Meeting Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Fladgate Partnership

With a world full of wine stories, Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Fladgate Partnership, can easily rival the famed Scherezade, whose fantastic weaving of fascinating stories saved her life. We first meet at Aureole restaurant in New York, perhaps the only table with bottles of ten and twenty year old Port on the table.

In the course of our lunch together, I learn that his first introduction to the Port industry was in 1982, when he met his wife, Natasha, daughter of Alistair Robertson, chairman and owner of the Fladgate Partnership — and after a successful career in the financial industry, in 1994 he was eventually persuaded to join the family Port business.

In Portugal, Adrian took control of the company’s Port brands in the U.K. and U.S. and oversaw the strong development of both of these key markets during the 1990s.

As we enjoyed a light wine and lunch before getting to the real purpose of the meal – tasting the port – I listened to story after story, barely able to type the tiny keys of my blackberry fast enough to take notes on the tiny details of the history of Port-making in Portugal, and all the famous names that have been born, lived, created brands, and passed away during those centuries, including Mr. Fladgate whose name was keenly associated with the brand.

In any event, after being  appointed managing director of the group Adrian changed the company in a positive and dynamic way … he  continued to lead the expansion of the business that he had initiated with the acquisition of the Borges Port assets in 1998. In 2001 he extended the group’s holdings with the purchase from Diageo of Croft Port and Delaforce Port, followed by other important strategic acquisitions over the following years. He also broadened the group’s involvement in distribution, adding investments in Canada and Portugal to the company’s existing equity share in its U.K. importer.

What I found incredibly interesting is that he was the creator of Croft Pink Porto … what is basically a “ruby port” with less maceration on the skins.

It’s very curious… when I first heard of this Port a few years ago, I imagined it as a sort of  “White Zinfandel” — you know, the light sweet rose wine that bartenders are rumored to hide beneath the bar. Yet the better way to think about it is a trendy refreshing cocktail, a beverage meant to be served with crushed ice, a slice of lemon, and sparkling water. It is doing very well with bartenders who can create attractive drinks quickly, and at the same time is gradually introducing today’s young generation into Port.

The Port industry is heavily regulated and at the time Port could only be red or white. It needed a change in the law to have a Rose.  However, as Adrian explained you can make a Port that does not use any descriptors (such as Ruby, Reserve, Tawny etc.) if you use a trademark.  The secret in Croft Pink was that they were able to get a EC trademark for the word Pink for alcohol..

I wanted to hear more stories about his creation of the Yeatman Hotel and Wine Spa, a landmark property located in the historic Vila Nova De Gaia that sets new standards for luxury hospitality in the city. I had read about it in all the trendy magazines and it seems a very cool place to stay when one visits Oporto. Apparently, it was a labor of love for Adrian, and he got very involved in the myriad of details including the cuisine and decor.

Tasting the 10 and 20 year old Ports, it seems hard to believe anything could need improvement, yet upon Adrian’s arrival he nurtured the group’s pioneering role in viticulture and winemaking practices and oversaw an ongoing program of investment in the firm’s grade-A vineyards and wineries.

Fabulous afternoon and can’t wait to discover even more about Port!

Have #awinestory about Port … or your favorite wine? Please use the comment feature to opine.

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