José Ferreira de Sá – The Wine School Director
In this interview, José Ferreira de Sá explains his role as The Wine School Director at WOW and shares some key learnings in his profession.
What do you do?
I oversee our educational and touristic programme as part of an incredible but small team. This includes curating our wine list, implementing new programmes, developing the future of The Wine School, providing wine education to students and staff, and ensuring that our guests have a delightful and memorable wine experience.
How did you get into the industry?
My passion for wine began during my university years when I took several wine-tasting courses, getting to the point of having started, together with a friend, a project with the purpose of improving communication and education regarding Portuguese wines to a new generation of consumers, “The Wine Tellers”. This ignited my curiosity, and I decided to pursue a career in the wine industry. I completed various certifications and worked at luxury hotels with extensive wine programmes, gaining hands-on experience. Leading to this day where I’m fortunate enough to be able to fulfil my goal in the wine industry, where I can share my knowledge and passion with others, making wine knowledge accessible to everyone.
Share with us a story from behind the scenes.
We often organize blind-tasting challenges for team development. During the sessions, we conceal wines in paper bags and challenge each other to identify grape variety, region, and vintage. Laughter and camaraderie filled the room as we explored our senses and shared anecdotes. Many times we try to trick each other with a strange choice of wines. The experience deepens our appreciation for wine’s complexities and strengthens our team spirit, making it a cherished tradition at The Wine School.
What food memory from your childhood or travels stands out?
During a trip to Italy, I had the pleasure of dining at a rustic trattoria in Amalfi. The simplicity of the food and the way it perfectly complemented the local wines left a lasting impression on me. The combination of freshly made shellfish pasta with a bold and mineral Fiorduva white is a memory I often revisit, and it continues to inspire my approach to food and beverage pairings.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
The best part of my job is witnessing the joy and satisfaction on our guests’ faces as they discover new wines and expand their palate. It’s incredibly rewarding to be part of their wine journey. On the other hand, the most challenging aspect is keeping up with the ever-changing wine landscape as new regions and styles emerge. However, this challenge is also what makes my job exciting and dynamic.
What’s one of your favourite food and beverage pairings?
A personal favourite of mine is pairing a rich and spicy cheese with a crisp and vibrant aged Riesling from Pfalz, Germany. The bright acidity of the wine cuts through the cheese’s creaminess, creating a harmonious and delightful taste experience.
What’s one of the most memorable things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
One of the first and most present memories I have is of carrying, for the first time, a series of wine to re-stock the wine cellar. It was almost €10,000 worth. All this was on a small transport car, which unfortunately got stuck on a corner, causing it to overturn, breaking one of the most expensive bottles. I was apprehensive about having to explain this to my boss. She just asked me if I was alright and if it was just a bottle. It was a great learning moment that I bring to this day applying to my teams.
The perfect day off would …
… involve exploring nearby vineyards and wineries, indulging in local cuisine, and unwinding with a glass of exceptional wine in a picturesque setting. It’s a wonderful way to continue learning and gaining inspiration while enjoying well-deserved relaxation.
A day in the life of José Ferreira de Sá is …
… filled with a blend of administrative tasks, wine research, and hands-on interactions with guests and students. It often starts with tasting new wines to consider for our wine list and planning upcoming classes or events. Throughout the day, I engage with staff and guests, guiding them through wine selections and ensuring their experience is memorable and educational.
What does José Ferreira de Sá do for fun?
Rugby, good music and, of course, travel. In my free time, I love to travel to wine regions around the world to deepen my understanding of different wine cultures and techniques. Additionally, I enjoy exploring local restaurants and wine bars, always looking for unique food and beverage pairings.
What’s something you’d like guests to know about The Wine School?
The Wine School is not just a place to learn about wine; it’s a community of wine enthusiasts who share a passion for discovery and exploration. We strive to create a welcoming and enjoyable environment where everyone can feel comfortable expanding their knowledge and appreciation for wine.
How have you grown in your profession? What are your key learnings from your start in the industry until now? Any misconceptions?
Over the years, I have grown professionally and personally through continuous education and hands-on experience. One key learning has been the importance of adaptability in the wine industry. Trends change, new winemaking techniques emerge, and consumer preferences shift, so staying open to learning and embracing change is crucial. Additionally, I have come to appreciate the significance of effective communication when sharing my passion for wine with others, helping to demystify wine and make it approachable for all.
What’s something you’d like people to know about being a Wine Director as a profession?
Being a Wine Director is not just about having extensive knowledge of wine; it’s also about creating memorable experiences for guests, fostering a passion for wine, and cultivating a love for learning. It requires a blend of technical expertise, creativity, and genuine enthusiasm for the beverage and its cultural significance.
What’s your view on the wine scene in Porto?
Porto boasts a vibrant and dynamic wine scene with a rich history rooted in the production of Port wine. However, in recent years, the region has also seen a rise in boutique wineries producing high-quality table wines, expanding its offering beyond Port. The city has become a hub for wine enthusiasts and tourists seeking authentic wine experiences in beautiful surroundings.
What practices do you currently implement or hope to implement to work towards social responsibility and sustainability in the future?
At The Wine School, we are committed to social responsibility and sustainability. Currently, we work closely with local vineyards and wineries that prioritize environmentally friendly and ethical practices. Additionally, we strive to minimize waste and encourage responsible consumption among our guests. Moving forward, we hope to implement more educational initiatives on sustainable winemaking and continue to support vineyards with strong social and environmental commitments. With a strong connection and partnership since the beginning with Porto Protocol team to help us and guiding with some insights on sustainability for the wine industry.
What can guests look forward to in the upcoming months?
Exciting new Masterclasses and Certifications that showcase emerging wine regions and lesser-known grape varieties. Such as a Masterclass on Perfect Wine Glassware with Riedel, a Masterclass on Italian Wines or even a Masterclass on How to Taste Wine guided by a Master of Wine. Our plans include the WSET level 3 in Wines, delivered in Portuguese as well as in English, and starting with the brand new WSET Level 1 on Beer, becoming the first on the Iberian Peninsula.
We also plan to introduce even more interactive and immersive tasting experiences, making our offerings accessible to a broader audience. Keep an eye out for our Thematic Tastings and collaborations with renowned winemakers, promising an unforgettable journey into the world of wine.