"The vineyard, Quinta de la Rosa, had been in the family since the beginning of the century, but went bankrupt in the Thirties. We continued to produce grapes, but sold them to the big port shippers. But in 1987 new rules were introduced which meant that a small estate like ours did not have to have a base in Vila Nova de Gaia, in Porto, so we decided to go it alone, growing and making our own port with our own label, like bordeaux from a French chateau. It was the fulfilment of a family dream."
Now 37 and with three small children, Sophia grins when she recalls those early days in 1988, as an Englishwoman with uncertain command of Portuguese, entering an overwhelmingly male-dominated world of grand port dynasties. "I was terribly naive, I don't know how I had the guts."
But Sophia insists that being young and a woman works in her favour: "Port does appeal to younger people. I want to sweep away the dim gouty image and show that port has many faces."
An initial capital injection was provided by the sale of her father's successful pulp factory, and Portugal's entry into the European Community in 1986 opened the door to a raft of vital subsidies. The family invested pounds 200,000 in gleaming new wine-making equipment and bought up steep terraces of land behind their eighteenth century house on the banks of the Douro to plant new vines.
"My father never dreamed he'd be able even to keep La Rosa in the family, let alone run it at a profit. Our goal was to stop losing money so that we could keep the estate in the family without it being a constant drain on our resources. It took eight years before we could even think of making a profit."
But apart from 1993 ("which was disastrous for everyone"), Quinta de a Rosa has survived and flourished amid the buoyancy of the port sector as a whole. Sophia's brother Philip, 35, recently gave up his British management job to devote himself full-time to the business; her sister Juliet has just started a wine course in the United States.
Last year they produced 12,000 cases of port - a drop in the vat for the big players. But Sophia, who made successful pitches to the likes of Pont de la Tour and Quaglino's, is confident. "We're getting there," she says.Reuse content