This year the Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos winery team has welcomed Lisa Mcbain, an Area Sales Account Manager for the UK’s largest on-trade drinks wholesaler Matthew Clark. Lisa has enjoyed a varied career path within the drinks trade, including years managing cocktail bars and events in London, a harvest season with an Australian boutique winery producing Rieslings, and four years with Michael Broadbent and Stephen Spurrier at Christie’s, running wine courses and pre-auction tastings and cataloguing items for the auctions.
Lisa’s passion is not sales per se, but rather a passion for the products, the wines she sells, and the experience they can create for diners. Most of all, she wants to be able to tell the stories behind the wines and give her on-trade clients the best possible advice, so they in turn can select the best wines to suit their menus and clientele. Many of her clients, Lisa feels, are missing an opportunity to enhance their guests’ dining experience by promoting Ports on their menus.
But Port was the wine Lisa knew least well herself, so she decided to seek a harvest experience in the Douro to learn more. As she believes in working only with the best, she approached Graham’s winemaker Henry Shotton, who agreed to have her on the winery team, and Lisa arrived at Quinta dos Malvedos for the start of harvest on 15 September.
When asked about the difference between her harvest experiences here and in Australia, she said she was impressed by how efficient and yet flexible and relaxed it was at Malvedos. “The guys here are happy, well looked after, the whole experience is a pleasure, it’s hard work, but it’s fun and still incredibly productive. Learning how they do it, being surrounded by obviously very successful people, the whole experience for me has been absolutely fabulous, the guys on the winery team, the food, Henry, and what a beautiful setting! Malvedos never loses its appeal, you could never be bored with the view out there.”
She has been impressed with the quality of the grapes coming in and has learned a lot from Henry about the varieties and the characteristics each one brings to Port blends. Lisa commented that Port wine making seemed to be about letting the grapes do the work and as winemakers we are just helping along the way. She liked the respect for the Douro region implicit in this approach.
The cultural exchange has been intense: Lisa knew only a few Portuguese phrases and except Henry the winery team do not speak English. This has proved to be an irrelevance, as they have mimed and laughed their way through explanations and conversations. The lads have taught her Portuguese, Port winemaking and the difference between Benfica and Porto football clubs, and on the flip side “Senhora Cenoura” (Miss Carrot) has taught them about the importance of vitamins and stretching to good health, and proven a girl can pull her weight on the winery team.
Much as she has enjoyed the experience (as have the lads, by the way) she realises she really likes her sales role with Matthew Clark not only because of all the people she meets and the variety of her days, but most of all because she enjoys seeing “her” wines on menus at so many venues.
Now, with her experience of helping to make the Graham’s Port wines for 2011, it is exciting to know her own hands were involved in making a product that will be sold thousands of miles away from the Douro, in the UK and all around the world.