Franck Bodin is a French agronomist who owns a vineyard in Portugal. He tells how he ended up there and what makes it his dream job.
Quinta da Murta is a 27 hectare wine estate only 25 kilometres from Lisbon, Portugal, and the owner of this place is Franck Bodin. This Frenchman came to Portugal after spending over twenty years in Vietnam – but why Portugal, wouldn’t it been easier to go back to France?
“I visited Portugal with my family few years before I bought this estate and we thought this is a nice country, but that time I didn’t know I was going to sell my company in Vietnam. Later I wanted change and moved to Portugal to make wine. Of course I knew that Portugal would be more difficult than France, but it was more interesting, a challenge.”
Back in Vietnam Bodin owned a company that worked with shrimp and fish feed. There he started everything from scratch and even recruited his workers one by one. After eleven years he had 300 employees and the company was going strong and he felt it wouldn’t need him anymore, so he knew he could sell the company and move to another country.
Bodin grew up in one of the many wine regions of France and for a long time it was one of his dreams to make wine. By purchasing an already existing property he didn’t need to start from scratch but still had challenges:
“I like to develop things, I’m a developer. Previously the quality here was completely different so I wanted to change it. The challenge wasn’t so much in the production, because that can be learned quite easily. The challenge is more in the marketing, and now I want to make this estate flourish and be sustainable, and to make the wine famous on every level.”
Protected Designation of Origin
Choosing Quinta da Murta didn’t happen at random – after Bodin decided to move to Portugal to make wine, he visited 35 different vineyards all around the country within just one month. He found this estate the most interesting place because of its history and because in Portugal the Bucelas region is the best region for dry white wines.
Portugal is divided into 14 different wine region and Bucelas DOC is the smallest sub regions of Lisbon wine region. DOC is an abbreviation from ‘denominação de origem controlada’, which is a system that protects the designation of origin for agricultural products in Portugal. The DOC system was established after Portugal joined the European Union in 1986.
The European Union has three schemes from which PDO, ‘Protected Designation of Origin’, is the same as Portuguese DOC. European Commission defines PDO like this: “[It] covers agricultural products and foodstuffs which are produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using recognised know-how”. For example you can call feta cheese really feta only when it’s done in Greece, and gorgonzola is gorgonzola only if it’s made in certain provinces in Italy. The list goes on and can be found in its full glory from European Commissions DOOR database.
From A to Z
Grapevines have their yearly cycle and the tasks to be completed in the vineyard and the winery go along with that cycle. Bodin thinks that what makes owning a vineyard interesting is the fact that it’s so versatile:
“You control everything from the grapes to the consumer. You really know what you do from A to Z: there are agricultural, processing and marketing parts. You really know what you offer to consumers and you can really make the product your own and it’s not often like that. This is a complete job – of course it’s not easy, but it’s very interesting.”
Portugal is an old wine country, but the only world-famous Portuguese wine type is port, thanks to the English, who started the trade of port wine. Bodin says that marketing Portuguese table wines to countries, that weren’t colonies back in the days, is hard, because wine is usually associated with food – and Portuguese food isn’t as famous as French and Italian. Success doesn’t come easy:
“With a small property like this you have to make good quality wines and you have to find a niche market to place your wine. It takes a lot of marketing to make wine a consumer product, and there’s a lot of competition. To market my wines I have to travel a lot and meet new people, but to make a living we also have events and weddings at our estate.”
The natural flow of life
Marketing wines takes a lot of Bodin’s time, but when he’s not travelling because of that, he starts his mornings with a walk around the vineyard or winery, depending on the season. Making wine is a long process and takes a lot of time, but Bodin doesn’t want to make everything the easiest way:
“I want to make the industrial part of the production as natural as possible. Of course purely natural wine doesn’t exist – if you let the grapes ferment by themselves you end up making vinegar. So you have to control temperature and such things, but for example our yeast isn’t industrial yeast, it comes from our terrain, and that makes the taste totally different.
If Bodin wil stay in Portugal and own Quinta da Murta for the rest of his life or not, is still a mystery, even to himself:
“I’m happy to be here to develop the estate, but I’m not a man who takes too much time to think what I’ll do in the future, I follow the flow of life. I like the change, not ending up always doing the same things. But right now I’m feeling really happy.”