April 30, 2019 by Eden Flaherty
Half a Bottle in Half an Hour: A Q&A With One Hour Wine
One Hour Wine does wine tasting a little differently. The company offers visitors and local Lisboetas the chance to better understand (or rather to understand at all) the often complex winelists of Portugal, and all in just one hour. Viticulturist and winemaker Miles Edlmann guides you on a journey through the wine regions of Portugal, at his pop-up tours right here in the white city. Intrigued and thirsty, we had a tasting and a talk with the bloke behind the bottle:
Any tour or experience starts with the person who runs it, so can you tell us a little about yourself / yourselves?
I was born into an Anglo-Portuguese family and grew up between the Alentejo (school holidays) and Kent (term time). By the end of university I had more than made up my mind about the British climate and I knew that my heart was in Portugal. My family has been making wine here for over 150 years and my father owned a vineyard, so the story more or less wrote itself. I spent a couple of years in Adelaide taking a post-graduate degree in viticulture and winemaking and then came home.
How did you come up with the idea of One Hour Wine?
After nearly 20 years in the vineyards, I decided to take a break from viticulture, and my wife and I wanted to move to Lisbon. I spent ages wondering what I was going to do with myself, and how to avoid having a “proper” job, but I knew that I wanted to be my own boss. I have no idea where the idea came from — I just literally woke up one day with a fully-formed concept in my head, including the name!
In a way, I guess it should have been more obvious. I had worked in the Douro for one of the big Port companies for years and found myself regularly being called on to explain to journalists how the viticulture and winemaking we practiced determined what the wines looked like. I ended up training the tour guides for our visitor center every year, and they won the Best of Wine Tourism award from Great Wine Capitals, so I realized that I might actually have a transferable skill.
What exactly is a viticulturist and what does their average day look like?
A viticulturist runs vineyards. Starting from when you first look at a field and think “I suppose we could put a vineyard here, couldn’t we?” we are responsible for absolutely everything that happens until we unload the (hopefully) pristine grapes at the winery several years later. Repeat annually.
Without wanting to resort to clichés, what first attracted me to it was the fact that there is no average day in viticulture. Normally we start early, giving the workers their instructions for the day and if need be, showing them specifically how we want the job to be done. Then there is usually a lot of driving around. In my last job, I was responsible for an area equivalent to one-third of all the vineyards in England — and you need to keep an eye on it all. Work out what needs to be done next, how and where, check for diseases, prioritize labor, and answer infinite phone calls from tractor drivers who need to you recalibrate their sprayers.
Lots of it involves on-the-fly problem solving: rearranging the logistics of a critical treatment when a tractor breaks down or it starts raining and so on. There’s also some boring office stuff: getting quotes for products and equipment, formulating treatment plans, record keeping, strategy meetings, human resources, salary sheets, stock-taking, etc. Check the weather forecast yet again! And then of course when you finally get home you realize that none of your pairs of boots will be dry by the morning.
What would a One Hour Wine experience generally involve?
Imagine arriving in a country with 14 different winegrowing regions, 342 grape varieties, and every style of wine from sparkling through white, pink, and red to fortified. Think how intimidating the wine list you pick up would be. Now imagine how great it would be if you could learn, through a guided tasting, in just one hour, what sort of wine to expect from any bottle. We use a mobile audio-visual presentation, with slides, maps, video, and multiple wine tastings to teach you how to read a wine list like a local — lead by an award-winning professional winemaker.
In addition, we talk about food and wine matching to discuss what goes best with traditional Portuguese gastronomy. All participants also leave the course with a pocket-sized handout, listing the characteristics of the most popular grape varieties and our food and wine matching suggestions. We promise to make you an instant expert in the wines of Portugal.
It isn’t just tastings for tourists, you also work with businesses and barmen. Can you tell us a little about that?
We don’t buy or sell wine — we sell an amazing experience and an education, accompanied by tastings of wines that we love. That means that we have no commercial interest in the wines and we are completely objective and independent. But everyone else in the business (producers, distributors, retailers, bars, restaurants, etc.) is encouraged to pedal the official marketing line of the products they are selling — meaning that it is impossible to tap into unbiased advice or training. We fill that gap.
I once did some consulting for a restaurant that had just opened and they clearly had very little wine knowledge. One look at what was on offer told me that their wine list had effectively been written by the distributor supplying them with their wines, and he was using their restaurant (and their naivety) to unload the stuff that he couldn’t sell to anyone else because it was sub-standard and overpriced.
Why did you choose Lisbon as the One Hour Wine base?
Because it’s probably the best place in the world to live right now. The climate, the architecture, the warmth of the people, music on every corner, the way the sun lights the city from above, and the reflections off the river light it from below. It has a wonderful quality of life and awesome food.
Pretty much everyone seems to want to spend their holidays here — so why not just spend your life here? And there’s the wine, of course. Portugal produces some of the most amazing and unusual wines in the world and they are incredibly good value. If only there was an easy way to get to know them…
We have to ask: do you have a favorite wine, region, or grape variety?
Of course! My great great uncle John introduced a little-known and unloved variety called Alicante Bouschet to the Alentejo back in the late 19th Century and discovered that it grows better there than anywhere else in the world. Portugal has now adopted it as its own, and it makes some of our most iconic wines with massive color, structure, and the ability to develop in bottle for fifty years or more. The classic Alentejo trinity of Trincadeira, Aragonês, and Alicante is one of the greatest blends ever bottled.
If you were going out in Lisbon for a glass of wine, where would you go?
I love the buzz and dilapidated charm of Bairro Alto (and its proximity to my flat!) and it has some wonderful, friendly little wine bars. We’re currently in negotiations with one of the best to start running regular, super-premium exclusive events including gourmet petisco platters to match with their top wines.
Interested in learning more about wines? You’re in luck. Miles is offering two different tours on the Atlas Marketplace.