“I think the point about a good dinner party is that you want to bring together interesting people and you want to have good conversation.” The CEO of The Fladgate Partnership Adrian Bridge told CellarVie Wines
when pressed to reveal his ‘My Perfect Dinner Party’. “So I would be looking for people who are either incredible thinkers or people who could create an incredible perspective.”
The Fladgate Partnership is perhaps the most significant of all Port producers, encompassing Taylor’s, Croft and Fonseca and the aforementioned Bridge has been central to the company’s sustained success and constant evolution. Since arriving in the Douro in 1994 via a distinguished career in the military and a successful stint in the city, Bridge has immersed himself in the 320-year-old family-owned business.
Most recently he engineered the successful birth of Croft Pink in February 2008 and was the creative fulcrum and catalyst behind the multi-award winning, The Yeatman Hotel
. Bridge suggests the former and indeed chilled Aged Tawny was partly in response to the “strong cocktail movement”, intimating Croft Pink has created a “new consumption moment for a new group of consumers”, which has subsequently provided good incremental growth for the port industry. “Vintage port is doing very well in its segment and its niche but we are always looking at ways to bring in the new consumer. We continue to innovate quite extensively.”
Acknowledging the resurgence of sherry in the United Kingdom, Bridge believes Port differs because it does not have that immediate gastronomic connection of their Spanish counterparts. Instead the lasting appeal of port remains its positioning in a meal. “There are not a lot of Portuguese restaurants in London so we do not have the context that the tapas guys have.” Bridge explains. “We have simply got this tremendous moment. I often call Port ‘the oil of good conversation’ because it arrives at the moment in a meal where you’ve eaten good food, you are feeling relaxed, and you are putting the world to rights.”
On that note, hypothetically speaking which three people, dead or alive, would he choose to spend that unique Port moment with?
“A person who immediately springs to mind would be a Roman leader like Cicero.” Bridge enthuses to CellarVie Wines
whilst sitting in the Port Meeting Room at the London International Wine Trade Fair
. “He was an incredible intellectual who lived in an extraordinary time and he is perhaps less obvious than Julius Caesar. Cicero was a great conversationalist and a wonderful thinking man so the lure of inviting him is to get a perspective on Ancient Rome. One of the reasons Cicero is so widely quoted today is because a lot of what he was saying and thinking then is actually apt and relevant today.”
Bridge’s fastidious approach to choosing three guests for his theoretical perfect dinner party and reasoning for selecting Marcus Tullius Cicero, strikes as being particularly relevant given his endeavours to make Taylor’s Port and The Fladgate Partnership as pertinent today as it has been throughout its rich heritage. “Although Cicero is dead, he would be a perfectly acceptable person to have at a dinner party in 2012 because of the way his philosophy transcends time.”
The Fladgate Partnership has demonstrably benefited from Bridge’s arrival almost two decades ago. He brought a steely eyed purpose and modern business acumen and applied those skills to a company that can trace its ancestry back to 1692. Charged with bringing what was essentially a very traditional institution into the 21st century, the unremitting development of Taylor’s and the company at large is a testament to his influence. In addition to expanding the Fladgate Partnership’s holdings and distribution channels by exploring new markets such as the previously mentioned Croft Pink, Bridge has initiated other styles such as organic Port and an ultra-premium Aged Tawny, called Scion. Bridge has also been central to the group’s pioneering role in viticulture and winemaking practices, principally in the Douro.
“We have tried to set an example to a generation of winemakers in the Douro by highlighting ways of preventing the overuse of pesticides. Sustainability and being sustainable is hugely important.” Bridge says. “For a company like us that is a leader of the industry, we want and need to show that sort of leadership and example. Not by PowerPoint slides or fancy talk but by action and by action that people can implement and be trained in. We try to make people feel differently by showing others it can be done.”
Leading by example is a continuous theme for Bridge and his efforts for Fladgate. During a period of consolidation for the Port industry in 2006, he conceptualised The Yeatman Hotel to increase their tourist assets, and while he acknowledges “it was enormous fun to be involved in every little detail of a project”, there was once again a huge emphasis on the impact it would have on the environment. “We wanted to make it sustainable because although it matters today, sustainability is going to become even more important in the future.” The Yeatman is an innovative totem of sustainability with a plethora of imaginative ways of minimising the structure’s carbon footprint. “Solar panels, using water capture to flush the loos, recycling, and composting waste are just a few of the ways we have addressed our impact on the Douro.” Located in the traditional heart of the Port industry, The Yeatman is a not only a means to promote Port as a whole and champion the inherent beauty of the Douro, but with sponsored branding opportunities for producers in the region it is also a vehicle to showcase the best of Portuguese wine. The whole project once again lends itself to the Fladgate Partnership’s efforts to set an example for others to follow; much like Bridge’s second ideal dinner guest.
“I think Mahatma Gandhi would be fascinating.” Bridge continues, “His interesting philosophy on life would add perspective and fuel interesting conversation. He was a pacifist who led by example.” The former 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guard and winner of the prestigious ‘Sword of Honour’ at Sandhurst subsequently names Genghis Khan as his final dinner guest, intimating the ruthless founder of the Mongol Empire would provide an interesting dichotomy with Gandhi present. “He was brutal and all conquering but doing so in order to create a nation.” Bridge explains. “In many respects Ghandi was creating a nation - one may have done it passively, the other aggressively, but they were nonetheless engaging and interesting people.”
Bridge’s military background proved invaluable in the aftermath of the landslide above the Fonseca Guimaraens lodge in January 2001, when his team’s swift response nullified the damage to just 3% of the company’s total stocks despite the vast scale of the natural disaster. Additionally, his grounding in investment banking has been equally beneficial to the company given the way he has continued to make a return on capital whilst endeavouring to engage with new consumers in a notoriously archaic industry.
Summarising his selections for his perfect dinner party, this archetypal English gentleman concluded that “the best conversations happen when you have different perspectives and atypical viewpoints”, and on the surface at least it appears the Fladgate Partnership has thrived since Bridge began to execute his own ideas into how this long-established British institution should move forward.
My Perfect Dinner Party:
Name: Adrian Bridge
Company: The Fladgate Partnership
Job Title: CEO
Which three people, dead or alive, would you invite to your perfect dinner party [and why]?
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Mahatma Gandhi, Genghis Khan.
Your perfect location [and why]?
The Douro is a fantastic geographic landscape. Its empty, it’s a testament to man’s ingenuity, its extraordinarily beautiful and its warm. I think the Douro would stimulate them.
What meal would you serve your dinner guests (starter, main, dessert)?
I think we would be looking at something not necessarily too complex. A simple fish dish with not too many sauces, and keeping it light with some nice vegetables. I don’t think good conversation occurs when you are weighed down.
What wine would you serve [and why]?
Taylor’s 1945. Partly because it’s a stunning wine. It still has youth and harmony, it has energy and vitality and I think if you are bringing my aforementioned guest list, all of whom have vitality and energy themselves, I would want to compliment them by showing them a wine that was old, that was interesting, that had a beautiful energy and a long finish. It would be perfect in the setting too.
I think there is another reason for wanting to choose Taylor’s 1945 and that is because when you bring a group of people together at a dinner party, sometimes you want to lead the conversation in some sort of direction. You would want to use these amazing minds to contemplate something or reflect on something they have learnt. I think 1945; coming as it did at a momentous moment in the whole of the global landscape, would provide a fascinating starting point for our conversation about world change.
Gandhi would find that interesting because he would obviously recognise that landmark as a point which started the journey towards Indian independence. I think Cicero would find it interesting because he was involved in total war during his time, albeit it within the Roman Empire. I think Genghis Khan would understand the purpose of peace. He did after all conquer China, settle it, and then create a nation based on family, so despite his brutal techniques he was more interested in peace than he was in the war. I think Taylor’s 1945 gives us an extraordinary drink and an extraordinary starting point for a conversation. Where the conversation goes after that, I don’t know…
Who would you invite to your perfect dinner party? Register and leave your answers in the comments section below.