Passing the port – to the next generation

5 Mins read
Vintage port bottles ageing on shelving.
Vintage port bottles aged for generations [Unsplash: Ian Branch]

You’d be forgiven if the words ‘port wine’ conjure images of Christmas and grandparents.

Often considered as an apéritif from yesteryear, port wine isn’t best known for its progressive qualities. Until now, that is.

The tipple, famed for its rich taste and high alcohol content, is experiencing a facelift; port producers are reimagining the beverage and transforming it into something that appeals to the modern drinker.

Hailing from Portugal’s Douro Valley, the name port was coined in 1678. It is a sweet and alcoholic drink, due to being fortified with brandy for preservation purposes, and it became the drink of choice in England by the 18th century.

Still highly popular today, in 2020, over one million nine-litre cases of the drink were shipped to the UK for sale. However, port’s marketing has been stalled for generations, rendering it unappealing to today’s younger drinkers.

“When we ask our visitors in our lodge what comes to mind when they think about port wine, the most common answer is ‘their grandparents’,” Nadia Adria, marketing & tourism manager at Porto-based Quevedo Port, told Artefact.

“Traditionally, we were used to [seeing] our elders with a nice glass of old port after a family reunion. This is one of the barriers that we find in younger audiences – they don’t think it’s cool enough.”

Five colourful Quevedo Port bottles.
Colourful new Quevedo Port bottles for a colourful new audience.
[Jose Castro, Fabrica da Fotografia]

Conventionally, port bottles have had a gloomy appearance, and are emblazoned with traditional fonts and muted colour schemes.

Now, this is being remoulded to encourage a younger audience to pick it up off the shelf.

Quevedo Port is reaching out to younger drinkers with bottles that sing with colour and modernity. Their new range features block patterns, emboldened text and a spectrum of optimistic colours.

“In 2021, [Quevedo Port] changed [its] labels, giving a fresher, more colourful look, closer to [that of] spirits,” Nadia said.

“There is a huge history behind port wine which we profoundly respect, this is precisely what drove us to create a new image for our ports, communicating to a younger audience and showing that port wine can be enjoyed, among friends.”

Screenshot of cocktails taken from Quevedo's Port's Instagram
Quevedo’s Port’s Instagram

With their bottles revitalised, Quevedo Port had just one more task: reaching new port consumers. So, mirroring the playful new appearance of their bottles, the brand is now connecting with colour to younger drinkers on social media.

Full of smiling faces and a following of young adults, Quevedo Port’s social media channels nod towards the success of their campaign.

“We keep communicating in all our [social media] channels in an uncomplicated way – or at least we try!” Adria said.

“Our brand was created in 1993, given our relatively young age, we allow ourselves to speak more openly to a relatively younger crowd, sharing our style. [Young] people [are] not so interested in ‘the best port wine of the world’ but more the ‘best ways to enjoy a glass of Port’.”

With spirits’ marketing as its muse, colour at its core, and a brand voice that speaks in vibrant tones, Quevedo Port is attracting a new wave of drinkers.

Churchill’s Port, however, is taking a very different approach – and being just as successful. At the beginning of 2022, this Porto-based family-run port house launched its own major rebrand. With ambitions of attracting a new generation of drinkers, Churchill refined its image – one bottle label at a time.

Churchill’s port bottles now feature a strikingly elegant, minimalistic design, encompassing diamond-shaped labels and clear glass bottles.

Despite taking a very different approach to Quevedo, Churchill’s redesign has also been highly successful.

“[We wanted to] speak to a contemporary lifestyle, and to bring a younger generation into the picture,” Zoe Graham, Churchill’s Co-CEO and daughter of founder John Graham, told Artefact. “[We didn’t want to] alienate [young people] with the very traditional code of port, quite masculine codes of port, that have traditionally been seen in port houses and how it’s been marketed in the past,” she said.

Zoe and John Graham stood in front of barrels.
Changing the face of port: Zoe and John Graham [Churchill’s]

Churchill’s brand-refresh was a project that spanned two years; it aimed to acknowledge the preferences of a contemporary audience, whilst staying loyal to the drink’s roots.

For Churchill’s, the best way to do this was by maximising what makes them unique: their story. “I thought that, at Churchill’s, we have the scope to do something quite radical. I sometimes joke with my dad [that we are] the original millennial port company because he founded it in 1981, right at the start of that new generation,” Graham said.

“He did something that, in a way, millennials would do. Instead of taking a stable career path, at one of the big legacy houses, he founded [Churchill’s Port] on his own. He overcame quite a lot of hurdles and adversities to do it. So, I think that kind of spirit of independence, we wanted to capture.”

This chimes with James, a 21-year-old student and port-drinker: I’ve always had a curiosity about [port] due to its rich history as a drink. I think that port can still be a great drink for young people without eroding its history – actually, its history makes it a very good drink for younger people.

“I think it’s really great [port brands are] trying to regenerate their image and reach a new audience whilst also staying true to their heritage,” he added.

Adria and Quevedo Port agree: “Port has a huge history and people like to know all about our past. But if we use that leverage, we can also create new ways of enjoying that ‘old’ drink in many fun ways, creating new moments to consume it.”

Group of young people drinking wine at table.
Does port have a place at the table? [Pexels: Helena Lopes]

Despite traditions of ‘passing the port’ and sipping from tiny, chilled glasses, the way port is being enjoyed is also changing rapidly.

Across Europe, port cocktails are being sipped by young people at an exponential rate. Stretching from Port & Tonics to Port Cosmopolitans, cocktails are giving port a bit of swagger.

A Rosé Port Tonic cocktail.
Rosé Port Tonic [Jose Castro, Fabrica da Fotografia]

Highly popular and accessible (and delicious), cocktails are beginning to shape how port is marketed. Quevedo’s Rosé Port, for example, is sold as a cocktail mixer, hailed by the brand as: “tremendously easy to drink, perfect for hot summer days or in cocktails.”

Adria told Artefact: “I would recommend trying a Rosé Port Tonic [comprising Rosé Port, tonic water, ice, mint and orange peel]. [It] is my favourite drink before a nice dinner with friends.”

Graham said: “[White Port is] really refreshing in a long glass with tonic, a little bit of orange peel and a sprig of mint. It’s delightful on a summer afternoon.”

However, there has been hesitance. “[Port cocktails are] something that we had to bring my father [Churchill’s founder John Graham] round on, because you’ve got his iconic port wine, which is of course amazing on its own,” Graham said.

“But we are open-minded as long as [the cocktails are] respecting the port and [are being] enjoyed by the younger consumer, that’s the important thing,” she added.

Table with lavender plant and two wine glasses full of cocktails.
Port: cocktail-cool? [Pexels: Susanne Jutzeler]

“Generally speaking, from Churchill’s point of view, it’s a win-win for everyone. I think [cocktails and rebranding] energises generations; no one thinks of themselves as ageing out of anything. We don’t want to pass that message at all.”

Roy Hersh is the CEO of For The Love Of Port, a digital platform for devoted port lovers: “Stepping up to an adult beverage is a big deal for the younger generation. Attracting new consumers to the port category has been needed for years, so anything that can be successful will be a net positive.”

Evolution is occurring as we speak: port brands are shifting their image and adapting to the current climate. With the interests of a wider audience at the bottom of every bottle, port brands like Churchill’s and Quevedo will continue to evolve.

As Graham says: “It’s very early days, but I think what we’re seeing is [our re-brand is] opening a lot of doors for us.”

Featured image courtesy of Churchill’s
Edited by Shannon Casey and Sophie Patrick

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