Interview with George Sandeman
“The cork is fundamental, as it allows wine to age”
George Sandeman, Chairman of the House of Sandeman, is the eldest of the seventh generation of this family, linked to the Port Wine and Sherry businesses. In 1790, his ancestor, the Scotsman, George Sandeman, decided to enter the wine business and in order to find out more about this subject, he bought a wine lot in London …
“At that time, the interesting business was not so much with French wines, as with wines from the Iberian Peninsula, such as Sherry and Port Wine. As a businessman and not as a producer, he started up a winery in Xerez, and later another in Porto,” explains George Sandeman.
“Since then, my family has always been involved in the wine business. My great-great-grandfather married a Portuguese lady from the Morais Sarmento family, reinforcing the link with Portugal, and my father married a jerezana, from the Valdespino family, thereby consolidating the wine link with Spain,” stated the Chairman of the House of Sandeman.
George Sandeman is, also, President of the Comité de Vins – an organ of the European Union, based in Brussels – and of the Association of Port Wine Companies. This association represents the interests of associated companies, which together, represent 85% of the commercial volume of Port Wine.
As President of this association, George Sandeman coordinates relations with the Portuguese government and other institutions, such as the Instituto da Vinha e do Vinho (Institute of Vineyards and Wines), whilst simultaneously developing a corporate strategy for the entire wine sector.
George Sandeman was born in London, but settled in Portugal. He remembers his first steps in the industry: “As usual, I joined production, in Jerez de la Frontera and in the city of Porto, which allowed me to learn wine production processes – but I rapidly specialized in the area of commercial marketing.” During his professional career, George Sandeman became Vice-President of Marketing for Seagram Château & Listate Wines Company, in New York.
George Sandeman explains his opinion on cork stoppers used in the Port Wine industry: “Obviously, the cork stopper is important because it preserves the wine in the bottle. More specifically, in classic wines classified for aging (as is the case with Vintage Port), the cork is fundamental, as it allows the wine to develop and breathe under the best conditions. I believe that today, corks are of a superior quality to those produced a decade ago. The reason for this improvement is due to the fact that supply and demand are more balanced – and to the existence of better quality control, which ultimately provides better corks for the wines that deserve them.”
In relation to corks used with Port Wine, George Sandeman shows his pragmatic side: “It is evident that you should not use the same cork in a wine that is going to be drunk in three months – in a wine that will be drunk decades hence; therefore, in some younger wines, we use non-classic corks – agglomerated corks and capsulated corks,” he explains.
“Cork is a natural resource, and cork oaks do not grow from one day to the next, so it is impossible to always use cork stoppers of the utmost quality for all types of wines. It is necessary to note that the majority of wines on sale in the marketplace are drunk the year after bottling. Fewer and fewer wines are destined for aging. Therefore the most superior quality cork should be used with wines that are going to age in the bottle, as is the case with Vintage Ports. We can, therefore, talk about the classification of different types of wine.”
George Sandeman also has a clear opinion on synthetic stoppers: “I do not believe that it is practical to use synthetic material, as this raises problems with regard to recycling. Now, in a world ever more preoccupied with the environment, the image of plastic does not work. The cork, without a doubt, is a natural product, which does not imply the cutting down of cork oaks, is not a pollutant and does not change the landscape. Cork is harvested from the tree every nine years, and the cork oak regenerates itself naturally.”
The Chairman explains: “For me, there is a mental association with quality in the cork stopper. Naturally, businessmen in the cork sector should continue to make an effort to develop further and better research – in order to reduce and eliminate possible contamination of wine, avoiding undesirable tastes which can, on occasion, be transmitted to the wine.”
The Chairman of the House of Sandeman concludes that when he is shown the cork stopper in a restaurant, he likes to confirm that the cork has the same name as the wine, as the stopper should agree with the label on the bottle. “Finally, I smell the wine, rather than the cork,” he concludes.
This interview with George Sandeman was conducted by
Alfredo Hervías y Mendizábal.