We’ve been absolutely frantic, working on a book, a city guide, lots of stories for magazines, and developing some exciting Grantourismo partnerships. We’ve also been in Portugal sipping port wine.

In case you missed them, catch up here on our Portugal trip with a read of this first post and second.

We won’t blame you for thinking that all we were doing in Portugal was guzzling tasting wine, but we actually went to Porto to present our Grantourismo project at Wine Pleasures 2011 International Wine Tourism Conference and the invitation to join the pre- and post-conference media trips was a very pleasurable perk of the speaking engagement – which in itself was fun. Just take a look at the photos from the 3-day event below.

It was the first conference we’d been to in a long time – for me, it was the first since quitting my full-time academic job six years earlier; for Terence, it had probably been a decade or longer since he’d had to hang a lanyard that didn’t say ‘PRESS’ around his neck.

But this was unlike any conference we’d been to before. In fact it was more like a wine fair, people standing around socializing with glasses in their hands, chatting about wine, food, travel, and, well, um, wine, punctuated by some more serious talk about Wine and Tourism. But even then, the presentations were topped and tailed by breaks and meals that were all accompanied by wine, and if not wine, then port. And even in the breaks we were encouraged by the organizers to go and try the wines at the exhibitors’ tables.

Some presentations even required us to drink wine, like Charles Metcalfe’s brilliant guided Surprising Wines of Portugal tasting, which for us was the highlight of the conference. Not only does this man know his wine and know his Portuguese wine intimately, he’s witty too. There was a lot of wine to try, so much that sometimes it felt like we were rushing through each tasting, but I came away from Charles’ session feeling like I had learnt more about Portuguese wine in an hour or so than I had learnt on the full day of wine tastings in the Minho.

Other highlights included a session on Wine, Tourism & Smartphones by representatives from Nomad Systems, Marcy Gordon’s presentation Beyond the Brochure: Blogging with Personality and Content that Connects, and Thea Dwelle’s talk on Wine and New Media, a Blogger’s Perspective.

And then there were the evenings. On one night there was a food and wine pairing dinner by Chef Rui Paula of Portugal’s acclaimed DOP restaurant. While it was enjoyable for the lovely company, the event itself was a tad disappointing. Plates were deposited in front of us and wine glasses were filled with mediocre wine without any introduction or explanation. The Chef should have talked his guests through the pairings and why he’d chosen to match what he had.

On the second night there was a fun wine tasting and supper hosted by Vini Portugal at their stunning tasting rooms and the adjacent O Comercial wine restaurant. The wine tasting was what I’d called ‘buffet-style’, with guests helping themselves to whatever they liked from a plethora of Portuguese wines, with staff on hand to answer questions the labels couldn’t.

Accommodation for the duration of the conference was at Oporto’s sumptuous Palacio do Freixo, a majestic palace on the river with a striking swimming pool and gardens, and ornate rooms in the older part of the building. After beautiful rooms on previous nights, including a spacious suite at The Yeatman with spectacular views of Porto, we were allocated a rather tight boxy room that made us wish we were back in an apartment, but, hey, we didn’t spend much time in it, and the hotel was wonderful overall and the staff even more so; there was nothing that was too much trouble for them.

Our verdict? This was a brilliant conference. Sure there were the usual conference hiccups with a couple of session times/rooms changed at the last minute, but our biggest problem with the event was that there were far too many intriguing presentations (on Texas winemaking, Indian wines, the Argentine wine industry etc) by speakers we’d befriended that we would have loved to have seen but we couldn’t because there were often three presentations running simultaneously.

Would we go to another of Wine Pleasures’ International Wine Tourism Conferences? Absolutely. While we’re not wine writers as such, as travel writers we spend a good chunk of our time writing about food and wine, from feature stories on chefs and food trends, to reviews of restaurants and wine bars, and more experiential travel pieces on wine tastings and wine tours.

While we got to learn an enormous amount about Portuguese wine and what’s going on in wine tourism around the world, we also got to share our own wine tourism experiences. And meet some lovely people in the process. And in fact we are going to the next event. We’ve already signed up for the 2012 conference in Perugia, Umbria. Details here. See you there!

P.S. Our presentation on Grantourismo went pretty well too, but more on that in another post.

If you want another perspective on the conference, head over to Come for the Wine, where wine blogger Marcy Gordon is also posting on our Portugal vini-adventures. See Part 1:the Conference Venue and Part 2: the Wine Pleasures Conference

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