Antonio Graça is the Director of R&D at Sogrape Vinhos SA, a recognized viticulture expert with the OIV – International Association for Vine and Wine (Paris), and tasting judge for international wine contests such as the International Wine Challenge (London) and Mundus Vini (Neustadt).

He has published several scientific works and is currently focusing on genetic resources conservation, climate change adaptation, resilience and precision management of production systems. This is the kind of highly specialised knowledge he brings forward in this interview ahead of his keynote talk at the wine summit in June.

What’s your favourite place in the entire world to enjoy a glass of wine?

António Graça:  Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where wine means people and people love wine.

If you were to mentor someone just starting out in the industry, what piece of advice would you give them?

AG: Wine is a business of people. Never lose sight of the human factor as it is what makes wine something different from just general food stuff. It provides individuality and identity, making it more than a product: a cultural asset.

What do you believe to be some of the most pressing challenges in the industry’s near future? How could we go about solving them?

AG: Climate change, because wine is “bottled sunshine”! Besides the necessary drive to mitigate climate change by curbing emissions, it’s time for adaptation. Our generation and the following ones will live in a warmer world, no matter how successful we are in mitigation. We need to use every tool at our disposal to increase production system’s resilience – vineyards, wineries and value chains – as climate change will put pressure not only on grapevines but also the workers, winemaking processes, packaging, communities and consumption trends…

Also, there’s pressure from worldwide health agencies lobbying against the consumption of wine. Social responsibility movements from the industry such as «Wine in Moderation» are the right answer, but they need to become the first and foremost source of pride from this sector. It is a responsibility for wine industry stakeholders to clearly show the seriousness of promoting responsible consumption in a transparent way. Promoting public education about the cultural aspect of integrating wine in a healthy diet needs to be done at a global scale. This is a call for everybody, big and small. If the wine sector is to succeed, no one can wait for others to do their share of the mission.

And which trends are here to stay?

AG: Customization and digital transformation. This is the century of demassification and individuality. Digital tools will provide the means to manage and cater to new groups of consumers that will be identified. These groups will have variable geometry and will be dynamically changed by the same social processes they create and foster. Already, the Internet of Things (IoT), the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and the blockchain are pervading those social groups. The countless possibilities these technologies provide will continuously reassemble consumption patterns at a pace never seen before, constantly changing the marketplace and giving rise to demands and opportunities that will be met just by those quickest to identify and respond to them. Unless change becomes so chaotic and turbulent it results in social or environmental catastrophe. I believe, however, that we have the tools we need to avert that outcome. The main risk is in putting people in charge of those change processes who do not care about knowing history to avoid the same mistakes and pitfalls that have dragged generations before us to corrective civilizational events such as global economic crises or wars.

What do you work towards in your free time?

AG: The connection of scattered Portuguese-speaking communities in non-Portuguese speaking countries across the world that resulted from the Portuguese expansion since the XV century and raising awareness towards their existence and allegiance to Portuguese culture. This is cultural, not political work and you can check our bilingual Facebook group “Portugality”.

How did you first fall in love with wine?

AG: In 1989 after tasting a Passito de Pantelleria 1921 at a friend’s place, in Asti, Italy who had just discovered I was working at a wine company. The wine was an amazing experience, but what did it was the fact that this guy was willing to open his last bottle of this extraordinary wine just to share with someone who understood how unique that experience was. I have been hooked ever since.

Which fellow speaker are you looking forward to hearing from the most at MUST 2019?

AG: Eric Asimov, who is credited as having written “if you want to start a fight in the wine business (…) you just have to mention the word terroir”!

We hope you’ll join António Graça and other 16 world-class speakers at the third edition of MUST – Fermenting Ideas, happening June 26th-28th in Cascais, Portugal.