He is one of the best known names in the wine world, awarded nationally and internationally, and holder of several prestigious positions, including a member of the Sogrape administration and Chancellor of the Port Wine Brotherhood.
It's from a family traditionally linked to wine. Did you feel obliged to follow the same path, or was it even because you started to like this a
rea? I was born in London in September 1953 because my mother was there. My mother was Valdespino, descendant of the family of D. Alonso Valdespino, one of the 24 Knights who accompanied King Alfonso X in the liberation of Jerez de la Frontera in 1264. The Valdespino family was a wine producer at Jerez-Sherry-Xeres. My father belonged to the sixth generation of the Sandeman family, descendant of George Glas Sandeman, founder of the George G. Sandeman company in London, which acquired the wine business founded in 1790. Being the firstborn of my family and seventh generation since the founding of Sandeman, I have always felt a strong connection to wine. From an early age it is very natural for me to come in and visit the bodegas in Jerez. I also remember, at the age of five, driving from England with my grandfather to pay a visit to the bodegas. I even have photographs with my two grandfathers – Patrick Sandeman and António Valdespino – at the entrance to Bodega Sandeman. It was funny that the two Bodegas were neighbors. In my childhood, there were many summers in which I stayed at my grandparents' house Valdespino and walked on foot to Sandeman, always passing through the door of Valdespino. Bodega Sandeman was completely at ease, was 8 or 9 years old, and learned from the men who treated the wine soleras. My favorite spot became the bottling line where, at the age of 10, spent days performing a fixed function, sometimes in the manual bottler, others in the labeler or bottle washer. When I made the first visit to Portugal, to Porto, at the age of 10, coming by car with my father and younger brother, I was already completely routed to follow my father in the wine business. At that time it did not even occur to me to 'run away', because this would be a responsibility that came with the privilege of being descended from two great names in the history of the wine business. However, and already in his 17s, I suggested my father not join the company as soon as he finished school and he was furious! It was the worst discussion we've had in my life! In fact, it took me about six years, between internships and other work, until I took a place in the export department in London in 1977.
Do you remember the first wine you drank? Where and at what a
ge? I don't remember, but I know they were drops of Port Wine placed on my lips by my grandfather Patrick on the occasion of my christening! The first wine I really remember tasting was a Sherry from Sandeman called Armada Cream, a lot of Oloroso with Pedro Ximenez. They were other times and it was part of their children's education to teach them how to drink well. I mean, enjoy and not abuse, because this was early. I remember at the age of 10 my father at Jerez to tell me that I was old enough to drink Fino (the driest Sherry of all), and that I had to leave Cream because it was for ladies and children! Interestingly, it was also then that the Londrina company changed house and therefore helped my father dismantle the company's evidence room. There were hundreds of port wine samples from Gaia to London and were there for approval of the lots. This is how I learned the principles of Port Wine: the differences between Ruby and Tawny, between 20 and 30 Years old, between young Ruby and young Vintage. I also knew the principles of blending because, after selecting the samples, we had to rent them in a 'tregnum' (2.25L) bottles to take home. I remember a situation with my grandfather on a trip from England to Jerez, where we stopped in Rioja for lunch in a tavern and was one of the few times When I had lunch at the table (not in the kitchen with the driver). Without me knowing, the employee asked my grandfather if I drank water or wine and his statement was to mix the two. When my wine was served, I tasted it and rejected telling my grandfather it was watery. He was very impressed, but did not change the instruction!
Who excited you the most about following the professional path of wine? Did you have a master
? I think I was lucky. Over the first few years, in the stages I did in Portugal and Spain, I met exceptional people who were part of the wine world and who influenced me a lot. Some are still around here, but undoubtedly the world is very different today. However, I can say that the one who influenced me the most was Hugo Ungricht, a Swiss who adopted Jerez as a homeland. He was for many years Managing Director of Sandeman and, during the Spanish Civil War, the company's loyal depositary. Being Swiss, the Spaniards couldn't touch him. Hugo taught me the importance of having values at work and treating company employees as people. He had a habit of being the first to arrive in the morning, he was doing a tour of the bodega and greeted every person he was with saying his name – we talked about more than a hundred workers! He was hard and demanding with me, taught me what discipline is and how to lead, and made sure I learned the mysteries of Jerez wine. In Porto, my great influence on how to enjoy port wine was Robin Reid. I was lucky enough to be a regular guest at Robin and Elsa's house when I interned in Porto, not only because they were so much fun and served excellent Port wines, but also because they had a family of four lovely daughters! In the tasting room in Gaia, an inescapable reference was my great friend Eduardo da Costa Seixas, who always guided me in the aromas of Port Wine, drawing attention that the aroma is more important than color. He was a taster at Sandeman for many years and continues to produce Port wine in Quinta de Santa Júlia, in the Douro. When I started in London, I also remember learning a trick to decant old wines, using a glass to separate the sediments. The trick was from the head of the office, Laurie Harvey, and I still do it today!
What wine do you have yet to drink? Throu
ghout my career I have been fortunate enough to work or travel to the great classical regions, and also new ones, and to work for companies that have allowed me to taste wines from the most special to the most banal. I like all the wines, from all over the world. I prefer the good to the bad, and always exceptional for quality, for the company, for food or occasion. Fortunately for me, I don't have a special wine I wish I'd tasted, so I haven't done it yet, although there are undoubtedly some wines I'd like to have the opportunity to taste again!
In 2015 he was awarded by the OIV for the work developed by Wine in Moderation, a pedagogical initiative that calls for healthy and responsible consumption of wine. How did the idea of developing this work come a
bout? The Wine in Moderation program is designed to incorporate an instruction strand on how best to enjoy wine in the areas of marketing and communication in the sector. This initiative was based on the principle of 'drinking well – enjoying and not abusing' – already defended in the past. Initially, a wine consumer should learn how to drink and differentiate the types of wine, or even the production regions, something that was simplified by the popularization of the Cabernet/Chardonnay varieties that, in a way, democratized consumption for an audience they found it was not necessary to know to drink. This easier access for consumers has encouraged producers to also simplify their messages and stop including information about 'drinking well– enjoying and not abusing'. This, together with the movements against the consumption of alcoholic beverages, led European wine producers to come together and launch wine in moderation. Officially launched in 2008, the social responsibility movement has 20 member organizations active in 11 countries in Europe and Latin America. The initiative is expected to extend to 3 more countries during 2017.
He is president of the Port Wine Brotherhood. Confess: despite liking all the styles of Porto, is there one that falls more in love
? As Chancellor of the Port Wine Brotherhood I have some responsibility to maintain the good practices and traditions inherent in Port wine. But interestingly, Porto is a wine of innovation. Created through the new enoological practice of adding brandy during fermentation, there is innovation throughout its history, from lots to vintage single year, from the classification of old tawnies with year to LBV or old whites with year, all are evolutions of the original, and even rosé can be considered innovation! For me, without a doubt that Port wine is not only an innovation wine, but also of style, with diverse aromas and flavors, and colors ranging from intense purple to the golden tawny. It is therefore difficult to decide a style that falls in love most, and it is something that depends a lot on the context, the moment, the occasion, the food or the company. I like a good old vintage (well decanted), a new vintage, fresh, a 20 years in cocktail or a Port Reserve every day! I don't know why it will be, but I have a preference for Sandeman's style! (laughs)
As a member of the sogrape administration, one of the most recognized wine companies at national level, how do you see the future of Portuguese wines? What's left to win over the consumer out
there? After working for 20 years with Canadian company Seagram, when they owned Sandeman, and having passed through their companies in the United States, no doubt it could not have entered a better wine house than Sogrape Vinhos. With the most recognized Portuguese brand in the world, Mateus Rosé, Sogrape Vinhos always had wines that I admired and consumed before i was even invited to the Administration. There is no doubt that Portuguese wines have reached very high quality and image levels and recognized in many parts of the world. It is no longer only for the notoriety of Port wine, now it is also for the fame of douro wines and the Vinho Verdes region. Little by little, the wave grows. It is not easy, because Portugal can never be a volume producer, so the consumer needs to convince himself that Portuguese wine is higher in value. In the past, this was how business was built, with quality and reputation, with the image valued, and loyal and respected consumers. And this is the posture that will differentiate Portuguese wines from the thousands of other wines that are produced and sold. Wine by glass is also an excellent way to introduce the millions of people who visit Portugal into the world of wine. It is in the restoration that Portuguese wine has greater capacity to convert tourists who spend days in Portugal into authentic ambassadors for life.
George Sandeman is an indispensable name in the world of wines, having already received several national and international distinctions and assumed several prestigious positions. Some of them prevail. He is currently a member of Sogrape's Board of Directors, as well as responsible for public relations and institutional representation of this company. He is President of the Wine in Moderation Aisbl in Brussels, taking responsibility for the European Wine Sector programme that promotes the culture of moderate and responsible consumption. As Vice-President of the ECHR – Vins Committee, George chairs the Social Aspects Committee. In Portugal, George is also President of ACIBEV, Association of Wines and Spirits of Portugal, is a member of the Advisory Board of ivv (Institute of Vines and Wine) and Chancellor of the Port Wine Brotherhood.