By: Rafael Tonon
When Fernando Van Zeller Guedes decided to create Mateus Rose in the year of 1942, he could have never imagined how the original flask-shaped bottle would change the wine market in Portugal. Guedes not only created one of the most succesful wine case of a European wine in history, but also paved the way for Portuguese wine in the world market.
In the early 1970s, Mateus Rosé was the most popular wine in the world. Queen Elizabeth always had it in her cellar while many celebrities consumed glasses and glasses of it – Jimi Hendrix was photographed drinking it right out of the bottle – and it has been featured in the lyrics of a famous Elton John’s song: “I get juiced on Mateus and just hang loose” (“Social Disease”, 1973). It was even the favorite wine of the Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein.
At its peak, in the end of the same decade, Mateus accounted for over 40% of Portugal’s table wine exports with worldwide sales amounting to 3,5 million cases.
More than a billion bottles have been sold worldwide since its launch, according to Sogrape, the company that holds the label.
As the Oxford Companion to Wine describes, “the sparkling rosé was sweetened to make it more appealing to export markets”. And it made it: it was originally successful in Brazil and then the brand proved hugely popular in post-war Britain and the US. The wine was especially styled to appeal to the rapidly developing North American and northern European markets. Guedes was inspired by his family’s Vinho Verde, a naturally pétillant red or white wine, from the North region of the country.
Genius in the bottle
But more than what was inside, one of the major factors of the Mateus Rosé’s popularity around the world was its innovative bottle. Its iconic green glass distinctive “cantil” packaging was ingenious and very tempting. Based on the Portuguese Army’s World War I water flasks, the bottle became a huge factor, instantly recognisable even in the full shelves: there was always a flask-shaped bottle of Mateus Rosé among a dozen other wines to catch one’s attention.
If you have doubts if I am overreacting regarding the fact that a design bottle can really change the market, look back to The Coca-Cola Company case: it was the Americans who perfected the techniques of blowing the glass into molds and created the first bottles that were filled with the first milliliters of Coca-Cola, more specifically in 1894, at the hands of a Mississippi shopkeeper who named his model as Hutchinson.
Years later, in 1915, Coca-Cola decided to standardize the production of its bottles: the company was looking for something that could be immediately recognized without the need of association to the brand name. The company organized a contest and the winner was Root Glass Company of Indiana. The engineer Earl Dean was the one who designed the bottle that would be, in a short time, worldwide known. Legend says he was inspired by a cocoa figure (“cocoa”, not “coca”) from 1911 issue of the British Encyclopedia. That’s why the bottle was created based on the fruit pod structure.
Getting back to the wine market, what Guedes did was a stroke of genius. Even though Mateus Rosè held little appeal for the Portuguese themselves, it gave to Sogrape the opportunity to break into new territory. And then the Portuguese conquest of the wine market really began: the brand took off in Britain followed by the United States – which became the brand’s biggest market, taking the sales higher and higher.
The brand increased so much from there and its huge importance was to open the world’s doors to Portuguese wines, today one of the most beloved regions for the beverage connoisseurs.
Mateus still represents more than 40% of the wine export of Portugal.
Sogrape’s name had become synonymous with Mateus Rosé (which represented 90 percent of its sales in the decade of 1980), and it was the biggest player in the Portuguese wine industry. Today, the company has dozens of brands, among which the most renowned Portuguese wine, Barca Velha, produced by Casa Ferreirinha, among other red and white wines, Port and even spirits, such as brandy. Today Sogrape has more than 1,500 hectares of vineyards in Portugal, Spain, Argentina, New Zealand and Chile, and sells its wines in more than 120 countries.
A modern version
Two years ago, Mateus bottle went through a makeover to fit new consumers demands. The flask shape remained, but the dark green glass gave way to a transparent, clear glass bottle – which helped the company to increase its sales in 15%.
The idea was to allow consumers to see the light pink color of the wine and to give an overall fresher look to its presentation – targeting new generations. Research showed new consumers preferred to see the color of the rosè wine when they buy it.
“We recognise that modern wine consumers are interested in the color of their preferred rosé and we want to give them what they want”, Sogrape Managing Director Matt Douglas said during the lauching of the new bottle.
To keep its consumers well informed about the changes, Sogrape attached neck-tags to its last run of green-bottled wines that detail the move from green to clear glass. They also changed its content, as well: Mateus Rosé’s residual sugar was reduced from 20 grams a liter to 15, in line with prevailing taste trends.
In the last decades, Sogrape has been lauching new labels of Mateus, catering for different consumer preferences. The first were single-varietal rosè wines, such as the ones made with Shiraz and Tempranillo, following the distinctive flask-shaped bottles, whose iconic design helped make the brand famous.
More recently, the Mateus line has been expanded with other wines – such as white and sparkling ones. And for the first time, bigger changes have been made, also regarding the bottles: Sogrape launched two sparkling wines in Champagne-style bottles (Mateus Rosé Brut and Demi-Sec) and other Bordeaux-bottled wines (the Expressions line).
Mateus wines were, unprecedently, bottled in “regular” bottles. Everything to “push it up slightly”, as Sogrape reported. New bottles to store new wines for new times. A proof that sometimes changes are necessary to stay where you are.