6 Oct 2016: Members and Friends visit Porto
An early start was required when 39 members of the Royal British Club, The International Women in Portugal and the Lisbon German Club came together on the morning of 6th October for an overnight visit to Porto. Planned visits to the factories of Amorim & Irmãos and ECCO had been arranged for during the day, arriving at Porto in the early evening.
Amorim is the largest producer and supplier of cork stoppers worldwide and in whom the main wine producers place their trust. The experience of around a century and a half of activity and a reputation for development/innovation provide a unique guarantee of confidence in the supply of quality products. Both the RBC and the IWP had visited the factory in Coruche, in the Ribatejo region, last year and as a result an invitation was made for them to visit the main factory at Santa Maria de Lamas, just outside Porto. Some difficulty was experienced in navigating a 50-seater coach around the narrow roads of the town but our experienced driver, Jorge Gouveia, was up to the task and we made it shortly before midday.
Ready to meet us and to take charge of our visits was Joana Mesquita from the Amorim Public Relations department. As the factory is so noisy we were issued with receiver boxes and ear-pieces. Joana could then speak to us all at the same time and provide a running commentary of the vast operation of the factory. In addition to the receivers we were also given hair-nets. Clearly they were not issued to protect our hair, but obviously there is some good reason why external hair or matter needs to be kept away from the cork processing operation. In great detail, Joana took us through the curing and processing plant demonstrating her detailed knowledge of the product and its uses.
Following our visit to the factory we were taken to the company museum where clear displays of equipment and processes were demonstrated to trace the history of the cork stopper. It was revealed that when Dom Pierre Pérignon decided to swap the wooden stpppers in use in the mid-17th century for cork stoppers, he caused an unprecedented change of events in the wine industry. The French monk, who would become famous for his champagne, sought an alternative to the stoppers used at the time, which were wrapped in hemp soaked in olive oil, but failed to provide an effective seal, played a dubious role in the preservation of wine and were always popping out. The solution was cork.
Thousands of years before, the Egyptians had already used cork, followed by the Greeks and Romans, as relics discovered in Pompeii bear witness. It was, however, the driving force of Dom Pérignon that paved the way for the use of cork associated with the fast growth of the wine industry. In Portugal, during the following century, where today the centre of the cork and Port Wine industries is found, wine was allowed to age in glass cylindrical bottles for the first time. Thus, it was the simultaneous development of cork stoppers and wine bottles which made the modern wine industry possible.
Following our visit to Amorim, Joana took us to a local restaurant called 1715 at Argoncilhe, where a wonderful buffet had been prepared. They presented a wide variety of choices to meet everyone's needs.
Our next visit was to the ECCO shoe factory at Sao Joao de Ver. Joana introduced the Managing Director of the factory, Gustavo Kremer, and the Production Director, Alan Searle. They would lead us through the production process that has made ECCO a top brand in shoe production. Gustavo gave us a short history about how a Danish shoe manufacturer and retailer, Karl Toosbuy in Bredebro, Denmark founded ECCO in 1963. The company began with only the production of footwear, but has since expanded into leather production, as well as accessories and small leather goods.
ECCO opened its first retail store in Denmark in 1982, but ECCO products are now sold in 88 countries at 3,060 ECCO shops and shop-in-shops, and at more than 14,000 sales points around the world. The company is family-owned and employs 19,800 people worldwide. After providing details of his production and workforce we were taken on a detail tour of this very modern factory.
The party was split into two sections and we were then led carefully through the intricate assembly lines where the production teams worked in great detail to produce a variety of shoes to a very high quality. Following the factory tour we were invited to visit the Outlet shop where purchases could be made.
It was now time to say goodbye to Joana and thank her for arranging both factory tours, so a small presentation was made to make sure she stood out when in the kitchen. A Welsh apron of distinctive style was tied around her waist for the team photo.
The 45 minutes journey to Porto just allowed us to gather our breath and thoughts before checking in to the Hotel Universal on Avenida dos Aliados right in the centre of town.
No formal tours had been arranged in Porto, but a wide variety of information had been circulated in advance. This allowed everyone the opportunity to explore the part of the city that interested them most.
At 12.15 the following day we met outside the hotel to board the bus for a visit to a special eating venue. Our destination was Mealhada, which is the home of Leitão, suckling pig. We were booked in the restaurant Meta dos Leitões and, despite its huge capacity, we enjoyed a convivial lunch in a section undisturbed by other diners. The menu was delicious and the sucklingig was the best that many of us could remember tasting. Those who opted out of the suckling pig enjoyed a huge beef steak, so big, one of our group took half of it home for lunch the next day!
During our uneventful journey back to Estoril one of our group had estimated that 15 nations had been represented on the tour - a true United Nations. We had all got on very well and enjoyed our journey. Jorge brought us home by 7.00pm, tired, but with some lovely memories and photos. Everyone declared the visit North a great success.
Article and photos by Selwyn Kennard