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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 15:14 GMT
Port seeks younger image
Porto's worldwide fame comes from its fruity strong wine
By the BBC's Rachel Ellison in Porto

The city of Porto apparently gives its name to one of Portugal's great exports - port.

But the drink is saddled with a rather fusty, old-fashioned image.

In Europe, over the last 20 years, sales of fortified wines have fallen dramatically.
Grape pickers treading the grapes
The grapes are still crushed by foot
Now one of the largest producers, the Symington estate, is trying to reverse the trend, combining the best traditions of the past, with a contemporary touch.

The ritual of treading the grapes is a process that hasn't changed for centuries.

Every autumn, grape pickers begin their work in the vineyards of the Douro Valley, in northern Portugal, picking and sorting and then squashing the fruit with their bare feet, chanting to keep in time with each other.

"Port is a dark, rich fortified wine. The fermentation is stopped and grape brandy is added half way through, and then it requires ageing in oak casks," says Johnny Symington, the fourth generation of his family to work in the business.

The barrels or "pipes" of Port remain on the Quinta, or estate, for 6 months, after which they're taken down the River Douro - either by wooden barque or by lorry - to Porto, at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean.
River Douro
The River Douro, source of the region's wealth
It is from here that the wine is ultimately exported.

"The port trade has tremendous historical and cultural heritage - over 300 years ago the British merchants came from England to discover a wine that was different to claret," says Johnny Symington.

At the time France and England were at war and claret was considered unpatriotic

Ironically, France is now a big market for port - in fact port is sold all over Europe - in England, France, Belgium, Holland.

The Americans and the Canadians are also important consumers.

The Symington estates make 20 million bottles of port a year, under the Graham's, Dow's and Warre's labels - they control 20% of the world's port trade.

While it proudly retains traditional methods, the company realises it needs to embrace new technology and respond to the changing lifestyle of its European customers.

Autumn: The season for grape picking
But port is perceived as a heavy, old fashioned drink - something to bring out only at Christmas.

Johnny Symington admits that port does have an image problem.

"The stereotypical image of a port drinker is of the crusty old English colonel sitting in his leather armchair, after lunch.

"But in fact port has much wider appeal than people in their retirement. In fact it is nearly 50-50 in terms of ladies and men. But we need to attract younger drinkers too," he says.

That is why the company has repackaged one of its premium tawny ports.

The traditional chunky green bottle and big label has been replaced by a sleek, slimmer, clear glass bottle, with minimal labelling.

The new design hopes to appeal to women in particular, and to convey quality and class to image-conscious young professionals.

See also:

21 Jun 01 | Business
New world wins the wine war
19 Jun 01 | Europe
EU faces bulbous bottle battle
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