It’s all in the game

“When I got a call from his organistation my immediate reaction was to say ‘no’ because it was the Algarve – and, had it been anybody else, I may have.

“But when I thought about it there was no reason why not. The Algarve would have been no hotter than the Alentejo and it’s close to the sea. In fact, the climate is a little bit more moderate than the Alentejo so I thought there was a good chance to make something that the Algarve hasn’t done before and make some really good wine.

“We planted vineyards with grape varieties which I thought would work, the typical Alentejo varieties.

“Cliff’s original approach was that he had this fantastic property, a beautiful villa and he had this area which was full of fig trees he’d planted. The other half was a run down vineyard.

“There was about 7ha and I managed to convince him that if we only did half of it then it would be too small to build a winery.

“I persuaded him to pull out the fig trees and turn the whole of that area into a vineyard. And he said:

‘Look, basically what I want is a really nice-looking vineyard and if the fruit works out and is good enough then we can make some wine, but don’t stress out.’

“But I thought we could do better than that, and so we did. In the early days, possibly because of the celebrity factor, the wine fell off the shelves and it was really easy.

“He doesn’t have a great wine background but he likes Australian Chardonnay and basically he wanted his red wine to be something like an Australian Shiraz.

“He likes wine but I wouldn’t say he was passionate about it. He’s passionate about tennis.

“Even now, 20 years on, we have holidays in the Algarve and I always go and play some tennis with Cliff. We play doubles usually, against his manager and a professional. If the professional wants to win then they win, but it goes either way.

“My wife was completely crazy about Cliff. She’d been a fan ever since she was a teenager and the first meeting we had was down at the Algarve.

“We went to a restaurant, had a meal and talked about the business. She wanted to join in but Cliff had his entourage of business people to discuss everything and I said to her: ‘You can’t join in at this point, there will be plenty of chances in the future.

So we got through the meeting and the lunch and as we came out she’d been sitting in the car waiting and she came running over and jumped all over him.”

And, with a dry smirk, Baverstock adds: “It was probably the closest we’ve ever been to a divorce.”

After dedicating half of his life to Portuguese wine, Baverstock is still pondering the idea of returning to his beloved Australia.

“I have a pretty full-on job with Esporão and currently we’re restructuring the winemaking team so it won’t happen for a couple of years. But I’m not getting any younger so I need to get around to it sooner or later.

“I’d like to go back and make a vintage and maybe spend two months there a year in February/March when there isn’t much going on in Portugal wine-wise – spend some more time with my family.”

Portugal might hope he doesn’t repatriate. If the country is to ever win big in the wine industry, Baverstock could be its game-changer.