Adrian Bridge doesn't do things small.
The CEO of the Fladgate Partnership—producer of Taylor's, Croft and Fonseca Ports—helped transform Porto tourism in 2010 with the opening of the Yeatman, a sprawling, lavish wine hotel and spa perched above the Douro River and the Vila Nova de Gaia Port lodges. Its restaurant quickly garnered the city's first Michelin star.
"Everybody said I was mad, opening a 5-star hotel in the middle of the economic crisis!" remembers Bridge, 55, a tall, dashing former British military officer and avid mountain climber.
Bridge's timing paid off handsomely. Today, as Porto's tourism booms, the Yeatman is thriving and expanding, and its restaurant (now with two stars) is booked weeks in advance.
Now comes Bridge's latest—and more ambitious—project.
Set to open in 2020, with work now underway, the plan is to convert Fladgate's old Port warehouses and cellars (its modern ones are upriver in the Douro appellation) into a 300,000-square-foot "World of Wine" featuring five museums, a wine school and 10 restaurants and bars. Fladgate is funding the whole project, to the tune of $120 million.
"There isn't at the moment a significant comparison in the world to what we are doing," says Bridge.
The project does invite comparisons with other wine museums, but Bridge says the World of Wine will outdo them in size and breadth. In its first years, Bridge projects 500,000 visitors.
"There are similarities and differences," he says. "One of the differences is the variety of experiences we will offer."
The museums planned by Bridge are topped by an interactive "Wine Experience" that looks at wine cultivation, terroir, production and appreciation in the context of Portugal and its 31 appellations.
"Once you have been through it, you should have increased your knowledge about wine," Bridge says. "You'll also have a better understanding of what you like and don't like in Portuguese wines."
Ironically, missing from the experience will be Port wines. That's because 16 nearby lodges, including Taylor's, already offer exhibits and tours, Bridge says, and "they all do basically the same thing."
Another museum will focus on cork. "All wine lovers come across cork, but very few are aware of the industry and the sustainability of cork," Bridge says. "Portugal leads the world in production, yet amazingly no one in this country has a consumer-facing museum dedicated to it."
A third wine-related museum will focus on the history of drinking vessels, a subject close to Bridge, whose personal collection of 800 vessels—dating back to 5,000 B.C. from what is now Syria—will be on display.
"Humankind has been consuming alcohol for ritual, sustenance and pleasure for millennia, and it's fascinating to look at the vessels," says Bridge, who calls collecting his "disease."
Two other museums will focus on the history of the city of Porto, which sits at the mouth of the Douro River, and on fashion and design in Northern Portugal. The restaurants and bars will all be operated by Fladgate and designed by Chicago's the Gettys Group.
The idea for World of Wine began as a way to give visitors to Porto—a town known for its architecture and outdoor green spaces, but with few museums—"more things to do in winter," Bridge says.
It's the project of a man with a swashbuckling résumé. At 20, Bridge graduated first in his class at Sandhurst, Britain's leading military academy. Bridge's six years as an officer in the British Army offered him a range of experiences, including a year as a United Nations peacekeeper in Cypress and a place on Britain's national bobsled team.
Bridge left the army to become an investment banker. About the same time, he married Natasha Robertson, a Yeatman descendant whose father ran the Port company that formally became known as the Fladgate Partnership. In 1994, at her father's invitation, the couple moved to Porto. Six years later, Bridge became CEO and Natasha became the company's chief blender.
Fladgate does not make any dry table wines, unlike some Port producers, although Bridge favors Colares reds, from the sandy soils near Lisbon. ("You can taste the sea in them," he enthuses.) But he believes it's the moment for Portugal's terroirs to shine.
"Portugal is a very small country in which you have a great diversity of wine styles, varietals and climatic conditions," he says. "And a wine lover likes nothing better than discovering new things."