James Mayor from Grape Discoveries speaks to Adrian Bridge about the launch of a unique tourism project dedicated to the world of Portuguese wine
The famous view from the terrace of The Yeatman wine hotel in Porto over the UNESCO World Heritage city is one of Europe’s most spectacular. The great Dom Luís I Bridge spans the Douro River and a myriad of houses and churches cascade down to the quayside. Below the terrace, a vast tourism project is nearing completion. I am here to meet Adrian Bridge, leader of the World of Wine, which was launched at the end of July.
Occupying an entire quarter on the south bank of the Douro, World of Wine is best described as a massive cultural centre, with wine at its core. To Bridge, “there’s nothing really like it anywhere else in the world”. Firmly established as a wine capital and food destination, Porto has fine examples of cultural institutions but this is in another league. In preparation for seven years, World of Wine is an exciting, ambitious initiative. Multi-layered, wine is paired with cultural experiences. “We are putting the ‘WoW’ in the destination,” remarks Bridge.
Earlier we made a hard hat visit to the World of Wine site, where teams were putting the finishing touches to the project. We were no longer looking down at the incredible view, we were actually part of it, right in the centre of Vila Nova de Gaia, the historic district where the Port lodges are located. For centuries, hundreds of thousands of casks of Port have aged here in red-roofed warehouses before shipment to overseas markets.
World of Wine unfolds the fascinating story of wine, using Portugal and its distinctive wines to bring this tale to life. “We show consumers everything about wine: climate, soil, grape varieties and how wine is made,” Bridge explains. Portuguese wines have an “amazing array of tastes,” perfect for illustrating this story. Grouped around a large central forecourt, cavernous renovated Port wine warehouses house five especially curated museum experiences, blending immersion, interaction, information and fun.
Drawing on exceptional terroirs, an extensive choice of indigenous grape varieties and daring blends, Portugal’s winemakers are creating exciting, innovative wines, placing regions such as the Douro, Dão and Bairrada on the same level as the world’s great classic wine regions. Porto itself is home to one of the world’s finest wines, Port.
In addition to savouring the Wine Experience, visitors can discover in Planet Cork the many surprising uses of cork, harvested from the beautiful cork oak, an icon of the Portuguese landscape. A Fashion & Design Museum provides a space for talent from Porto and the north of Portugal, traditionally a cradle for excellence in textiles. Through a stunning antique collection, The History Of Drinking Vessels reveals how techniques and designs have evolved over time. Porto Region Across The Ages relates the often dramatic history of Portugal’s economic powerhouse. In the Chocolate Experience, visitors’ senses are stimulated by a Master Chocolate Maker creating chocolate, a perfect accompaniment to wine, whilst a Wine School offers classes for professionals and wine lovers. The site also includes temporary exhibition spaces, a wide choice of restaurants, event spaces, and of course wine bars and shops to taste or buy wine.
Adrian Bridge is CEO of The Fladgate Partnership, a group which numbers among its assets four Port houses, including the renowned brand Taylor’s. Port wine used to travel from the Douro, downriver on flat-bottomed rabelo boats and be off-loaded in Vila Nova de Gaia. “The Douro is where my heart is,” Bridge enthuses. “It’s the most beautiful wine region in the world. No matter where you are, from every angle you get a spectacular view.” In an extraordinary tale of human resilience and innovation, mankind’s tenacity has shaped a region inhospitable to agriculture and characterised by its extreme climate into a series of terraces to create what is probably one of the most remarkable manmade landscapes in the world.
Confidence will be key in restoring the health of European tourism, and what could be better for our own health than a little good wine? As more adventurous folk begin to book flights, I ask Bridge why a wine enthusiast might place Porto at the top of their travel bucket list. “We are extraordinarily different here; much of the cityscape behind us hasn’t changed almost since medieval times. Portugal is also one of the safest countries in the world.”
A €100 million investment, World of Wine is one of Portugal’s largest ever tourism projects. With this symbol of hope in the future, the country’s fabulous wines now have the magnificent showcase they deserve. The initiative will provide a major boost for the local economy through job creation and revenue for the tourism and hotel sectors. If a visit to the Taylor’s Port lodge is anything to go by, we can look forward to some WoW moments.
Pictured on top: James Mayor and Adrian Bridge ©Rui Bago