My friend Stan once said, “You learn by doing”. This is a true story.
Good old Stan knows a few things. He said these words of wisdom while we savoured our Tandoori Chicken and Beef Tikka Massalla at the Indian restaurant down the street from the office. He was serious in his advice, looking at my firmly but kindly. As for me, I responded with a “Yup, Stan. I got it”, and continued to bite pieces of chicken off.
Sure, it seems simple enough: go and do. Along the way, you’ll learn a thing or two. But when you find yourself not doing and instead (and far worse), waiting… and waiting… and waiting for something to happen, well that would surely disappoint the man. Sometimes we wait for the right time, the right person or the right opportunity to come through. We sit, we wait, we wonder, and finally we panic about what comes next. Nothing comes next. Damn.
I believe we must continuously and constantly push ourselves to learn. For me, that learning has come through travelling. I’ve spent a good portion of the last ten years living, working and travelling abroad and with that, there were always ample opportunities to learn and to grow. Whether it was as simple as learning slang in a different language (Argentino can make you dizzy with the endless slang) or how to drive stick shift in New Zealand (on the opposite side of the road too!), there’s always something new to learn. In Portugal, in these last few months, I’ve learned Portuguese at the uni (with some slang that I picked up on the mean streets of Porto), learned to drive a tractor on my friend’s farm (shameless promotion: visit Quinta Horta de Rija in Dao), learned the basics on WordPress and Instagram (I was a technology dinosaur until I got my first smartphone a year and a half ago), and of course, fully immersed myself in Portuguese wines.
I can’t complain, the past few months in Porto have been fruitful and exciting: I have sampled many a wine, talked to many a winemaker, and even crashed a few wine events. And I learned a thing or two along the way. So recently when I found myself waiting in Porto for certain projects to evolve as I wanted, for those wonderful wines to magically find themselves in my glass so I could ‘learn’, I began to lose that spark, that desire, and that passion. How absurd to think that while I sat and waited in Porto (a beautiful city to sit and wait in, nevertheless) for things to materialize, that I had, in fact, a fascinating wine country to explore and share with those at home, in Canada, in Chile or all over the globe. I have no ties, no commitments, and no bonds. I’ve got some time, a bit of money and a whole lot of passion. But most of all I have really good friends who support me and encourage me to fulfill my wildest dreams.
In wines, in order to actually be good at understanding wines, learning comes through tasting. The more you taste, the more you learn. It is also comes through reading and studying but the most fascinating part is exploring. It’s about really getting in there, in the vineyards, in the winery, in the cellar. It’s about talking to the winemaker, or even their mom or dad at that. It’s about discussing soil types and rocks with the viticulturalist. It’s even just a friendly conversation with the person who puts the labels on the bottle. When you have a wine region at your doorstep, it’s essential to explore it. So I am. I’ve planned a little (trains, car rentals, airbnb, hotels, road maps and routes…), I’ve researched and investigated too (wines, producers and regions that have sparked my interested), I’ve emailed a whole lot and I’ve called on a few friends and favors. Things have worked out in such a way that in the past week I’ve explored parts of the Douro, Lisboa region, Peninsula Setubal and now I’m on my way to Alentejo for a few other wine adventures. I hope to hit Colares and back to Douro again, if my emails and calls work out. But thus far, it’s been wild and memorable. The Portuguese countryside is spectacular and anyone would be happy getting lost on the sandy beaches of the Silver Coast or the rolling hills of Alentejo. A few hiccups here and there (car related – that thing about relying on the kindness of strangers, it’s true) but as my sister says, “Just think of the stories!” Not only the stories though, there is so much to learn from the people you meet along the way, the experiences you have when shit goes wrong and when shit goes so right, and trying all those new flavours that it’s hard to find anywhere else. I know in a few years (or even weeks) time I’ll be happy to look back at my little Portuguese wine road trip and be so thankful that I have my good friend Stan who once told to “learn by doing”. So I’m going to do some learning.
With that, in the next couple of days I’ll be posting some of my experiences visiting different wine producers, both the big and little producers, the organic and the conventional. My posts may be out of sequence from the actual dates and times I visited them but bear with me, you may learn a thing or two.
I leave you now with some pics of beautiful Portugal.