He claims to know each of his 700 employees by name. And judging by the hours we spent with Maria do Céu Gonçalves, for a great (and rare) interview at Quinta da Pacheca, it might well be so. At the end of a conversation (see the first part, in which the administrator of Terras & Terroir announces the purchase of Ribafreixo Wines, in Alentejo, among other investments) in which we asked her who advised her and she replied that, among those closest to her, her husband, Álvaro Lopes, and fellow partner Paulo Pereira, an employee commented: "I was listening to the question and thinking: she advises everyone. Maria do Céu listens to everyone".
He listens and asks questions, sometimes very early on, either with sheer hard work or with interesting reading — one of those links spoke of 500 ducks that take care of vineyards in Stellenbosch, South Africa. "Every year we do a team building trip with the wine tourism team. We've been to Tuscany, Napa and Rioja, this year we're going to Stellenbosch." They say she is ambitious and a doer. At six in the morning he is already working. His office is "ambulant", often on board planes.
At Pacheca and at the estates that in ten years transformed an investment that he was not looking for into a respected group, he puts into practice what he advocates for Portuguese wines: "for our business to be sustainable, we don't sell our wine cheaper than 9, 5 euros, that's our way".
What is the passion that drives you? Is it the wine, the land, the heritage, the family…?
It's the different things you said. It's the land, it's also the family, it's seeing the future of the family and the families that work here. And then comes the heritage, obviously, like all entrepreneurs, but the land and the connection to our roots in Portugal.
He spoke of families and those who work here. How many people work at Pacheca and the Terras & Terroir group?
Here in Portugal there are 200 people and in total, with France, 700.
Your businesses in France are also a privileged channel to sell what you do in Portugal, in Agriberia in particular.
When we arrived at Quinta da Pacheca, Agribéria already represented 80 percent of sales. At the moment, it represents 15 percent of the sales of the Terras e Terroir group, which already sells in 32 countries.
How do the French see Portuguese wines?
The French are very, how do you say, chauvinists, for them the best cheese is French, the best wine is French, the best wine tourism is French. And, at first, when I was going to present our wines, they would say: does Portugal have wines? Of course we do. And then, when they taste it, they are really surprised. And they even find our wines cheap in relation to their quality. And when they come here for wine tourism, they have incredible memories of the region, what they ate here, the friendliness with which we received them. This is our DNA.
How does France position itself in these 32 markets?
In the export of our wines, it is in the top 5. In wine tourism, it is not in the top. They are the USA, Brazil, England, Germany and Switzerland. France comes later.
This year, for the first time, France was overtaken by the United States in the export of our wines in general and largely because of the drop in sales of Port wine, the so-called Petit Port. How do you keep up with this reality?
We have never been in the price market, we have always been in the quality market. We sell our wines that are 10, 20, 30 and 40 years old and we invest a lot in this business of aged wines. Even our entry-level wines are sold in France at 8 euros, while Porto Cruz costs 4.99 euros, 5.99 euros, but that's the wine that [the French] buy for sauces, it's the aperitif from grandparents.
This is unthinkable for us, but our Madeira wine is also exported to be used in France as a sauce. It is exported already with salt and pepper, as Sauce Madeira.
That's the reality. But we are not in that market, fortunately. I, who knew him well, ran away from him right away, because I didn't find him interesting at all. Nor does it value brands. We do well in the Port wine quality market, we teach our consumers how to drink Port wine, with [correct] temperatures, to accompany a chocolate cake with Vintage, we do many events where young people are used to drinking gin and tonics and we exchanged [the gin] for Porto Tonic. We have a promotion company in France that does this work. And we have a wine distributor.
This is in Portugal, there we have another one.
How do you see the wine business in Portugal? In your opinion, what is good and what is bad?
I think we're doing well, as we don't have quantities, we have to go for quality and when we compare Portuguese wines with wines from countries very close to us, whether Spanish, French or Italian, I think we have an excellent price and great. We even sell them cheap relative to the quality we have. We are on the right path, with excellent winemakers, great terroirs. We have to bet on quality and then have the ability to sell them for export, because our problem is not to assert ourselves as a country that produces excellent wines, isn't it?
And what's wrong?
I think companies that go into the price and bag-in-box market. I see Portuguese companies going to buy Spain to pack. I think this is wrong and does not add value to the wine world. Our path is to find good terroirs, produce good wines with modern technologies and then let them age. Aging is one of the secrets of wine, but it takes time. Managers don't like that very much. In reality, I'm always between the manager who wants to earn more and the winemaker who wants to train.
But he has this sensitivity to attribute value to the internship. If such a measure, a measure for the sector, was in your hands, what would it be?
I defend that Portugal must produce with quality and must promote these wines in the export world, specifically among the Americans. Americans like our wines, and find it incredible how they didn't know we made such good wines.
Why get involved in wine, a business with such low margins and so much competition. It's the question of the integrated, isn't it? Wines, wine tourism, is that all?
I believe that we do not have low margins, we have the necessary margins for our companies to be profitable and for us to have well-paid employees within the company. And for our business to be sustainable, we don't sell our wine cheaper than 9.5 euros. That's where our path is. We always preserve profitability, in order to keep up with new investments, in order to keep up with our employees' salaries. So as not to be tempted to go to work in Spain or I don't know where.
Did you ever dream, in the days of your restaurant, on the outskirts of Paris, of a business of this size?
Frankly, 25 years ago, I never dreamed of coming to work in Portugal. I never dreamed of coming to work in Portugal. And what moves me is that in France I have a feeling that everything is done, that the company is organized, that there isn't much to develop, you just have to pay attention to the business. What moves me is to take a farm that sells 80,000 bottles and has five employees and develop it [and today sell 1.7 million bottles a year, in the case of Pacheca]. And I already dream of not going to France or spending two weeks a month there, because, at the moment, I spend a week here, a week there.
Is the business still important there?
The business in France is different and we invoiced 60 million euros in 2022. I already have my son working with me there in France, he is 28 years old.
And the daughter is here. And committed to the family business, I understand.
It's here in Portugal. It's still very young. I still think she's still too young to talk about commitment, but what's good is that she's enjoying it and has already trained here. Now I'm trying to get her to go on a wine tourism course.
February 10, 2023.
Interview: Jornal Público.
Text: Ana Isabel Pereira.
Photography: Rui Oliveira.