Producer’s profile: Blandy’s

canteiro

Blandy’s is one of the most ancient Madeira producing companies. The first of the family to arrive to the island was John Blandy, who came in 1808 and founded the house three years later. His son Charles Ridpath Blandy is known for having wisely guided the company with his foresight during the hard days of oidium, by buying generous stocks of old wines to ensure enduring production. In 1925 Blandy’s joined the Madeira Wine Association, today Madeira Wine Company, later acquiring its controlling interest. Today the family is still at the helm of the company, after having bought back a big part of the shares previously owned by the Symington from Oporto.
Blandy’s is not just a wine company, but it also owns, between the others, a travel company, a shipping agency, apartments and resorts.

As an innovator, Blandy’s can be cited as the inventor of Colheita Madeira, a single vintage Madeira (at least 85% of the grape must come from a single year) aged for 5 years. The product is aimed to consumers willing to try something higher level than the age-indicated series, but still unable to afford the traditional vintage madeira (which needing at least 20 years of ageing can be very expensive). Another interesting experiment is Blandy’s Alvada: this is a (very unusual) 50-50 blend of Bual and Malmsey, aged in canteiros for 5 years in American oak before being racked and fined.
Other than these the company maintains a full line-up of multi- and single-vintage Madeira. The 20 year old non-vintage one is made from Terrentez, another rarity in the vineyard of the island.

Official statistics show that in the last ten years (2004-2014) commercialization of Madeira has decreased in volume (3,591,524 to 3,372,160 liters), but increased in value (14,193,671 to 17,904,794 euros). There is in other words a shift towards consuming better Madeira, though in less quantity. Chris Blandy, CEO of the company, is well aware of this trend and in a recent interview to Drinks Business stated that much work is being done in the organization of events in high end wine shops: the goal is to show the true image of Madeira, whose name is too often linked with low-level cooking alcohol or just an out-of-fashion drink, and promote its premium side.
In 2013 the company has also acquired 8ha of vineyards, the firsts in around twenty years (since late 1990s Blandy’s has had no vineyard). The move aims to guarantee a minimum level of production, for scarcity is one of the issues Madeira wine must face, and to avoid the land ending up abandoned (new generations of Madeira are gradually losing interest towards viticulture). Steps are also being made in wine-tourism promotion, with the historical wine lodge in the centre of Funchal and projects for a new tourist centre somewhere in the island.

Producer’s profile: Symington Family

Symington

Symington is one of the most important family involved in port production. Their general quarter is in Vila Nova de Gaia, but of course much of the production takes place up in the Douro. Its history goes back to 1882, when Andrew James Symington at just 18 arrived to Portugal from Glasgow. The family became part of the port trade, working first from Graham’s, setting up as a port shipper after a few years.

During its long history Symington has always been a pioneer in the industry: in the 1960s they launched the concept of temperature control for fermenting must and they introduced robotic lagares, a mechanical system to tread grapes. This last step was particularly important because it addressed a big problem of the Douro region, that is the shortage of labour. In the 1980s they were instrumental in promoting a renewed interest in single quinta ports, acquiring the prestigious (but decadent at the time) Quinta do Vesuvio.

Other than Quinta do Vesuvio today the company includes famous brands like Dow’s, Warre, Graham and Cockburn. It also holds a share of the Madeira Wine Company, though it sold the biggest part of its stake to Blandy Group in 2011. Today it exports the 90% of their production and continues in its policy on investing in vineyards and wineries. Paul Symington, managing director of the company, recently told to Bloomberg that low value port is suffering and Symington will concentrate on premium ports, a category which on the contrary shows a relative good growth. At the same time he commented the acquisition of Cockburn, explaining that a mid range relatively high volume port was exactly what the company needed to break trough a number of different markets.