His name, inherited from his maternal ancestors, is long in both length and history: José Luís Santos Lima Oliveira da Silva is the fourth-generation personification of the winery Casa Santos Lima, one of the largest exporters of Portuguese wines in the country. Makro, a wholesale chain store, chose Casa Santos Lima to produce its wines in the Lisbon and Alentejo area, a collaboration that has significantly boosted the production of its wines and its international prestige. Casa Santos Lima works in the regions of Lisbon, Algarve, Alentejo, Douro and Vinhos Verdes. The winery has become one of the largest representatives of Portuguese wines outside Portuguese borders and has recently been one of the wineries to receive the most awards from major competitions around the world.
Interview with José Luis Santos Olivera
We could say that knowledge of the world of wine runs through your veins…
No, not at all. I entered the world of wines after a long career in finance and banks. I started dedicating myself to wines at a much later stage. I studied economics and went on to work in banks in Paris, London and Lisbon.
How and when did your career in the world of wine begin?
I was still working in banking when I began to dabble with wine, but I didn’t decide to entirely switch careers until 1995. That was when I restructured the vineyard, bought a lot of new equipment and began to concern myself with the winery’s marketing… I bottled my first harvest in 1996. It was very successful. We started distributing internationally and received very good reviews from the press. Our wines became very popular because of their high quality. We started to plant new vines and we worked hard to progressively improve and grow.
What is the production system for your wines like?
We have many of our own vineyards and a lot of land with crops to make good wine. We also collaborate with small producers in the region. We harvest our lands and those of small producers. We try to market the high-quality wines that come from these collaborations through different brands. 90% of the production of Casa Santos Lima is sold outside of Portugal. I started working on my own, but I can now count on a fantastic team that is responsible for different areas.
90% of the production of Casa Santos Lima is sold outside of Portugal
Casa Santos Lima is exploring new markets that are not traditionally wine consumers, such as India, Indonesia, Ukraine or Belarus. What are the biggest difficulties that targeting unusual markets implies?
We work with more than 50 different countries spread over five continents. We are exploring markets that are not used to consuming wines, which isn’t easy because consumers are only just beginning to discover these types of products. The most difficult part is cultural: how they understand wine. Although these markets are tough, we believe it is important to be present in these countries. Right now, our best markets are the United States, Canada and Scandinavia. We are one of the largest exporters of Portuguese wine. We offer quality at a very good price. And we care a lot about our image, as we believe that the visual part is very important nowadays. This recipe for quality, price and image is what is facilitating our growth.
What are the next challenges for the winery?
We are continuously improving and updating our wines and our facilities, investing in new areas. We are considering expanding our activity to one or two other regions.
So, you are thinking of a territorial expansion… Which out of all the Portuguese designations of origin do you think is the most representative of Casa Santos Lima?
We are focusing on the Algarve and our aim is to consolidate our brand and grow. Lisbon and Alenquer are the most representative areas of Casa Santos Silva, but we are also reinforcing our work in the north of Portugal, in the regions of Vinhos Verdes and Douro. We also try to be creative and innovative by extending our range of products: we offer white, red, sparkling, and rosé wines.
What is a good wine for you?
They come from healthy grapes, vineyards that aren’t too excessively exploited and wineries that meet all health and hygiene requirements. A good wine must be made with great care. Within that there is a whole world of different wines and different flavours. And that depends on the tastes of each person. I think that any wine can be good, at different prices, if they are well made. International competitions in 2018 awarded us more than 200 gold medals. We are at the top of a long list of wine companies and have received the most awards. And those people who award those prizes have very subjective tastes. But, despite this subjectivity, having been awarded so many international prizes gives customers confidence when choosing us.
Any wine that I place on the market makes me feel proud of how well made it is. Everything must be done with love
Out of all your wines, which is your favourite?
I only sell wines that I like. So answering that questions isn’t easy, it’s like asking me which is my favourite child. Each wine is suitable for a specific occasion. Any wine that I place on the market makes me feel proud of how well made it is. Everything must be done with love. We offer many wines at different prices and obviously, the most expensive ones are those of the highest quality. They are not more expensive because we simply raised their prices. There is a strict logic between price and quality. I think we have wines for all tastes.
Do you think that Portugal has a wine culture?
Portugal now has a new generation of winemakers who dedicate body and soul to their work. The reputation of Portuguese wines is improving. Portugal is a producer of good wines. Many people only taste Portuguese wines in international tastings and are surprised by the quality we have. And they are even more surprised when they ask how much they cost, as they are not as expensive as other European wines.
Many people only taste Portuguese wines in international tastings and are surprised by the quality we have. And they are even more surprised when they ask how much they cost, as they are not as expensive as other European wines
What remains to be done to the Portuguese wine sector to position itself as competition for French wines?
In general, French wines are too expensive for the quality they offer. For Portugal to compete with French wines, we need to invest in spreading our product internationally. There is still a lot to do…