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THE NEW VASCO DA GAMA

by Enzo Rizzo

Like his famous compatriot, Carlos Dias explores the world, bringing excellence everywhere, from wine to renewable energy to healthcare. And a dream: to invent doing nothing

 

Portuguese pride and identity. They travel the world’s trade routes towards emerging markets such as Angola, Brazil and Asia bringing quality and culture through wine. And more. A message of excellence in a bottle written by an entrepreneur with an international career who was enraptured by the terroir and the nectar of Bacchus: Carlos Dias, a man of the world, but with his roots firmly planted in Portugal. He decided to invest in the land of his origins and embrace the challenge of producing top quality wines, spirits and olive oil, which are the business cards and ambassadors of the best Portugal has to offer. The wines, spirits and olive oil are produced from top quality carefully selected fruit, using cutting-edge technology and availing of the instrumental collaboration of great experts in the fields of wine, spirits and oil. They are noble products with Portuguese soul and culture that Idealdrinks, the company founded by Dias in 2010, which is one of the stars in the Idealtower Group firmament created by the Portuguese businessman, produces on the eight estates it owns in those regions of Portugal noted for their winemaking vocation: Bairrada, Dão and Vinho Verde. The estates encompass edifices of historical and cultural value that have been restored and renovated, such as Paço de Palmeira, near Braga on the banks of the Cavado and Homem rivers, a 17th-century villa constructed as the summer residence of the prince of the royal family and archbishop, D. José de Bragança

The holding covers 52 hectares, with 28 hectares of vineyards featuring original vines and new grafts tended by Pascal Chatonnet, world-renowned French monologist and fine wine advisor: Eminencia and Royal Palmeira are the wines obtained from the sole variety cultivated here, Loureiro. But there is also Quinta da Pedra, Dias’ personal tribute to Villa di Monção and the walls of the 17th-century fortress. 43 hectares planted with Alvarinho in one of the historic dwellings of the Alto Minho region. Not far from Quinta da Pedra, in the sub-region of Monção and Melgaço, in the most northerly part of Portugal, there is Quinta de Milagres, an estate with three and a half hectares of Alvarinho vines benefiting from the excellent climate conditions (it is well protected from direct Atlantic currents) and from granitic sandy soils offering good drainage.

Entrepreneur with an international career, in 2010 Carlos Dias founded Idealdrinks, a company in the Idealtower group that possesses 8 estates, which encompass restored and renovated edifices of historical and cultural merit, in the Portuguese regions most noted for winemaking: Bairrada, Dão and Vinho Verde. Topping his list of favourite wines is Principal Rosé Tête de Cuvée 2010.

The resulting grapes have special quality, thanks also to the professionalism of the Idealdrinks team, which has improved the existing vineyard with working methods that are innovative for this region, and which have also led to a superior quality monocultivar grape, Milagres. Then there are Quinta de Bella nel Dão, 33 hectares of Touriga Nacional and Sauvignon Blanc cultivated in accordance with the Les Quatre Facons technique deployed in Bordeaux and Burgundy; Colinas de São Lourenço, the first Idealdrinks estate, in the heart of Bairrada with 50 hectares of indigenous and inter-national varieties and wines such as Principal in its exceptional expression in rosé, Collina, and São Lourenço; Quinta da Malan-drona, near Colinas de São Lourenço, in Paredes de Bairro, a medieval settlement founded with a statute conceded by King Manuel I in 1519 despite it being the newest city in Anadia county.

 Quinta da Pedra, in the north of Portugal: 43 hectares planted with Alvarinho in a historic dwelling of the Alto Minho region

It was a considerable challenge for the Idealdrinks technicians. Last, but not least, Quinta do Seminário, a centuries-old estate that is the headquarters of the Idealtower group and its companies including Idealdrinks. Located in Coimbra, it is famous because, starting from 1743, during the episcopate of D. Miguel dell’Annunciazione, Bishop of Coimbra and Count of Arganil, it temporarily housed the seminary of the dioceses in the period before the con­struction of the Coimbra Seminário Maggiore. Built in the 17th century, it was extended in 1763 upon the orders of the then rector of the seminary, Nicola Giliberti: new halls were added in the north wing with ceilings painted by Giacomo Azzolini. The little chapel is also from the 17th century, its wooden altar repainted in the 18th, with a gothic sculpture of Misericordia from the beginning of the 16th century and a small white marble bust of Our Lady of Sorrows, an 18th-century Italian piece. Since 2010 this artistic legacy, sold into private hands in 2000, was purchased by Idealtower, who restored and renovated it, transforming it and valorizing it and giving it a new future.

In short, eight properties for a Portuguese-made quality network that reveal the love and passion Dias has for wine, and more: his Idealtower Group has interests that span the globe ranging from wineries to medical clinics, from meat and cheese to engineering, and from electronics to renewable energy. Leaving Portugal barely into adulthood, Dias studied Political Science in Paris, then at the University of Perugia, in the meantime dedicating himself to creating furniture that he made and sold; he designed ties, belts and accessories for a total look, and he bought encyclopaedias in bulk and sold them door to door. Then he moved to Switzerland, where he collaborated with master watchmaker Franck Muller. All this before he ‘grew up’ and founded Roger Dubuis Watchmakers, which he brought to its heyday befo­re selling it to the Richemont Group. Carlos Dias is the classic person who goes the extra mile, who nurtures the culture of beauty, loves quality and seeks out excellence with rigorous and disciplined method: it is not the first time he has featured in «Spirito diVino» nor will it be the last, considering that Carlos Dias is a man permanently on the move, a perpetual motion machine always developing new ideas. But he never forgets his origins, the land of his birth and of his wines.

The Principal range from Colinas de São Lourenço: Riserva and Gran Riserva red, Tête de Cuvée rosé, and Riserva white wines.

Carlos Dias: apart from wine, other products will be put on sale within the year: distillates of marc and fruit developed with Gianni Capovilla, Pata Negra ham from Alentejo, on the border between Portugal and Spain, and cheese.

Question: From the land of your ancestors in Portugal, Barraida, now you are producing your wine. A return to your origins, to your roots. Do you pro­duce wines that evoke the aromas and flavours or moments from your youth in Portugal before becoming a globetrotting entrepreneur?

Answer: My return to Portugal is, in reality, only a half-return to my roots, because I came back solely as an investor, not yet definitively. Barraida is a region that I am particularly fond of for several reasons: first of all because it is where I was born, then because, as a wine producing area, it offers a ter­roir in which it is possible to produce wines that are comparable to the best Bordeaux, which I fell in love with many years ago. The initial results we obtained are very satisfying and I think that in the near future, in the same way that I managed to create the world’s best watches in Switzerland, I will do the same for wine.

Q: From 100% Pinot noir rosé to olive oil: all premium products. Is there any wine or product of the land that you would like to make, or which you still have not made?

A: There are a great many products being developed, which will soon be on the market: for example, distillates of marc and of fruit, which we have been developing with Gianni Capovilla in Portugal for the last three years or so, in a specially created distillery. The spirits obtained are of great value and quality. Then there is Pata Negra ham, produced in Alentejo, on the border between Portugal and Spain, and cheeses. Work on these products is by now at an advanced phase, and in the second half of this year, they will be launched on the market and sold in our Idealdrinks & Gourmet boutiques.

Q: Watches first, health and sustainable building today, wine all the time: how much of your working day do you devote to your cellars? Are there links between these business fields?

A: There is a single common denominator, in a word: challenge. All these investments take up a lot of my time and involve virtually perpetual contact with my collaborators in the various companies in the group. Hence, as I live in Monaco, I usually go to Portugal for one week each month to follow all the on-going projects. The diversification I desired in the group came mostly from the fact that I wished to embrace new challenges, some for emo­tional reasons rather than for more rational and strategic motives. 

Q: What business would you like to develop in the future?

A: Finding the secret for giving up working, in short, inventing doing nothing.

Q: As a producer, which wine do you prefer? And personally?

A: As a producer of wine, and considering the results obtained, which are very gratifying, I have to say that I like all my wines. I guess the one I like the most is the one I have yet to produce.

Q: What are the best 3 wines in the world? Why? And the best Italian wines?

A: There are a lot more than three wines I like most of all in the world, but one in particular is Principal Rosé Tête de Cuvée 2010. I appreciate French, Italian and Austrian wines and they are all different, but to avoid creating jea­lousy, I would rather not mention names. Egoistically, I advise drinking my wi­nes first, then that of the others … Joking apart, today, if I must speak about wi­ne, I would rather speak first about mine, then about that produced by others.

The Dom Bella red from Quinta da Bella winery, in Dão, 33 hectares of Touriga Nacional and Sauvignon blanc

Q: Great history, great tradition; what is the world of Portuguese wine missing today?

A: Lacking above all is recognition, with which they will unquestionably be valorized at their true worth, because there are wines in Portugal of superb quality that undeniably deserve to be considered and appreciated more by consumers the world over.

Q: What must the wines of Portugal do to succeed in the world?

A: Portugal must not be afraid of other wine producing nations such as France and Italy, it must assert its quality and the singularity of its wines and invest heavily in promotion and the visibility of its products, commu­nicating with class and distinction.

Q: What role does the European Community play in this?

A: The EU does succumb to the charms of some landmark wine producing nations, it is true, but it has never introduced the principle of fairness between them, there is a lack of solidarity and transparency in the wine sector and I do not believe we may immediately resolve certain important problems that con­cern all European producers. The EU has to impose itself as a defender of our interests: for example, it must solve the problems of customs duties that cur­rently penalize the marketing of our wines in the BRIC area. Those countries have to reduce the import tariffs on our wines so that all those European produ­cers trying to promote and sell their wines in those markets are not penalized. For example, Brazil is one of the countries strongly penalizing the importation of our products compared to those from Latin American countries, which be­nefit from the more favourable Mercosur agreements. In this way, wines pro­duced in Europe bear a 100% tax, which, however, is zero on Chilean wines.

Q: How do you envisage the evolution of the business of wine in the wine world? Today we are looking at Asia and China. And tomorrow? Brazil? East Europe? Africa?

A: It is an extremely critical development for us: there are countries in Asia that are opening up, and which have already begun to appreciate our pro­ducts, and they are very important for the type of consumer that they repre­sent. There are enormous opportunities for our wines, which in future will go on to be measured against local wines, Chinese, for example. But frankly, I do not see any great danger ahead for us. For now. I also predict big deve­lopments in Africa: my prognosis is that in the future it will be equivalent to the potential that the BRIC nations currently represent for all of us.

Q: Tell me the secret, how can one become an all-round successful entre­preneur, for all times?

A: There are no secrets, I believe in working with enthusiasm, tackling everything passionately and firmly, and applying simple and effective rules with method, rigour and discipline: try to be clear, sharp and precise, admit that in order to win, it is often necessary to know how to lose and sometimes to retrace your steps. For the rest, only God can help us: everybody would love to have Him as a partner in their company…

Quinta da Pedra cellar

The 50 hectares of indigenous and international varieties of Colinas de São Lourenço, the first Idealdrinks winery, in Bairrada.