, Roman Abramovich. Underperforming wine regions and indeed entire countries can suffer a similar fate, and coincidentally, Portugal is facing a similar removal from the scene – or at least from the shelves of Majestic, the UK’s leading specialist wine retailer.
Portuguese wines, though gloriously popular with British critics and sommeliers, have failed to catch the public imagination. Like other generic organisations, ViniPortugal tried to remedy this by giving retailers money to fund promotional campaigns, but a recent change in policy has led it to withdraw this funding in order to use the cash elsewhere. Majestic, has reacted rather interestingly by writing to the suppliers of its Portuguese wines requesting that they provide compensation for its loss. Failure to do so, it was apparently suggested, might lead to the delisting of the entire category.
Not surprisingly, the Portuguese producers at Prowein who heard about this move felt highly affronted. How dare Majestic treat us like this? they asked, forgetting that retailers are entirely free to decide what they do and do not want to sell. Few appreciated my blunt analysis: if Portugal is not on Majestic’s must-stock list, there’s no-one to blame except the Portuguese winemakers. If the marketing contribution provides such a large reason for the chain to list these wines, they clearly aren’t doing something right. In simple terms, if customers were coming into the stores in sufficient numbers asking to buy Portuguese wines, there is no way that Majestic would dream of removing the bottles from its stores.
In the same week that I heard this story, the Bordeaux-based winemaker, Francois Lurton, announced that he was going to give up his share in a Portuguese wine venture, citing poor sales as his reason. These two stories are not unconnected. I happen to share the sommeliers’ and critics enthusiasm for Portugal’s best wines, but I also understand the need for effective branding, marketing and distribution – three grubby words whose importance is sadly underappreciated by the Portuguese producers and their fans.