A conversation with Paulo Amorim

This January, Portugal’s Paulo Amorim was awarded the Chevalier dans l'Ordre du Mérite Agricole, one of France’s major honours bestowed on people working in agriculture. Felicity Carter caught up with him at ProWein.

Paulo Amorim, surrounded by family, holds his award
Paulo Amorim, surrounded by family, holds his award

Previous recipients include Louis Pasteur, Pierre Le Roux and Catherine Deneuve.

Mr Amorim is the current president of ANCEVE, the Portuguese Association of Wines & Spirits, as well as the founder of Viniportugal, the interprofessional organisation that promotes Portuguese wines worldwide. He also founded the G7 – Group of Seven (top wineries in Portugal), among many other projects. In 2007 he founded Wine Vision. 

Can you explain Wine Vision?

It produces wines in different regions in Portugal. I also trade wines from other wineries. I sell wines from Portuguese wines in the international markets. A guy in Japan says, ‘Hey Paulo, do you know of any nice organic wines in Portugal?’ and I say, ‘Yes I do and let’s see whether we can do some business.’”

The best thing that I have in this time in my life is this huge network of contacts that I have; that is, around 40,000 active contacts, so there are lots of opportunities to sell Portuguese wines. LinkedIn and WhatsApp are great tools.

What’s the best way to use LinkedIn for business?

For instance, you are my friend on LinkedIn but I’ve never spoken to you. You’re a wine company in Azerbaijan, and I send you an email and say, “Can I send you a wine proposal?” You know that I respect you and asked for permission to send an email, so it’s not just another email.

Where do you see the opportunities for wine in the world?

The market with the most potential is the USA. It’s a great market, with a long way to grow, because people have money and they are very open minded. The population is increasing, the economy is positive. Canada is smaller but also very interesting. On the contrary, the UK is a market which is very very difficult and I don’t see a very positive future—also because of this stupid Brexit thing.

[The British] want wines with a critical mass with funds for promotion and marketing. In the case of Portuguese wines, there are not many wineries that can afford that.

Is the UK on trade any different?

Maybe because consumers like to try different things, there is no consistency in buying. You can get thrilled because you got a new customer, but you got it for just one order and then communication ceases.

Walking around ProWein, it’s interesting how this year everyone is talking about how important organic is.
I agree. Some years ago it was just Japan, Germany, and people with money that could afford the price difference, and now it’s becoming very important trend. It’s younger people, coupled with people who care about the environment and the planet. It’s been happening in Scandinavia, the UK and Japan, but also the United States. Even in my country. There are now a few stores and, when I visit them, it’s interesting to see the consumer give much more money for eggs, for tomatoes, for vegetables. There is a huge difference in price for natural products.

I am hearing from many people that Portugal is a great place to start a business, particularly in tech. Why is that?

We were severely hit by the recession that started in 2007. The experts said it would last for a couple of years and it lasted for ten years. We had to get an international rescue from the IMF, which we paid back three years ago. Unemployment went up to 20%, officially, and there was another flood of emigration. It was different from the emigration in the 1960s. Then it was simple people, from the land. During this recession, it was skilled people, with a university background.

When the recession approached the end, there was a boom in tourism. It was because of different factors—not only the beautiful climate and because Portugal is a safe country full of nice people, but also because of the low cost airlines we attracted. Easy Jet, Ryan Air and so on created a tourist boom that was very good for the economy, so Lisbon and Porto are full of guest houses and Airbnb. We attracted a lot of people who come for weekends, who spend money. There are many new restaurants and bars opening all over. The people who came spread the message. Suddenly people discovered Portugal.

The preparation of our kids in university is very good compared to other places in the world. They speak many languages, because our television is dubbed. Suddenly all these tech companies came. We have a web summit in Portugal that is set up for the next eight years. It’s one week, where you have about 70,000 people from the tech industry coming. It’s a huge conference and party.

Tell me about your award.

It was a surprise, like the other one I got, from the president of the Portuguese republic.

[In 2006, Mr Amorim was awarded the Commendation of Grand Officer of the Order of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Merit, for “outstanding services rendered to the country”. The award was presented by the then-President, Dr Jorge Sampaio.]

I was in Switzerland travelling on business and I was fixing my shoelaces when I got a phone call. I thought it was a joke. It was from the staff of the President of Portugal saying “We have given you this award.” I said, “Really? Me?”  

“Yes.”

They said the award was on the next Saturday. I love to negotiate, so I told them I would be back to Portugal on Sunday. Could they make it another date? He said no, the President can’t postpone the occasion, but we can send the award. I booked a flight and it was a great occasion.

I invited my parents, my wife and my kids to this one. My wife said we should invite our daughters’ boyfriends and I said, “Why?” (In Portugal we say, “When you have a daughter, you have to buy a machine gun”.)

My wife said, “You should meet them—you are always travelling. They are very nice boys.” So they came and they are very nice boys. It was the first time we came together as a family.  It was a very nice occasion. We took pictures and drank Champagne. It’s nice to be rewarded for your work.

Why did they give it to you?

I don’t know. I wrote and asked them, but they didn’t reply. After some insistence on my part, the Minister of Agriculture wrote back that it was because of my life’s work with agriculture in Europe.
Felicity Carter

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