What follows is a piece written entirely for my own amusement.
Still nursing Thanksgiving’s broken molar sustained when I bit down on a steel shotgun pellet embedded in a pheasant’s wing, I wondered what wine story might be the rough equivalent? I know! Shattered tooth, meet the Salahis.
By now we are all aware of the existence of Tareq and Michaele Salahi. They are the ambitious pair who successfully crashed last week’s state dinner at the White House and got to within striking distance of President Obama. As one may read from the official guest list released by the White House, the Salahi’s were not on it. And new details are emerging faster than you can say “This much we now know…”.
Though their on-going family drama is well-chronicled in the society pages of newspapers back East, here in the rest of America we are only beginning to play catch up. This much we now know: Apparently deeply in debt from tangled litigation largely surrounding their Oasis Winery in Virginia, the Salahi’s have been looking for creative avenues of escape. One such opportunity was reality T.V. Michaele Salahi was, in fact, being followed by a camera crew as part of her on-going audition for a starring role on Bravo’s Real Housewives of D.C. Indeed, according to a message posted by Tareq-Michaele Salahi onthe the Oasis Winery Facebook page they had invited ‘fans’ late last month to visit for a bit of filming at the winery. The trouble is they do not appear to any longer own it. From the FB page,
“Come over for a very casual Wine & Cheese Cheer at Oasis Winery, as we bring together a intimate group of new & old friends. (Please note – do not wear anything that will “date” this as a Holiday event for Filming purposes.)”
Yes, the Salahi’s once owned a vineyard and winery, Oasis Winery. It was one of the pioneering efforts of Virginia’s greatly respected wine industry. According to their website,
“Our experience dates back to 1977 when Tareq Salahi and his father together planted by hand some of the first Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines in Virginia.”
“The leadership and science of our winemaking comes from our Founder, Tareq Salahi, a graduate of the University of California, Davis which is the the worlds leading educational institution for the worlds wine industry; Mr. Tareq Salahi sub-focused in sparkling wines and has extensive experience working Taittinger, Domaine Carneros of Napa Valley, Australia, South Africa and returned to the family vineyards to take Oasis to a new level. Under Mr. Tareq Salahis leadership – Oasis was rated Top 10 in the World in 2000! “ (sic)
But there is a passage from a different source that differs ever so slightly and hints at the trouble that led to the loss of the winery: From the Insiders’ Guide to Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the 9th edition from 2005.
“Tareq Salahi and his wife, Michaele, purchased the property in the mid-1970s and planted French hybrid grapes as a hobby. Salahi soon learned that the soil was well suited for grape growing and turned his hobby into a business.”
There is no mention of the father, Durgham Salahi. And it is around him that much of the family drama circulates. According to the Fairfax Times.com it was back in 2007 that NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal shpwed up out of the blue with an offer to buy Oasis. This was surprising to Tareq and Michaele. The winery was not for sale. From the Fairfax Times:
One day last June,  Shaquille O’Neal, one of the world’s best-known athletes, showed up at the vineyard unannounced. Michaele Salahi, a former model who’d known O’Neal through charity circles, said, ”I just said to him ‘What are you doing here? And he said, ‘I’ve been talking to Mrs. Salahi and I’m thinking of buying Oasis.’”
Neither said they knew the vineyard was for sale, which Tareq said was a violation of their family partnership, naming the parents as 70 percent owners and Tareq and his brother Ishmael as 30 percent owners. His father, 80-year-old Durgham Salahi, has Parkinson’s disease and suffers from dementia. “She listed the place without my authorization,” Tareq said. “But we felt Shaq might make a good partner for our growth plans.
Things did not work out. Tareq began to believe O’Neal had secret designs on the winery and was planning a take-over that would eventually lead to his ouster. There was much hand-wringing and finger-pointing in the wake of O’Neal’s departure. Again from the Fairfax Times,
Tareq blamed his mother Corrine Salahi for causing turmoil at the vineyard, claiming she “abused” vineyard employees with “bullying tactics” and “fabricated claims,” and even wielding a pistol at times. Mrs. Salahi did not return calls for comment. [....] “I’m not speaking with my mom,” Salahi said. “She wants to put my dad away in a nursing home and she has betrayed the whole family. She can’t be forgiven for this betrayal.”
Since January the Fauquier Sheriff’s Office has recorded 26 incident reports at the vineyard, six naming Corrine Salahi, according to Major Paul Mercer, the Sheriff Office’s Public Information Officer. “We have sent deputies out there quite a few times this year,” Mercer said. “These cases involved everything from simple assault, motor vehicle theft, burglary and assault involving a family member.”
Litigation followed, and ended with the vineyard and winery put into receivership. A realtor and close family friend of the younger Salahi’s, one Casey Margenau, stepped up. But that plan, too, went south. As recounted in a thorough piece on The Real McCoy blog,
“In January, the Fauquier Times-Democrat reported that a sale of the Oasis real estate fell through when McLean Realtor Casey Margenau backed out of the deal to buy the property for $4.15 million. At that time, the newspaper reported that litigation regarding the disposition of the winery began in 2006, and court documents contain allegations of fraud and embezzlement of corporate assets by Tareq Salahi and his parents, Dirgham and Corrine Salahi.”
“Oasis Enterprises, Inc. Chairman Tareq Salahi plans to move his Oasis Winery business, currently based near Hume in Fauquier County, to the Blue Rock property owned by Gary Harvey, said David Arnold, an assistant to Salahi. The new winery would become one of the ten largest in Virginia, he said, producing 35,000 to 50,000 cases of wine and champagne a year, Arnold said.” [sic]
But these ambitious plans, too, fell apart. According to a CNN report,
“Oasis Winery filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February, according to U.S. Bankruptcy Court records in the Eastern District of Virginia. Tareq Salahi is listed as company president in the filing. Creditors listed include the IRS, Fauquier County, the state of Virginia, several banks and American Express Corp., among others. The company claims about $335,000 in assets and $965,000 in liabilities.”
The CNN story goes on to list additional debts, including a $65 parking ticket. (CNN is nothing if not thorough!)
Well, that will about do it for me. I’ve a dentist appointment. For the reader’s further amusement I encourage you to view this hilarious YouTube video interview with Oasis manager, Diane Weiss, concerning a recent visit by the Secret Service. If you are still hungry for more, please give a listen to this audio exclusive interview with Tareq Salahi from Radar Online.com.
Germany’s Appetite for Destruction
Monday, November 30, 2009 will be the last day the world puts their protests in for the building of the High Mosel Bridge. I am hoping my blog will be one of many posted Monday regarding this grave action by the Rheinland/Pfalz government.
Many articles from mainline and bloggers have been written cross referencing previous articles to raise awareness of a project that originally was conceived back in the 1960’s. It was considered folly then, raised back in the 70’s and stopped again because it was seen as a waste, but the past couple years, politicians doing what they do best, creating projects that will give them some sort of recognition for future votes no matter their costs have put the bridge through.
This quarter of a billion dollar bridge only cuts 30 minutes of travel time. Not only is it destructive, it’s a waste of German taxpayer’s dollars.
It is going to upset the delicate eco system of the middle Mosel and some of the greatest heritage vineyards will be ripped up. The bridge is being built as any other bridge without consideration of the land it is spanning.
It is hoped at the last moment, on December 1st, Chancellor Angela Merkel will grant clemency and stops the bridge. But even though she was the Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation & Nuclear Safety under Helmut Kohl’s administration, she appears to have little interest in the preservation of her countries environmental heritage.
I can only hope this fiasco will bring awareness to the preservation of other world heritage vineyards. It’s a shame when humans have something precious, we are so eager to destroy it.
Please sign the petitions and write Chancellor Merkel and make your voice known.
Below is a listing of famous vineyards that are going to be grubbed up and affected during and after the bridge is built with the producers who are directly reflected.
Ürziger Würzgarten: J.J. Christoffel, Dr. Loosen, Merkelbach Zeltinger Sonnenuhr: J.J. Prüm, Selbach-Oster, Markus Molitor Zeltinger Schlossberg: Selbach-Oster Graacher Himmelreich: Dr. Loosen, Selbach-Oster, Willi Schaefer, Markus Molitor, J.J. Prüm, Heribert Kerpen Graacher Domprobst: Selbach-Oster, Willi Schaefer, Markus Molitor, Heribert Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr: J.J. Prüm, Dr. Loosen, Selbach-Oster, Heribert Kerpen*
*(copied from Slate, Mike Steinberger, September 10, 2009)
— Twitter Petition: Angela Merkel: Stop the Mosel Bridge
— Protest the Mosel Bridge in English and German
— Chancellor Angela Merkel’s email: email@example.com
— Great speech by Stuart Pigott regarding the bridge first spoken in German then he speaks in English. Stuart Pigott at the ‘Last Chance Wine Forum’ against the High Mosel Bridge.
— The planned bridge that could ruin Germany’s cherished Mosel wine region. – By Mike Steinberger – Slate Magazine
— Open letter to Angela Merkel concerning the High Mosel Bridge
— Please fight Mosel madness | Tasting Notes & Wine Reviews from Jancis Robinson
— YouTube – Hugh Johnson’s speech against the High Mosel Bridge
— Linden Wilkie
— Wine Anorak
I have written extensively here on Cavitus, an Australian company on the cutting edge of High Power Ultrasonics (HPU). Long designed for the cleaning of wine barrels, the removal tartrate build-up and the elimination of living cultures of Brettanomyces, a new application has been recently discovered and patented, that of flavor and color extraction. Andrew Yap, former Roseworthy College and University of Adelaide wine science lecturer and presently director of Oenology and Industry Marketing at Cavitus wrote me about this.
“Our latest breakthrough is the use of HPU for colour and flavour extraction from red must immediately at crushing. We have being trialing the technology in 2008 and 2009. We have had many successful winery trials with Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese grapes. In the 2010 vintage, wineries are planning to trial grape varieties, including Viognier, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, etc. The wines from treated musts have been stunning. The wines have now been formally tasted by more than 10 winemaking groups in Aust and CA and the Aust Wine Research Institue’s taste panel. In general, HPU-treated wines have better depth of colour, greater palate weight and structural and textural complexity. The treated wines also gained more quality points in a 20-point scale used in Wine Show scoring, according to the AWRI’s taste panel.”
In the September issue of Australia’s Wine Business Magazine (subscription required) was published a brief account of the serendipitous discovery. During the five years of working to refine HPU barrel cleaning technology, it was determined that there was, indeed, another benefit of HPU. As Prof. Yap writes,
“When applied to grape must, Cavitus grape colour and flavour extraction (GCFE) HPU increases red colour density and anthocyanin concentration by as much as 30%. It accelerates the transfer of flavour compounds, aroma and flavour precursors as well as tannins from grape skins from the cells into the juice. One of the positive aspects of Cavitus’ HPU is that as a non-thermal process it does not adversely impact the organoleptic properties of the must and final wine.” [emphasis added]
Why might this innovation be of great importance? It gives far greater flexibility to manage picking times. Indeed, with respect to Autralia, Prof. writes,
“The last few vintages have shown how climate change can radically effect quality. Using Cavitus’ GCFE, winemakers can pick grapes earlier as a risk management strategy to manage colour and flavour in the winery rather than trying to work with high alcohol levels.” [emphasis added]
Over the next month I will be posting occasional updates, specifically the primary research on GCFE. And a recent interview with Prof. Yap will be made available in the next week. For background reading on the barrel cleaning dimension of Cavitus’ technology please see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of last year’s October interview.
Marlborough’s Awatere Valley is part of New Zealand’s thriving sheep industry and is the home to the historic 1847 Flaxbourne Station, so the arrival of another flock isn’t anything new, however, the latest additions to the region are unusual for two reasons; firstly, they’re tiny – the miniature Babydoll (SouthDown) rare-breed – and secondly, they’re being used as lawn-mowers on a vineyard.
The Babydolls are intended to keep the grass and weeds in check between the vines on Yealand’s Estate based just outside of Seddon, on the North-Eastern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. The goal is for sheep to eventually replace tractors over the whole 1000+ hectares (ha) on the estate, but they’re starting off slowly with just 10 of the woolly grass-cutters in 125 ha of organic Sauvignon Blanc.
Originally from the South Downs of Sussex, England, it was America that developed the breed in the late 19th and 20th centuries, though Yealand’s have imported theirs from Australia at $2000 (US) each and are hoping to increase numbers by another 10-20 over the next few months before starting a 5-year cross-breeding program which is hoped to produce a flock big enough for all the vines.
Adult Babydolls reach only 24” (60cm) when fully grown so should be no direct threat to the vines, although this isn’t the first attempt at replacing tractors on the estate; traditional sized sheep were tried first, but they started to eat the grapes, while guinea pigs (Cavys) proved more successful until hawks in the area developed a taste for them! A local 3news video gives a great summary of the events.
I chanced upon this story after winning a bottle of the Yealand’s Estate 2008 Sauvignon Blanc at a recent tasting. While researching the winery details via their UK importer, Liberty Wines, I saw the Babydoll press release and delved deeper, discovering that it’s not just a PR exercise but part of an integrated and well planned environmental strategy for the new winery set up by Peter Yealand.
In April it became the largest winery certified under the CarboNZero scheme and their website states “we’re creating the first fully sustainable winery in New Zealand” – from its outset the winery started off greener than other established businesses with its use of wind turbines, solar power, water collection & recycling and a host of other initiatives including wetland development.
I contacted the winery to find out a little more about the business and the man who set it up.
It seems that 61yr old Peter Yealand is a true maverick, a self-made millionaire who doesn’t conform to any business template; he has never got round to buying a suit and is more at home behind the wheel of an earth-mover than behind a desk. Peter started off his business life carting hay around South Island before getting into construction, including repairing the marine defences at the end of Wellington airport. His big break came in the early 70’s at the start of the country’s mussel farming industry which he successfully helped develop for nearly 20 years. A spot of deer farming followed which got him into land development and, importantly, an appreciation of environmental concerns (in contrast to his earlier life) which would stay with him to the present day.
It was in 2002 that Peter started his ventures involving vines after buying up a marshy area around Blenheim and sculpturing the land to create a new lake alongside a 20ha vineyard. Soon he had 3 separate vineyards and was selling grapes to established wineries including Montana. The strong, year-round coastal winds prove a challenge to viticulture in the area so he developed a reusable plastic vine guard, the Alto Microclime in 2004 as an improvement to the existing, often makeshift alternatives (such as milk cartons).
Disgruntled by what he saw as poor management, by the end of 2005 he attempted to take over Oyster Bay (Marlborough Vineyards) and ended up in a messy bidding war with Delegat. Although he eventually lost that encounter the idea of running his own winery had taken hold and within 3 years Yealand had consolidated his existing vineyard holdings, purchased new land and spent hundreds of hours behind the controls of his earthmoving equipment – Yealand’s Estate was opened in August 2008.
The winery was conservatively valued at $30 million (US) when it opened and the Estate media brochure claims it is twice as efficient in terms of energy used per bottle of wine compared to the industry standard – in its first year of operation the energy efficiency and alternative production schemes saved nearly 1 million kilowatt hours, equivalent to 120 family houses. From 2010 LPG use will be replaced by a grape pruning oiler and an extra wind turbine alongside the existing wind & solar generators should see the winery completely self-sufficient for energy production and even selling off any excess to the National Grid.
500 ha of vines are currently on-line but full production from total land holdings of over 1000 ha is expected by 2013. The Babydoll sheep are currently roaming around the 125 ha earmarked for full organic operation for the 2010 vintage.
There are 4 vineyards;
– Seaview, 1000 ha and New Zealand’s largest privately owned vineyard
– Flaxbourne, 100 ha in traditional sheep country – these are both in the Awatere Valley south of Seddon.
– Grovetown, on reclaimed marshland
– Riverlands?- these make up 50 ha of Sauvignon Blanc on the Wairau Plains, near Blenheim.
The head winemaker is Tamra Washington, born and bred in Blenheim and lured back home by Peter after working in wineries in California, Italy and Australia. No doubt inspired by Tamra’s wanderings, experimental vineyards of Fiano, Gruner Veltliner and Tempranillo hint at future offerings under the Yealand’s banner and in New Zealand a Tempranillo is available under the “Pete’s Shed” label (a reference to Peter Yealand’s eccentric “garden shed” inventor habits). For now Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are available in the US, with Sauvignon Blanc, Vioginer, Riesling and Pinot Gris in the UK (and Marks & Spencers customers may have seen the Flaxbourne Sauvignon Blanc, made especially for M&S by Yealands).
With one of the windiest vineyard sites in New Zealand the Estate vines tend to be lower yielding and with thicker skinned grapes, hopefully leading to a greater concentration of flavours. The planting of 27,000 native trees and flaxes to act as a wind barrier has also encouraged birds and other wildlife into the area and around the wetland areas also set up. This information and much more is available on an enjoyable interactive wander through the 3-page Flash version of the Yealands website – be sure to listen out for the sheep in the background and imagine the patter of tiny feet between the vines!
Cork versus screw cap. The conversation has gotten quite stale for the wine drinker. And that is because the terms of debate largely revolve around the issue of the preservation of wine alone. Nothing but the noise of competing industries on this topic may be regularly heard. A drinker may be forgiven for believing that it really doesn’t matter how wine is sealed. Has cork improved in recent years? Has the incidence of TCA contamination been dramatically reduced? Are there reduction issues associated with screw cap? And does cork matter? To all of these questions the answer is a resounding “yes”.
Robert Parker, recently returned from the WineFuture Conference in Spain observed on his website just this week that
“…the tiny percentage of corked bottles confirms what I have been seeing for the last 3-4 years…that industry has awakened following the decline in cork quality…”
Yet how does this information influence the drinker in their purchasing decisions? Perhaps not at all. Something is missing from the popular discussion. Indeed, much more than something is missing.
There exists a broad range of important issues that the cork manufacturer Amorim has taken the lead in publicizing. Cork is a renewable, entirely recyclable resource. Cork forests play an indispensable role in plant and animal ecosystems and sanctuaries, as reservoirs of biodiversity and even speciation. Family traditions remain intact and thrive through the careful husbandry of cork oak trees generations-old for a fair price. Local economies are sustained by its stable cultivation. Harvesting requires skills patiently acquired. And manufacturing offers productive employment to 1000s. These and still other positive social and environmental values are available for all to read on Amorim’s Cork Facts page, a rich source of current information on the state of the culture and industry.
Doing my part to celebrate this noble product, I offer an account of a tour of the the Quinta da Lagoalva, both the estate and winery. As a very fine part of the 2009 European Wine Bloggers Conference in Lisbon, Amorim and Lagoalva graciously offered an in-depth look at virtually every aspect of cork’s profound backstory. This is the substance of part 1. In part 2 I will recount a tour of the Amorim production facility in Coruche.
A word about our guide from Amorim, Carlos de Jesus, the Director of Marketing & Communications. Rarely have I met an individual with such a complete mastery of a subject. I knew we were in for educational experience when the first thing the gentleman said was “Ask any question you want. Make them as tough as you like. If you don’t ask the hard questions, I will. And I will answer them.” Carlos was no company flak, but a man deeply dedicated to the life and culture of cork in all its many dimensions. A truly brilliant fellow.
Diogo Campilho I am the winemaker for Lagoalva. I studied in Portugal for four years, and then I went to Australia where I worked for three years until I came back to Lagoalva in 2004. Lagoalva belongs to my family. It is a family estate. We have in total 6000 acres; some of them are together and then we have smaller pieces around.
Of the cork trees, we have 3000 acres. We have harvested bark here since 1932, quite a long time. We harvest all the cork every nine years. In those years there are only two years in which we don’t take bark. Yields per year are around 50,000 arrobas (an arroba is about 15 kilos). We use the arroba because it is the unit of measurement here.
About 25% of our bark is top quality; 50% is normal to average; the last 25% is not so good [but still usable]. With respect to TCA, that occurs mostly at the bottom of the tree. We don’t sell that part. We cut it off, a certain number of centimeters is removed. The bark is then placed on top of plastic sheets [tarps] for a time.
We have here a guy who will show you how we harvest from the tree; from that tree which is on the ground. He will demonstrate. We sell the bark that only we harvest. Why? Because our workers have been with us for ages and they know how to do it well! And for us it is important that it is harvested properly so as to not damage the tree. We work carefully to preserve them for as long as we can.
The first time the bark is harvested is after 25 years. We call it ‘virgin’. We don’t sell it. It is not of good quality. The second harvest we don’t sell either. It is only after 18 years, with the third harvest, do we begin selling the bark.
Carlos de Jesus You can never harvest everything. There is no mathematical formula but it is a function of the height of the tree and of the diameter of the trunk. That gives you the amount of cork that may be removed. By the time these guys come back to this tree in 9 years the tree is going to be bigger. They are going to be able to take a little bit more. So every cycle, every nine years, a little bit more will be taken as the oak reaches its maturity. But you never harvest 100%. That would be too much stress on the tree.
See how rough the bark is? This afternoon when we go to Coruche [one of Amorim’s cork processing centers] you will be able to see the planks of the third, fourth, and fifth etc. harvest. And you will be able to see how much smoother the bark becomes over the life of the cork oak. Subsequent harvests have a smoothing effect on the bark. But much of this will be too hard to compress.
One of the reasons why cork works so well in a bottle, and in flooring and shoes, for example, is that it compresses. In fact it is the world’s only natural solid that may be compressed on one end and not increase its size on the other end. That is the reason why it seals a bottle so well. So you want to maintain that elasticity as much as you can.
Visiting Blogger For the first and second harvest, is it possible to use the bark for other purposes?
Carlos de Jesus Yes, it is. There is flooring, for example. It does not require the same elasticity you need of a bottle cork. You can use it for insulation. This is a good example because it is a 100% natural product; there are no glues in it.
Visiting Blogger How do you store the bark until it goes to processing?
Diogo Campilho We sell it only after 21 days from when harvested. Why? Because of the humidity on the bark. We store the bark in stacks 2 meters high and 10 meters long.
Visitin Blogger You’re waiting 21 days so you’re selling on cork weight and not on water weight?
Carlos de Jesus Yes, basically. There is something I want to emphasize. When Diogo says that he puts the stacks onto plastic, not directly in contact with the soil, that is absolutely fundamental. About TCA, you cannot defeat anything measured in nanograms just by using curative measures. Everybody loves miracle cures. We all like to open the newspaper and find that ‘XYZ’ disease was cured.
We also need prevention. Prevention starts right here in the forest. So when Diogo cuts the lower end of the plank he is making my life easier. When he then keeps all those stacks from contact with the soil where you have all the precursors of TCA, he’s making life difficult for those precursors! So when we have to apply curative measures, which we still need to have, you’re not applying curative measures upon a huge departure base; but on a much lower departure base. It is one thing to deal with a big migraine, it is quite another to deal with the headache at its onset. But if you have a headache everyday, don’t take an aspirin everyday. (laughs) Go and find out why you have that headache!
Traditionally we didn’t talk [to the cork oak growers]. Our grandparents were playing a zero sum game. They wanted to sell as high I possible; I wanted to buy as low as possible. And we would meet every nine years around that zero sum game. But that is not how you establish confidence! That is not how you understand the other guy’s problems. They think it is very easy for us; we think it is very easy for them. But it is not! It is a very, very complex relationship, especially when you have more plastics and screw caps coming onto the market. I cannot deliver the quality that you guys demand [the wine drinking public] if he doesn’t know what I need.
So the amount of dialogue that we have today is completely different than what we had as little as ten years ago. That makes a big difference.
Diogo Campilho A few more things I want to show you. In the soil we make pH adjustments and we use the organic manure from the our more than 1000 cattle and 3000 sheep. We use no irrigation.
Visiting Blogger Do you prune the trees?
Diogo Campilho Yes, but only in the beginning. We remove the branches lower on the trunk and prefer the straighter limbs.
Visiting Blogger Why does the ground have to be kept so bare?
Carlos de Jesus So bare? It doesn’t have to be. It is their choice to do so. But you have to realize one thing. If you look around you will see you are looking at sand. If you take away the cork oaks there will be nothing here, not even this grass. This area is prone to desertification. The cork oak plays an effective role. Imagine this sandy soil in the Summer when it is 110 degrees fahrenheit out there and 70 degrees in the forest! Nothing would survive without the trees.
Visiting Blogger Are you saying that if the humans disappeared for 100 years this would all be desert?
Carlos de Jesus If the humans disappeared this would be a much better place for the animals. If the cork oak disappear this will be a much worse place for both animals and people. You can take people out of this world and nothing happens to the world. There are plenty of Hollywood films that tell you about that. (laughs) The point here is not people protecting the oaks as much as the oaks protecting people.
He owns the trees but he doesn’t own the trees. Because he cannot cut them down. If a tree is dead we have to ask for permission to cut it down. We need to give something back. And what the oaks demand is very little. They give a lot. To me one of the most important things that the oaks give is the ability to show the world that economic, social and environmental issues can co-exist. You do not have to choose one or the other. These guys have been around for decades and decades illustrating that you can have it all.
We are then shown a demonstration of how the bark is removed.
Diogo Campilho I want to explain one thing. Normally this kind of job is done to a living tree! I don’t know if you know that the harvesting is done in June. Why? Because that is when there is a good relationship between the humidity and the heat. It would be impossible to remove the cork from the tree now [Nov. 1st] through Spring. For each tree there are two guys working. So we have a total of nine couples, eighteen people, harvesting oak; and we have four women who pick up the planks immediately and put them on a tractor to be taken to the stacks. A good average per tree would be 45 kilos.
Carlos de Jesus The bark is now dry. If you were to touch the trunk immediately after a proper harvest it would be wet. Not with sap but with moisture. The sap runs inside, in the wood of the tree.
Diogo Campilho Over there you can see a tree with the number six written on it. That means it was last harvested in 2006. This tree has no number on it because it was harvested in 2009. So this is a cork tree that was harvested this last June.
I hope my great-grand children will still be able to harvest these trees.
Visiting Blogger Is this an average density of trees for a cork forest?
Carlos de Jesus It really depends. If your comparing to the rest of the Alentejo it is pretty much average. In some other areas they can be quite dense. Here it is about 60 trees per hectare.
Visiting Blogger Once the cork is harvested I am curious as to what you do with the waste after all products are made?
Carlos de Jesus Nothing is wasted, absolutely nothing. I’ll give you an example. The plant your going to visit this afternoon, 95% of it’s energy needs come from renewable sources. And that renewable source is essentially cork dust. So when the granules are so fine that nothing else can be made with them, we use them as fuel. Nothing is wasted. This is one of the things I like the most.
We pile back onto the bus and head for the grounds of the Quinta da Logoalva de Cima itself for a lunch. The dirt roads were rutted with tractor and truck ruts. In our full sized air-conditioned bus the way was slow. How strange to be straddling the generations of viticultural and cork agricultural practice, experiencing the whiplash of historical/modern moments in such a behemoth as was our bus. Its garish splashes of blue and white, its logo bigger than a man, all was very much out of place among the coffee brown of the oaks and the blond weeds.
We enjoyed a brilliant lunch. I am sure I speak for all of my colleagues in offering great thanks to Diogo de Campilho for his generosity.
Next stop: The Amorim cork processing facility AI Coruche.
In part 1 of my visit to Carcavelos on a brilliant Fall morning described in Carcavelos Wine, A Family History, I introduced readers to José and Licete Sequeira. Now we may learn a bit more about the family’s winery, Quinta da Rosas. We must also pay our respects to husband and father, Antonio Eduardo Costa Sequeira (pictured). But first there are the ghosts wandering the ruins of Carcavelos to visit.
I had gone to the seaside town about 20 minutes by train from Lisbon to look for the grounds of the proposed Carcavelos wine museum. After a disappointing search, yes, I did find the museum site, the long abandoned Quinta do Barao. But I had met no one to tell me the story. Fate was to win the day when turning to leave, I met the owner of a small shop, José Maria Sequeira. This dutiful, soft-spoken man is the great-grandson of an important Carcavelos winemaker, (also named) José Maria Sequeira, himself the son of Antonio Duarte d’Oliveira, the founder of Quintas das Rosas in the 19th century.
José locked up his shop at one o’clock and took me to meet his mother, Licete. An elegant, intense woman, she was to show me, among many other interesting artifacts, two of the eight four-inch thick volumes of historical material on the wine history of Carcavelos her recently passed husband Antonio Sequeira had compiled over the years. (As a side note, as voluntary vice-president of the local Fire Station, she is currently working on a book about its century of service to Carcavelos. And motivated by her drive to tell her family’s story, she’s decided to begin learning the English language!)
In this, part 2, I pick up the story just before José must return to his shop. As before, he provided a translation of Licete’s remarks when our shared French, Licete’s and mine, failed us.
–José begins to bring out old bottles of Carcavelos wines. [Additional photos to come.]
Admin What magnificent bottles!
Licete Sequeira There is also very good wine in California.
–Always with a task to complete, Licete walks from the living room.
José Maria Sequeira Here are wines from my great-grandfather’s farm, Quinta das Rosas.
Incredible! I am afraid to touch them.
JMS But it is your work!
What happened to that second ‘l’ in ‘Carcavelos’? The town is now spelled with only one.
JMS It fell down! (laughs)
–Licete returns to the room with two thick yellow binders.
Licete Theses are two of the eight collections of documents on the history of the wine of Carcavelos my husband gathered over the years. Without these, work like this, you lose the stories.
Yes. In California we have that problem. Are you going to have these published? Or give them to the museum?
Licete It is too soon….
–Licete leaves the binders with us and goes back into to the kitchen.
JMS When she met my father they knew each other for three years. They then were married for 42 years; they were always together. It was a big loss when he died five years ago. My father very much liked Carcavelos. As you can see he did a lot of research. In these books are the original documents of the sale of the Quinta, the number of bottles made, the price and where they were sold, labels, pictures, menus, postcards…
You are coming back on Tuesday? We’ll find a time when my little brother Eduardo can speak with you.
–Licete returns to the living room with a bottle she then gives to me.
This is for me?
JMS Yes. It is a Moscatel from Setúbal. She has a large collection of Ports, more than a hundred. This Moscatel is as good as those.
Thank you, Licete. I don’t think this wine is anywhere available in America.
JMS It is difficult to find in Portugal as well.
–We say our farewells. I leave on the train for Lisbon, pleased to know I shall be returning in two days to speak with Eduardo.
Tuesday, November 3rd.
I am always on time. To be a minute late to this reacquaintance would open the door to the slightest doubt. I can’t let that happen. When I enter his store at three minutes to one, José looks at me as if it is the most natural thing in the world that I have remained true to my word. He has hit upon the secret of Fate and simply does not doubt that we were to meet again. He closes shop at one o’clock and soon we are sitting with, Licete (she makes an all-to-brief appearance) and José’s ‘little’ brother, Eduardo Nuno Ramos Costa Segueira. I very quickly warm to this gentleman. He tells it like it is.
Eduardo Nuno Sequeira The business interests care only about buildings and for houses. They want to make quick money. They don’t care about the environment or wines; they care only about euros. That is the problem. The Quinta do Baroa, where the museum is to be built, was cut in half by the highway about ten years ago.
José Maria Sequeira They said one part was for the museum, here in Carcavelos, and the other part in Oeiras was sold for a luxury hotel, a VIP Sheraton. But they will be planting on the Carcavelos side, on the grounds of the museum, a one hectare vineyard to help bring back Carcavelos wine.
ENS As they’ve done near Montmartre in Paris.
How much wine is still being produced here? Who is still making it?
ENS Carcavelos wine is now being produced at the Agronomical Station [a university extension] in Oeiras, and also in Caparide [a small, nearby town]. The seminary there produces wine. There are three growers in all: in Oeiras, the Quinta da Cima (they have a new label), the seminary in Caparide, the Quinta da Ribeira de Capride, and Quinta Dos Pesos here in Carcavelos. Just how much they make I am not quite certain. But it cannot be a lot.
There is a very funny story about this wine [see pic of Eduardo holding the bottle of Quinta das Rosas above]. Not even my father or my grandfather ever saw a bottle of this wine because they stopped the production of the wine in the time of my great-grandfather, when my grandfather [Antonio Duarte Sequeira] was a little boy. And then some eight years ago, during an exhibition of Carcavelos wine, some lady appeared with these two bottles asking if anybody wanted to buy them. (laughs) My father was completely astonished!
–We decide to drive to Oeiras, José, Eduardo and myself, to visit the vineyards of the Agronomical Station. Licete has been on the phone in a most animated conversation. She quickly shows my a half dozen web sites to help with my research. Her plan, in keeping with her husband’s ambition, it to eventually put all of his collected material on an internet site for all of the world to explore.
Ciao, Licete. Enchanteé.
Licete Ciao! Bon travail! Bon Voyage!
As we walk to Eduado’s car we pass down a maze of well-kept streets and white-walled boulevards. Along with the apartment buildings and smaller housing complexes there are, indeed, numerous white-washed earthen walls of quite substantial height. Well over six feet in many instances, it is nearly impossible to see what is on the other side. To my surprise very often the walls close in open, undeveloped land. Acres and acres of such open land are contained behind walls all throughout the Carcavelos municipality. We came upon one very special expanse.
JMS and ENS Over this wall is my grandfather’s farm, the land anyway. The owners haven’t built here yet. When my grandfather sold the farm they put in the contract that 40% of the land must be for public use. They are delaying building because they want all the land for themselves. (laughs) And just at the end of this street there starts another farm, the Quinta da Alagoa. It’s a garden or a park now. It dates back to 1900. You saw bottles of their wine at Licete’s house.
At every corner you turn you can see a farm.
What happened to the building was a crime. It was habitable. There were people living there. Then they sold the farm to the state. They left the house with everything remaining inside. But then the house was completely assaulted, destroyed by vandals. They use to light fires inside. After two or three fires the house was completely destroyed. It was also supposed to be a museum. (bleakly laughs) We cannot go in but there remain the tunnels of the adega where they stored the wine.
As you can see, the Quinta da Alagoa is only a small part of the garden. It was a big property. When we were children we used to play here and sometimes we would get lost because of the dense vegetation. There is a small pond just over there. Just under the water there is a sculpture of a crocodile. We lost ourselves in the trees and bushes, in this part. Many of the houses around here were built on the land of the Quinta, but at least they kept some of it for a garden.
JMS You remember I told you about the towers blocking the wind on the vineyards of the Quinto do Barao? Eduardo tells me that it was an excuse.
ENS The reason was economics. They very much wanted to sell it. They felt the wine was not giving a good profit, not when you could sell it for so much more for building. In the last years they began reducing the number of bottles produced each year. They cut back the vineyards until they finally stopped completely.
This building here is the oldest part of the Quinta da Alagoa, the one with the iron supports around it. It is from the 1700s. The iron work is recent. The supports were put in because it is all about to fall. They, the government, are trying to protect it. You see the pool behind us. It is very old, where the family use to swim [not pictured].
–We finally arrive at Eduardo’s car and drive off to the vineyard of the Agronomical Station in Oeiris.
How much wine did Quinta da Alagoa produce at full capacity?
ENS I don’t know. It would be in my father’s notes. He even has notes on the number of eggs laid at Quinta da Alagoa. How many liters of milk produced. He had many record books. He went to people’s houses asking for information. And when people in the town would find things about our wine or area they would come to him with it.
Where did his passion for documentation come from?
ENS He was a collector, of stamps, coins; he collected everything. I think it’s the mix of the collections with his hometown. He was interested not only in the wine history but of all things about Carcavelos.
–We arrive at the Agronomical Station, an unremarkable, utilitarian building. Students, but only a few, move down the narrow halls. Eduardo speaks with the secretary, asking for directions to the vineyards and the adega. We learn that it is closed. Not to be discouraged we get permission to to go as far as we may. Having passed two large vineyards along the way to the adega, we think we have seen all the vineyards planted. We are about to be enlightened as we come to a halt at a locked gate.
The adega is on top of a rise 500 meters in the distance. Acres of additional vineyards scramble up the slope opposite the adega, just out of reach.
José is not one to be denied at this final moment. He knows I’ve a meeting in Portugal in an hour and that he must get back to his shop. He tells me I’ve come too far to let a barricade stop us. So it is that we trudge up the hill. Eduardo eventually follows after turning the car around for a quick get away.
José and I are very surprised by the abundance of new, young vines and by the acreage still waiting to be cultivated. Row after new row we begin to get a real sense of just how seriously Oeiras is taking the challenge to bring the Carcavelos DOC back to prominence. As we reach the top of the hill out of the adega appear three startled students/teachers. They work the vineyard and the adega. Will they will throw us out? Eduardo catches up to us and there begins a delicate conversation. We learn for the first time that we are standing in front of the Adega Casal da Manteiga. And that the harvest ended September 17th.
They kindly provide us with a brochure published for visitors. In it we read that production has moved from the Estação Vitivinicola de Dois Portos to the 1800s Adega do Casal de Manteiga in the Quinta do Marquês de Pombal, where we now stand. The wine will be released under the ‘Conde de Oeiras’ label. Most importantly we read that 2007 and 2008 yielded 37,100 and 28,230 liters of wine respectively. Figures from 2001, by contrast, put production at 7,050 liters. We further learn that the 12.7 hectares currently under cultivation will be expanded to a total of 20 hectares by 2012. This is very good news, indeed.
The three of us walk down the hill in pleasant reflection upon what we have together discovered. Our spirits have lifted. José finally breaks the silence.
JMS I hope they keep the vines growing for a long time. I think that there is hope after all.
End of part 2
A Wine Festival and an Alsace & Germany tasting added an extra twist to the usual libations and made the month look a lot more interesting on paper than I initially recalled – isn’t it strange how unreliable memory is?
I’ve already detailed the Wine on the Tyne festival so I’ll leave the link and remind you how Malbec dominated for the reds, a sweet Frontignac had me coming back for more and a Roero Arneis caught my eye in the whites.
The beginning of October had me jetting down to the South Coast for business and spending several days in Christchurch, Dorset where I was lucky enough to be put up at the Captains Club Hotel, a step up from the typical hotel room I get on trips out of the U.K.
Christchurch is a retirement hotspot, but for some reason also has a disproportionate amount of Thai restaurants which I took advantage of during my stay.
Most memorable was the Rising Sun which looks like a typical English pub but has a top-class Thai menu and the added excitement of Dorset Naga chilli amongst the ingredients, possibly the hottest chilli in the world. That evening a refreshing Short Mile Bay 2006 Riesling from South Australia helped cool things down and once my taste buds had recovered a raisined Warres Otima 15yr old Tawny Port substituted for dessert. Back at the hotel I pampered my neglected sweet tooth even more with a Cazes 2004 Rivesaltes Grenat (tar and sweet resin) and a Gran Fuedo 2007 Moscatel (fresh apricot). It was only the fact that the bottle behind the hotel bar was unopened that prevented me indulging in my first ever Château d’Yquem (the alcohol coursing my veins numbing me to the fact they wanted £19 a glass!).
Later on in the week the Sabai Thai restaurant in the centre of the town provided a pleasant chicken green curry washed down with the predictable Gewurztraminer combination, although this one was from South Africa – the 2008 Weltevrede from Roberston.
After a hiatus of more than a year I signed up for an evening’s tasting with Chris Powell at the Newcastle Wine School, who was my first real introduction to the joys of wine three and a half years ago. This time it was the lure of Alsace and German wines which brought me along but initially the list looked disappointing with a selection of reasonably priced but uninspiring Alsace wines and only one German offering, the good but widely available Dr L. by the Loosen Brothers. A last minute entry by the Chapel Down 2007 Bacchus was an inspired inclusion, as this aromatic sweet pear and lychee white impressed everyone present, and then Chris then turned the evening around completely by pouring the Dr Hermann 2003 Erdener Treppchen Auslese which had a full -on petrol/kerosene nose with a great dry/sweet balance and a taste of lime wrapped in caramel – definitely the star of the night but the Bacchus was a close second (and still tasted good AFTER the Auslese!).
Almost immediately I was off to another tasting, this time my regular monthly NEWTS (North East Wines Tasting Society) meeting. After last month’s Majestic showing it was the turn of Oddbins to show what they had to tempt with new store manager David Tindale presenting. David has replaced Clare Carruthers at Newcastle’s Gosforth store after Clare started up her own wine retail business (as mentioned in the Wine on the Tyne post).
Yet again a Roero Arneis was outstanding, with the Cascina Ca’ Gialla 2008 providing lots of fruit and a nutty finish which ticked all the boxes – after the 2008 Cossetti Roero Arneis from earlier in the month I’ve made a mental note to look out for more of this variety wherever possible. Most unusual white was the Bellanotte 2008 “Ranato” Pinot Grigio, made in a unique style with an intriguing copper colour and flavours of burnt orange. Somewhat sherry-like this was interesting but not really to my taste and neither was Australia’s Tapanappa ‘Tiers’ 2007 Chardonnay which was like chewing an oak post – you could tell there was some good fruit hidden amongst the splinters but at £44.99 price was over-oaked too!
Much more reasonable (at £15) and enjoyable was the Cline ‘Cashmere’ 2007 GSM from California, which took the best vote for a smooth, elegant and fruity red, hiding its 14.5% abv well. Also worthy of a mention was the Vignobles David ‘Le Mourre De L’isle’ Côtes du Rhône which had great, youthful tannins and forward blueberry fruit (and it’s Kosher!).
The next NEWTS tasting is of Château Pesquie, so I will most definitely be attending to re-sample some of the delights that the Côtes du Ventoux has to offer.
As the month drew to a close I started to restock after a period of reduced buying. I finally managed a visit to Corkscrew Wines in Carlisle after my earlier abortive attempt (when they were on vacation). I was impressed by the range on offer in the shop (although each time a train went by overhead the rumbles were slightly disconcerting) and ended up with a mixed 6-bottle case including the Gonzalez Byass Matusalem Dulce Viejo 30yr Oloroso sherry and the 2007 vintage of one of my favourite Sauvignon Blancs, the Concha y Toro Terrunyo.
I couldn’t help giving into my humorous side as well when I saw Charles Back’s “The Goatfather” staring out from the South African section and an Alsace Pinot Noir, an Australian Marsanne and a Douro red completed the half-dozen.
Another 3 bottles joined the collection after a trip to Wine Rack in Hexham which was prompted by news that the parent company, First Quench, had gone into administration. I chatted to the manager there and he seemed upbeat that Wine Rack, out of all of the First Quench brands, would be the likely survivor of any liquidation. Recent news on the closure of 373 of the group’s 1300 stores does include the loss of some Wine Rack outlets, but fortunately the Hexham branch is not on the list.
As to the wine; I left with a 2008 Pinot Gris to add to my growing collection of Tim Adams wines, the Seven Canoes 2007 Syrah Viognier from New Zealand and a Faustino I 1996 Gran Reserva. This prestige Rioja was on the shelves for £19.99 and as a single bottle I would never have considered paying that price, but as part of the perpetual 3 for 2 promotion at Wine rack it worked out at £12.50, which was much more reasonable (although I later found out that Costco is selling it for £11.99!).
Finally, as the month drew to an end, I was in my local Waitrose and saw the new (2002) Vintage of Château Musar on the shelves. You may know by now that I have a thing for Lebanese wines, Château Musar especially, so at £17.99 a bottle immediately went into the basket. As with other Musar vintages I’ll end up buying at least two more but I’ll hold off for the moment to see if Waitrose lowers the price on promotion as they did last year (otherwise it’ll be two bottles before January 1st, when the VAT rises back up to 17.5%). I celebrated this later at home by opening my last remaining 2002 Hochar Père et Fils, the Musar’s baby brother. This was superb; a warm, autumnal brick red on the swirl with some funky chocolate and smoky liquorice on the nose. Very smooth in the mouth the tannins were well integrated and a touch of barnyard wasn’t too overpowering – this was a complex wine with a little of the trademark Musar volatility and some bitterness/sourness & heat on the finish that was only a small detraction for what was a very well made wine and bodes well for the ’02 Gaston Hochar Rouge.
I can’t finish without quickly discussing another of my wine favourites, Tokai Aszú. My parents opened the delectable Royal Tokaji 2000 5 Puttonyos Aszú and I savoured its rich honey and caramel aroma and fresh acidity to cut the sweetness. Earlier I had bought the Marks & Spencer 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú made for them by Hilltop winery, and while in the store I also couldn’t resist buying their Chilean 2008 “PX” Pedro Ximenez dry white produced by Geo Wines. Of course this isn’t a complete list of what I’ve encountered over the month but hopefully it gives a flash of insight into the mix of traditional, unusual and reasonably priced bottles that manage to constantly refresh my interest in the world of wine.
Colares is centuries-old wine growing region on the Atlantic Coast of Portugal. A forty minute train ride from Lisbon, Colares enjoys a very different, adaptive agricultural practice than that found in vineyards only a few kilometers inland. The vines are planted in sand. Actually that is not quite true. The sand is excavated and the vines planted on the clay layer beneath, often to a depth of 3-4 meters, and then the cane is progressively buried in sand as the it grows. As the reader will discover, this practice has had a number of interesting consequences, including the survival of the perhaps the greatest acreage, around 12-14 acres, of pre-phylloxera vines in the whole of Europe. Granted DOC status in 1908, the authorized grapes are equally adaptive and rare, Ramisco and Colares Malvasia. But details of all of this may be read below. Enologist/winemaker Francisco Figueiredo of the Adega Regional de Colares was my guide.
As has been true of my every waking moment since touching down in this astonishing country to attend the European Wine Bloggers Conference, Colares, too, provided both intellectual pleasures and something like heartache. I spent time in pre-Olympic Barcelona and returned years later to find old neighborhoods I had known utterly transformed. Much was swept away in the march toward modernization and something like international respectability. A similar transformation is also underway everywhere in the small portion of Portugal I traveled. And wine making traditions themselves are in the crosshairs, as my earlier interview with Virgilio Loureiro made perfectly clear. Colares is yet another example. Development, especially of weekend homes for Lisbon’s wealthy, has taken many vineyards.
The Ramisco grape produces wines that are out of international favor. Lean, low alcohol, high in acid, requiring many years of cellaring to become approachable, the wines of Colares are challenging; a different kind of reflection about wine is required of us. And if the challenge is refused or ignored, then Colares inches closer to oblivion.
Below you will find a mix of historical and current pre and post harvest photos, many from Francisco. I arrived well after the harvest. Some of the topics he discusses are best illustrated by images taken before my arrival.
This is the first of a two part interview. (Part 2)
Admin How long have you been working here?
Francisco Figueiredo Ten years. This has been my tenth harvest. For the first few years I worked here only at harvest time. I was still studying. I’m an agronomist and have done post-graduate work in enology. Since then I have worked here in Colares. I also give support to growers/producers not in the Colares region but in the Estremadura region. I’ve always been in this region. My parents live here. So I’ve known the region well since I was a child.
The Colares DOC is a very small wine region. It is between the Sintra Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, which is very near. It is a short line along the coast, the demarcated region. And we have to meet two conditions for the wine to be Colares DOC. The vines have to be planted in sandy soils, and as we will see, it is loose sand, like beach sand; and we have to make the wine using mainly two local grape varieties. The red is called Ramisco and the white is called Malvasia.
The vineyards are very traditional and quite unique. They are old vines, mainly, ungrafted and pre-phylloxera, some of them still. Because of that we don’t have to use American rootstock. We plant the vines directly on the clay that is underneath the sand, not in the sand itself. To plant a vineyard we dig down in the sand to the clay layer, which can be from 1/2 a meter to 4-5 meters deep. The vines are planted in the clay for the roots to get the moisture, the humidity and the nutrients; then gradually we place sand around the vine as it grows. It takes about two years until the terrain is level again.
Is there a qualitative difference in the grapes whether a vine is planted 1/2 a meter or 4 meters?
FF No, not exactly. The main difference is that if we get the clay layer closer to the surface we can produce a little bit earlier. We don’t trellis the vines. We are doing some experiments but in the traditional vineyards the vines are not trellised. They are left on the ground. And that is important for maturation because of the heat off the sand. The heat reflects off the sand and helps the maturation go a little bit faster. That is important because we are in a region with a lot of humidity and moisture, lots of wind and mists, fog. It is usually 10 degrees celsius less here than on the other side of the mountain and Lisbon during the summer. So the maturation is slow. We usually harvest late, around the beginning of October. The last week of September, beginning of October we are harvesting the sandy soil vines.
The sandy region called Chão de Areia (meaning sandy soil), has a sub-region called Chão Rijo where the soil is only clay. It means ‘hard soil’. They are more like trellised vineyards, with higher production [yields] as well. We use different varieties on those clay soils. But we can’t use the Colares DOC designation on the labels. They are sold as table wine or labeled Estremadura regional of regional Lisboa.
Is sand constantly being added to this area or is there erosion?
FF No. We protect the terrain with free stone walls. And we also use dry cane palisades to protect the vines from the strong ocean winds. So there is constant shelter. The vines and the sand is protected.
What kind of yield do you get from an average Colares vine?
FF We get very low yields; one and a half to two tons per acre. In the clay soil you can get around eight to twelve tons per acre. Much more. That’s a big difference!
How many winegrowers are there in the Colares DOC?
FF There are 55 associates. But most are small. The total sandy soil area is about 12 to 14 acres. A very small production. Unfortunately the area has gone down. Not now. It’s stable now for the last ten years, with a small increase. But we have lost a lot of vineyards. In the 60s and the 70s there was a lot of development. We are very near the mountains and the sea. This is a place people want to build homes, people from Lisbon. Most are weekend homes here. [We are driving along the coast. Large homes and apartments climb up the hillsides] All of this used to be vineyards. Not in my time! I am 30 years old.
About the matter of the preservation of the Colares vineyards. Do you go before city hall to argue that a development shouldn’t proceed because of the vineyards it would destroy, that your patrimony is at stake?
FF Yes. We are inside Sintra/Cascais Natural Park, which should be protected. But it isn’t. It is very difficult. And of course for someone outside even if they wanted to invest in a vineyard would find it very difficult because the price of the land is very, very high. People are expecting to sell for construction, not vineyards.
What legal protections do the winegrowers have?
FF Practically none.
So someone could walk up to a grower tomorrow and offer them a large sum of money and there would be no objection.
Francisco added to this subject in a separate email. “I can’t recall any government role in the direct preservation of vineyards. Indirectly the government supports wine sales, mainly outside, through ViniPortugal and partially funding exportation projects. The only thing I can recall regarding the Colares vineyards were two specific measures which gave some annual funding to the grape growers. The objective was for growers to maintain the landscape aspects related to the sandy soil vineyards (conservation of the free stone walls and the dried cane palisades). One of these fundings came from the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park Authority (the protocol only lasted 1 of the intended 5 years due to lack of money!). The other was a specific environmental measure from the Government which lasted 5 years and ended 2 years ago). None of these fundings were directly made to avoid selling the vine land. Wine is one of the agricultural products that the government supports more intensely, but not by trying to avoid the selling of property (that would be difficult because we are talking about private property). I can’t recall any protest related to the selling of a vineyard.”
FF This road we are on used to be all dirt. It is asphalt now. They put the sewer line down the middle of the road. I am beginning to worry about this. We are in one of the main growing areas, a place called “Chão Verde”, outside the small town of Fontanelas. These are probably the only vineyards in the world with a sewage system outside the vineyard! It is very difficult.
Are there people in the government who are sympathetic to the issue of preservation?
FF Yes. It is not with me directly, but the directors of the Adega Regional are in constant contact with associations and politicians to try to make some progress for the vineyards. But it is difficult. It’s difficult.
[We get out of the car.] This is an old vineyard. You can see the stone walls and the dry cane palisades. In the vineyards we usually grow the vines with apple trees. They are also low. It is very common to see this type of association.
The apple trees are blossoming now…
FF That is because we had a lot of heat in the past few weeks. You came at the wrong time of the year to see vines. It’s after harvest. These are very old vines. They still produce. This is one row. Over there, beyond the free stone wall is another vineyard. One of the things we do is raise the grapes so that they are not in direct contact with the hot sand. They can get burned. We prop the bunches up with a small stick.
It sure doesn’t look like Napa Valley! Someone driving through who did not know of Colares’ viticultural history would not ’see’ anything.
FF That is true. (laughs) It is obvious that there can be no mechanization in these vineyards. So we are doing experiments with low trellis systems to see if it is possible to mechanize the vineyards, to make them more economical and more affordable. All the picking now is done by hand. But so it the spraying and the digging of the vineyards for planting. And it is all done with the family.
With respect to the families, do these vineyards pass from generation to generation? Are the young interested in continuing?
FF I am afraid that the next generation isn’t very interested in wine growing. Some of the growers are old people from 60 to 70 years old. But I don’t see that their sons are very interested in the wine growing business. They have other jobs doing other things. The wine growers themselves have other jobs. Some work on different agricultural products. Others keep the vines as a hobby. The cooperative has to make some effort to try and keep tending those vineyards that will be left behind when the older generation passes. That is the only chance for the region: the cooperative will have to work directly taking care of these vineyards when the time comes.
So that I understand, all the 55 associates of the cooperative harvest their grapes and then send them to the cooperative. All the grapes are mingled, fermented together, and bottled under the single Adega Regional de Colares label.
FF Exactly. We just separate the grapes from the sandy soils [Chão de Areia] from the clay soils [Chão Rijo]. With the clay soils we differentiate two types of vineyards: the ones that produce ‘less quality’ grapes, let’s say, so those grapes go into simple table wine; and the best grapes from the clay soil go to the better Regional Estremadura wine. In the sandy soils there is no need for any differentiation. This is, by the way, the only DOC where the Ramisco grape is grown, and the Malvasia Colares. But it is also permitted in the Estremadura Regional, of course.
So is the Ramisco grape itself in danger?
FF Fortunately, no. I will show you another vineyard where we, along with the School of Agronomy, the Technical University of Lisbon, have selected throughout the region several cuttings from the best vines, and we have planted them in this vineyard. There are several clones in the region. They are now being kept, safeguarded in the vineyard. The idea is to protect the varieties.
This is a very old wine region. We have records of consistent wine production since almost the foundation of our nationality, since the 1100s.
These rocks that make up the walls, where did they come from?
FF Usually each grower has a piece of land on the sandy soil and on the clay soil, sometimes more pieces of land. So when the planted the ‘hard soil’ vineyards they took out the stones and they brought them to the sandy soil terrain to build the walls.
Notice the trenches of this vineyard being filled. As you can see, we plant after making a trench, a ditch. We put the sand to the side and gradually fill it in as the vine grows. In this area we had to dig about three meters down. I saw how deep when they were paving the road. It was about three and a half meters down to the clay layer.
We see a gentleman cross the road ahead of us.
Oh, this is Mr. Gonçaol. He is an associate of the adega. You are lucky. His vineyard is closed but this way we can see it. You can see again the apple trees. Always the protection, the shelters. These rows or groups of rows separated by the dry cane palisades of vines we call manta. The direct translation of manta would be a blanket. The clay in this vineyard is about one and a half meters down.
I see he has dug around the vines. What is this for?
FF On of the jobs that is done this time of year, this season. The job is to take these roots out, to cut them away. Sometimes we will also add manure for the vines at this point. The roots are of no interest to us. We want only the deep ones. And there is no irrigation. It is all dry farmed. That is the importance of planting the roots on the clay. No drip irrigation. We have some modern vineyards, not from our association, but from another association, which they drip irrigate. You can easily see that they are not strong vines because of that. So this is the natural way to have water, to plant them directly on the clay.
And over here he has new plantings.
So all of these vines are ungrafted, of course. And the source of all the cuttings?
FF All the cuttings are done here. There is only one nursery site for Ramisco vines just in case someone needs cuttings for a vineyard. For the traditional growers like Mr. Gonçaol, they do their own cuttings. And they choose only from the best vines.
Now, you don’t have phylloxera here. What are the disease and pest pressures?
FF The main pressure here is powdery mildew…
And second homes…
FF (laughs) …and building construction. That’s a real pest pressure! But of simpler pests we have what we call Cicadella, sharpshooters. Growers like Mr. Gonçaol didn’t know about the pest. It started about five years ago. We have seen some increase in the average temperature. And the sharpshooter came from the Alentejo to the north.
We say goodbye to Gonçaol and continue on our tour.
End of part 1
I came to Portugal knowing very little apart from what was commonly available in standard English language wine texts. Before touching down in Lisbon in advance of the European Wine Bloggers Conference, I could recite from memory, as any studious schoolboy could, all of the country’s major wine growing regions, perhaps a dozen of her most important grapes, the names of some of the larger producers, and a few truisms about the Portuguese wine culture as a whole. While it is good to know such things (it can render you an instant ‘expert’ among a crowd of English speakers, for example), such information does not get at the heart of the matter of the meaning of wine in Portugal. To acquire that knowledge a kind of cultural submersion or surrender is required. To speak to the right people is particularly important.
During my time in Portugal I can only claim to have inched closer to an understanding. It was certainly not the understanding that I was expecting. I spoke to many people, perhaps no one so well informed as Prof. Virgilio Loureiro of the Instituto Superior de Agronomia in Lisbon. The former winemaker at the Dao’s Quinta dos Roques and Quinta das Maias, Professor Loureiro has been working very diligently for many years to document and to preserve elements of Portugal’s threatened wine traditions, history and culture. As may be read, much has been lost, yet much may still be saved.
It is my curious fate to have listened closely to the man and to have thereby had impressed upon me the ethical obligation to join in Prof. Loureiro’s effort. Passing along his words is a start.
Admin Thank you very much for agreeing to speak with me. I’ve recently been to Carcavelos and Colares. Quite fascinating histories may be found in those DOCs.
Virgilio Loureiro Colares is amazing. The vineyard landscape is really unique. Have you tasted the old whites?
Not the old whites yet, no.
VL They are absolutely amazing! The reds are very interesting. But the whites are really amazing. It is possible to find 40 to 50 year-old whites, like the best Montrachet’s in Burgundy. But here in Portugal, unfortunately people don’t understand this style of wine. It is really a pity. They have no idea how to speak to the world of wine about what treasure we have. This is a pity.
I am here for a wine bloggers conference. I come from America but most assembled are from Europe. What happens when the world fully wakes up to the quality and uniqueness of Portuguese wines? Is there a risk to Portugal’s wine culture?
VL It is not only a risk. The risk is already fact. The loss that we have actually realized is a tragedy. Most of the best wine regions we have in Portugal are producing wines in the Californian and Australian style. They put in a lot of American oak; they put in 6 to 10 grams of sugar to round the style; they are extremely aromatic and with very low acidity, all so that wines may be drinkable very early. This is now a normal approach for most wineries and of most enologists.
Mr. Nossiter, when he was here for the first time, he was very sad because he didn’t know the situation in Portugal. But he knew very well the situation in Spain. And the problem of Portugal is that it is in the last position of European development, but is moving in exactly the same direction as Spanish wines. It is a pity.
I don’t know if you know of the famous Spanish figure of Don Quijote de la Mancha, well, I am the Don Quijote of Portugal trying to fight against this globalization of Portuguese wines. And I have some friends, one of them is a very important person, it is Mr. Nossiter. So I’m trying. (laughs)
Now I have a very exciting project to put on the map the important historical regions for Portuguese wines. I have here some pictures I can show you to make clear the potential we have. Because we still have time to preserve a lot of treasures of wine production mostly in the Mediterranean area in general, treasures that have been almost completely destroyed in Spain (in Italy there remains a little).
We have real Roman wine being made exactly as it was 2000 years ago, in clay jars, in the south of Portugal, in Alentejo. Here the wines in clay jars are protected with pine resin, like in old Greece, and the wines are made exactly as in a Roman villa 2000 years ago in the territory of what is now called Alentejo. The people from the small villages in the Alentejo make this type of wine for family consumption.
This winery has 19 jars. They produce whites and reds. They produce around 20,000 liters per year. But the owner does not completely respect the old technology because he puts his wine in glass bottles. Still it is a good approach. Some of the jars are as old as 400 years. And what happens in them is amazing in enological terms. I really don’t understand the process scientifically, but when we have a lot of oxidized wine, if we pass that wine across the solid parts of the bottom of the jar, the oxidation is practically eliminated. The wine becomes o.k.
I am now writing a book titled ‘Portuguese Wines From the Bronze Age To the 21st Century’. I collected a lot of history in this region. When the wine was sold out they imported wine from the center of Portugal. But when they passed that wine from the center of Portugal across the solid parts of the jars the style of wine was changed to that of this region!
Today, first they drink this wine and then they drink the modern technological wine. Why? Because it is a very, very special wine. The technological process used is the opposite of the technology described in modern treatises of enology. Both white and red are made with native yeasts, of course, but also with the solid parts of the grapes in the jars. And after fermentation the cap falls and acts like a filter. The effect on the wine when it passes through this filter changes it completely, it changes the aroma; and in the whites, they become lemon-yellow in color, fruity, with a very, very special style which is completely typical of the wine.
Today in Portugal we no longer have the artisans to make the jars. We are trying to recover the art.
We also have Cistercian wine from the center of Portugal which is made exactly like that of the monks in 12th century Burgundy. It is special because it is the only survivor of this type of wine in Portugal. And the reason is very easy to understand. It is a micro-climate they have in that region which gets wines with 14 degrees of alcohol and with it the possibility of developing into vinegar.
Ten years ago when I discovered this wine there were around 5000 wine growers. Today there are perhaps less than 500. But now I think it is protected by law, a law we promote, so it is probably safe. But that is not enough. We need to push it so that it can become known in the world of wine. And this is the challenge we now have.
Another wine is from the Azores Islands. The vineyard landscape of Pico Island, as you can see, is absolutely amazing. It is flat, with walls made of volcanic rocks, more rocks than the Great Wall of China. Only with this idea is it possible to conceive of the work done in the islands. And the wine is very, very special. It has strong acidity, and with good technology it is possible to make wines with extreme longevity. They become very nice at ten to fifteen years old.
In that picture you can see that there is no soil, only rocks. And each square has two or three vines, no more. This is unbelievable work. Forty kilometers! And most of the wine freaks from all over the world didn’t know this wine or its vineyards. And this is the typical winery used by them, with wooden screw presses, a Cato press, like those from Roman times.
In this picture you can see that the rocks are broken. They put the vine in the cracks. This has been the way since the 15th century. The technology didn’t change! (laughs)
Today I have another project, financed by the regional government, to improve the aging process of their fortified wines. They are very similar to the wines of Madeira. When the wines are well done they are of the same level of quality as the best wines of the Madeira.
I will soon have published an article on these matters in an American journal Chronica Horticulturae. I think it will be out in December. Next year we are organizing here in Lisboa the 2010 International Horticultural Congress. We’ll have workshops on winemaking and climate change. They invited me to write a small article on the history of wines.
I am also trying to recover the old grape varieties from the Douro. I’m making wine in the Douro Superior, near Foz Côa, near the Spanish border. It is a more preserved area of Douro. And I identified three small vineyards with pre-phylloxera vines. Most of the vines are of unknown varieties. Now I am trying to make a ‘new old’ vineyard by grafting buds from these very old vines of unknown varieties. I already have some wines! This year I made two different wines. Last year I made another one. And one of the red grape varieties has color in the juice [and flesh], like Alicante Bouschet and like Grand Noir. There are a very small number of these varieties [teinturier grape varieties, I believe he means. Admin]. And this is one such variety. The wine, again, is very special, really special.
Do you have allies in the Portuguese wine industry? Do you enjoy support from people who think like yourself?
VL Yes. But unfortunately they are not V.I.P.s. There are some people with sensitivity, with high culture and background, but unfortunately not V.I.P.s from the wine sector. This is the reason I call myself Don Quijote! You see? This is the reason why I so quickly established a friendship with Mr. Nossiter. He understands me.
What is the Portuguese government doing to protect these endangered wine regions?
VL Unfortunately, the Portuguese government is doing almost nothing to protect our historical wines, because they are neither considered an economical activity nor a historical patrimony. Furthermore, it is encouraging the vinegrowers to “modernize” their vineyards and wineries without criterion. In fact, the “wave of progress”, supported by public aids, is provoking a fast destruction of the remaining traditions (as happened in Spain and Italy recently). In some cases it would be better if the vineyards were under control of Ministry of Culture instead of the Ministry of Agriculture!
The vineyard landscape of Pico island is under protection of UNESCO. The only recognized (not really protected) Portuguese historical wine by law is the Cistercian wine of Ourém. At this moment, we are trying to protect the clay jar wine of Alentejo by a proposal submitted to the CVR of Alentejo (Regulatory Commitee).
How should Portuguese wines be marketed?
VL Today, the marketing strategy of Portuguese wine companies is based only on low price. It is impossible to promote these types of wines with centuries, millennia of historical age behind them. I think the best strategy for a small country like Portugal is to invest in the tradition and the culture; to say to the world that we have a lot of specialities, like France, like Spain. But Spain has practically destroyed this type of heritage.
The Portuguese wine heritage is different in all the world. I’m trying to convince the growers in Portugal that it is possible to protect it. How? Paying a fair price. For what? For the next generation, so that it has the stimulus to continue. Because, as you know, the younger generation today are very egoistic. They want to go to the big cities and abandon the traditions of the small village. The stimulus is to be found through the strengthening of the culture and by being paid the fair price to continue.
You, and Mr. Nossiter, people from the New World and also people from European culture can repeat this. There is one more thing I would like to say. These types of wines are completely out of fashion. As Mr. Peynaud of Bordeaux has said, ‘It is impossible to taste a wine from another age with a palate of this century”. We need to understand wines, of course. But I think ten minutes of talking is enough to understand wine! And with two or three tasting experiences it is enough to love wine. It is like tonic water. The first experience is not good, but the second is o.k.
Excellent. A quick observation about the Douro Boys.
VL The Douro Boys is another concept of wine. I respect them. I am a friend of most of them. But I think that they have some responsibilities that they don’t assume. They are known all over the world. They have the obligation to promote what we have here in Portugal.
Please give my regards to Mr. Nossiter. Next time you come we can arrange a visit to the past.
Sir, thank you.
VL Ken, it was a pleasure for me. I thank you because you can help me in my fight.
On my last day in Lisboa I had still not properly thanked ViniPortugal for my visit. It is true that I had a brief exchange with the organization’s president Francisco Borba. And I had sent an e-mail. But I was still hoping for a longer face-to-face encounter. The opportunity came to me with a visit to ViniPortugal’s tasting room located in the Ministry of Agriculture premises in Praça do Comércio. What follows is an interview with Maria João de Menezes. She has been with ViniPortugal since its formation.
Admin I had the pleasure of meeting Francisco Borba, ViniPortugal’s president, at the European Wine Bloggers Conference commencement. He offered a dignified welcome to the bloggers. What is it ViniPortugal does? What are its aims?
Maria João de Menezes It’s like this. I think you understand that in Portugal wine is one of the major products of our economy and our culture, one of the most important that we produce. Before ViniPortugal came into existence 12 years ago, the last big promotional campaign of wine was before the Revolution of 1974. When we have a product so important to us and we don’t promote it, the wine producers felt the need to get together; and the most important associations and federations of Portugal connected to wine, all joined together and created ViniPortugal. This was 12 years ago. It was created with one aim: To promote Portuguese wine.
We use tax money that every producer has to pay to the government for every bottle made. It is something that happens all over the world. All bottles have a seal, and that seal means that the wines are certified. The producers pay for that seal. This called the ‘promotional tax’. The government collects that money for promotional efforts. ViniPortugal was created to do this promotion.
So you are tax-funded by the government.
MJdM Exactly. The government gives us a part of this money, not the total amount, yet. The aim is to reach the point to where all the taxes the producers pay to the government for promotion should come to institutions like ViniPortugal, all associations which promote wine. That is, after all, why the producers pay. But these are political matters, and I believe what we now receive is 25% to 30% of the total amount of tax [revenue] to promote wine.
So, the first thing ViniPortugal decided was to ask what strategy would it take. It started with a study. And we asked Porter [of Price Waterhouse] to do the study. We knew that we had to concentrate our efforts in the United States, in three or four states, and in the UK, in Brazil, in Germany and northern countries for a start. And now we are growing. We are opening into the Asian markets, and also to Angola and India. These are new markets that we are studying to see if they will work for the Portuguese wine producers.
We have campaigns, different kinds of campaigns depending on the country and on the markets. We go to festivals and wine fairs, like the London Fair, or in Germany, the Pro Wein Festival. And we invite journalists to come here to visit our farms and wineries so that they might write in their magazines for their respective audiences about us. They learn a little bit about Portuguese wines. And perhaps it will facilitate the locals to buy our wines we export.
We also to tastings in cities around the world in important markets, in New York, an Francisco, but also in Portugal. Here we do campaigns as well. We have places, tasting rooms like this one; also in Oporto. We have two showrooms where people can come and try Portuguese wines for free. These tasting rooms are not only for locals but also for foreigners and tourists. When you came in you saw some of our publicity and guides. These are distributed to let people to know there is a place for them to come and taste Portuguese wines.
The majority of the people in the tasting room already know to come here. It is different than one year ago when a number of people who came in were just passing along and found our door open without knowing what we did, which is to offer tastings and information to the public.
This is our main aim. That is what we do. I am not good with numbers but I know that we have increased exports in all markets I mentioned. This is good. It is a slow process when you start something like this. Success does not happen over night or even next year. Even when the numbers are not very exciting we have to be persistent! We have to keep on doing what we believe is the right thing to do, and be patient enough to wait for results.
Yes. Of course, there are large producers and there are small producers. Are there any special efforts made to assist the small producer to compete in the marketplace?
MJdM No. We represent them all. In Portugal we have ViniPortugal on top of the pyramid. We talk to each certifying commission from each region. And each region has its own producers. We talk with the wine certifying agencies, not the adegas. There are 11 or 12 regional wine certifying commissions. Each regional commission certifies the wine from only their region. It is with them that we speak. We call them CVR, Regional Commission of Viticultura. Each CVR is one of our interlocutors. They, in turn, talk to each producer.
We never help one producer more than another. We don’t help the larger producer more than the smaller. We talk about Portuguese wine in general. We talk about regions and grape varieties. We never talk about labels. Or producers. That is not what ViniPortugal does.
So you don’t keep a data base of who produces how much. etc?
MJdM No. That’s the work of another institute called the Portuguese Wine Institute, the IVV [Instituto da Vinha e o Vinho]. It use to be one of our associates. But it stopped being so about one year ago because one of its tasks is to perform a ‘fiscalization’ of our work. [I believe she means that the IVV determines the cost/benefit of ViniPortugal itself.] They could not determine our value while also being a part of us.
It would have been a conflict of interest.
MJdM Yes. Exactly. So because they are of the state, of the government, they could not be a part of us. ViniPortugal is a private association. We are not part of the state.
But you get your money from the state. Does the state have any influence over your work?
MJdM No. No. We only have to show work. At the end of the year if they don’t think we are doing well then they can say, ‘OK, next year we are not going to give you money.’ It has never happened because we work hard! (laughs) But if you, yourself, had a plan to promote Portuguese wine you could come and compete for the job. ViniPortugal presents their ideas, and other people and organizations, bigger or smaller, they can come and compete, too. There are some rules. But if you abide by those rules you may compete and the government may say, ‘Yes, I like your promotional plan for Portuguese wines better. It makes more sense and is less expensive so I’ll give the money to you.’ It is in that way we are private. The government is free to distribute the money to whomever has the best plan.
Very good. How big of a staff does ViniPortugal have?
MJdM Today we have 15 staff at the most. It used to be two in the beginning, twelve years ago! We’re growing. And the work that we do is different today than back then.
I love the tasting room. It is quite elaborate and detailed. It rather surprised me. You’ve got interactive video, wines from all over the country, historical wine-making tools, a few…
MJdM Yes. We’ve been open here for five years. We have a second in Oporto, in one of the most important places of the city, the Palácio da Bolsa. It is a building you have to see. This one is smaller, but also very nice. Twenty-five thousand visit just this one every year.
MJdM Yes. They come in to taste and we invite them to write down their notes and opinions which we keep to show our producers. We think this is important because when you write something down you have to think about what you are drinking. So they look at the wine with more awakened senses. And it is very important to the producers. Some of them are very wrong when they think their wines are more appreciated in Germany than in the US, for instance.
So you also ask for their nationality.
MJdM Yes. Nationality, age, sex… not a very deep questionnaire, just enough for some indication.
Well, great. Can I get a couple of pictures of the place?
MJdM Of course, as you wish.
We head downstairs to the tasting room for a few pics.
And a picture of you?
MJdM Of me? (laughs) You said something about the small producers. They don’t always have enough for export.
Of course. One thing that I’ve been hearing a lot is how inexpensive Portuguese wines are. Even the small producer. But there is a problem. There is a lot of work put in by these winemakers, perhaps more work per person on the smaller properties. They work on small budgets; often with family members who go unpaid; they are under tremendous economic pressure to sell their properties, in Colares, for example. So it should not be a question of a low prices, but of a fair price.
MJdM (laughs) Yes, that’s true, that’s true. I think it would help.
MJdM Thank you very much.
One very significant question I failed to ask was how the wines are chosen for the tasting room. I will contact ViniPortugal for elaboration and post their answer here asap.
This first visit to Portugal shall not be my last. Given an extraordinary opportunity by ViniPortugal to attend the European Wine Bloggers Conference, I have come away with a deep respect and lasting affection for the culture of the country. Ten days is not enough time. How could it be? Ten days is not even enough time for a fruit fly to hatch.
I would like to take a moment to thank a few of the people of Portugal who have enriched my visit.
Three of the staff of the VIP Grand helped me in very significant ways. Paulo S. provided his translation skills for passages in books, magazines and internet web pages otherwise impenetrable to me. He went so far as to surprise me with a two-page compilation of vocabulary. Always alert, he never showed the slightest frustration with my naivete, if not stupidity!
Paulo R. is a special gentleman. He has written hundreds of poems himself and can quote long passages from the Portuguese canon. He told me of the best Fado club to visit, and worked the background arrangements. A bit of a philosopher, he explained to me subtle cultural distinctions, Portuguese syntax, how best I might leave a smaller, more discrete footprint than most tourists. His life story is one of struggle and victory. A good man.
Though the gentlemen above eyed me with amusement, it was Antonio B. who was most skilled at sizing this traveler up. He very gently reminded me in various ways that I should look a little more deeply into cultural matters. After I would return from a particular adventure he would say that I should also do this other thing. Never at a loss for suggestions, it was Antonio who turned my attention to Carcavelos.
I would also like to thank the maids at the VIP Grand who every day cleaned my room and made my bed.
Prof. Virgilio Loureiro of the Instituto Superior de Agronomia generously came to the VIP Grand to speak with me. A great champion of tradition and terroir, he is the self-described Don Quixote of the Portuguese wine industry. My interview with this august figure, to be posted in about a week, will be among the finest I have ever had the opportunity to enjoy. Special thanks must be given to Jonathan Nossiter for his assistance in making this encounter possible.
Enologist/winemaker Francisco Figueiredo introduced me to the vineyards of Colares. He took two hours out of his day to educate me in the ways of Colares viticulture. I was then taken to the adega for a very thorough explanation of what it is they do and why. He has an excellent sense of humor, as may soon be read. My interview with him is forthcoming.
Jose and Licete. Words fail me. The warmth and generosity shown by mother and son was a profoundly moving experience, one that I shall remember the rest of my days. Meeting them gets at the core value of travel: Get out of the tour bus. Abandon the cocoon of the canned itinerary. Put yourself at risk. There are no greater rewards than to meet people like Jose and Licete. Jose calls it ‘fate’ that people meet, that we met. The fragility of that thought astounds me.
Rita was our two-horse carriage driver when members of the EWBC went to a cork forest in the Tejo and then to a perfectly simple lunch on the grounds of Quinta da Logoalva. A magnificent visit in every way. There are horses in my family and Rita herself owns one. We enjoyed an excellent exchange on horsemanship and training. An ethereal soul, I learned much that was unexpected from this very lovely woman.
Last but certainly not least (!), the extraordinary people of ViniPortugal; how can I thank them for this opportunity? To Andreia, Ana and Marcio, thank you for all of your help and attention.
About the wines of Portugal, a personal note.
Portuguese wines have consistently, day by day, been among the very finest I have ever tasted. And taken as a whole, no country’s wines has awakened such curiosity and excitement in me with each new bottle as has Portugal’s. That is the simple truth I take away.
It is a truism of the human condition that one becomes habituated to styles and flavors most commonly experienced. And one may certainly be forgiven remaining fixed in wine preference if no opportunity, such as I’ve been granted, ever comes one’s way. But what cannot be forgiven, should one find a way here, is being unmoved, unchanged by the direct, face to face encounter with the variety, quality, the sheer difference the vinous pleasures Portugal has to offer.
Indeed, as I have previously written, Portugal is one of the last great hopes in the world for the preservation and continuation of distinctive terroirs. For those skeptical of the concept, I can do no better than point you in Portugal’s direction. And I mean the country itself. If living in Northern America, a visit to your local supermarket is a good start. Though good Portuguese wines may be found there, to be sure, and I encourage everyone to drink as widely as possible, nevertheless you cannot let the supermarket’s selection define your understanding of Portuguese wine, just as you cannot let a chain bookstore define literature. The supermarket merely scratches at the surface.
This condition will be modified as more and more variety, as I trust, will be imported from Portugal. Exports edged up this year. But one particular concern of mine, a gnawing worry, really, is whether all the current attention the country is drawing, the growing marketing ‘buzz’, will finally have deleterious consequences. As Freud famously remarked upon the occasion of his first visit to the America, “They don’t realize that I am bringing them the plague”. And true enough, signs of a fever may readily be detected.
It is a troubling irony that some of the wines served at the European Wine Bloggers Conference have already been marked by a compromise to a more international style. The dark shadow of Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, blotted out more than one label. Though this transformation has been going on for more than a few years, it would be a gross, even cynical misapprehension for a participating wine blogger to pretend for moment that they now understand Portuguese wines based on those wines alone. A true understanding of Portuguese wines may only be found by exploring the countryside.
In my opinion, the Portuguese wine industry cannot thrive in the international market without bottling the ‘cure’ that their distinctive terroirs offer. Their general marketing approach must be that of the unqualified celebration of difference.
This is not a controversial summation. Should one plant eucalyptus in a cork forest, the cork oaks will not survive. It could not be much simpler.
And as for me, because of the wine culture of Portugal, her traditions, native grape varieties, and her people, I have become profoundly radicalized by this beautiful experience. Not only has my modest understanding of wine been greatly enriched, but my life as well. I leave Portugal a changed man.
Obrigado a todos, Portugal.
I came to Carcavelos in search of the grounds where a regional wine museum will be built. Yes, I was looking for a patch of dirt. I had also hoped to speak with people familiar with its grand history of fortified wine production; but the idea of simply stepping off a train and into the life of a community is foolishness. Given my limited time and naive expectations, what chance would I have of learning a thing?
I had recently read, more accurately, pieced together the general sense of Portuguese newspaper reports of the building of a wine museum in this Greater Lisbon community, itself a part of the Estremadura Province on the Atlantic Coast. Whether ground had been broken I could not ascertain. So it was to Carcavelos that I went in search of answers.
Estremadura, the Vinho Regional (VR), is coextensive with its socio-political boundary. Though the VR boasts of many winemaking areas, for my purposes I shall mention only the DOCs, Bucelas and Colares, moving quickly to the Carcavelos DOC itself.
Informed sources tell us,
“Carcavelos can be a blend of up to nine different grapes. The principle grapes of the Carcavelos region includes Arinto, Boal, Galego Dourado, Negra Mole, Trincadeira and Torneiro. The wines are usually fermented completely dry with some fermenting must known as the vinho abafado containing some residual sugar set aside prior to the fermentation’s completion. The wine is fortified with a distilled grape spirit to bring the wine up to an alcohol level of 18-20% and the vinho abafado is added back in to add sweetness to the wine. Carcavelos wines are then aged in oak barrels for three to five years to give the wines a tawny color and nutty flavor.” (Please see the wiki page itself for links to the grapes mentioned above.)
Like many oceanside parishes here, the real estate industry has been booming in past decades with terrible effects on the local civil and agrarian culture. Wine growing no exception, of course. Though always small, what used to be a thriving wine industry, making among the most sought after sweet, fortified wines of Europe, in recent years the DOC has been reduced to a very few small properties amounting to a couple dozen acres (exact figures unconfirmed as of this writing).
Spoon fed such internet info, I entered the town. Wandering to the center square, clutching my map like a white flag, I began a harmless but still mildly offensive search for English speakers. Who might help me find the museum yet-to-be-built?
Every person sent me in a different direction. Others looked at me with amusement.
“There is no museu da vinha.”
“I know. I know. I’m looking for the (variously used) l’espace, la terra, the empty lot!”
In a men’s clothes store a gentleman did tell me a bit more about the project: Funding was short, the political will, firm but practical. Maybe they had planted vines. Maybe some flowers. And yes, the museum’s future site is somewhere over there by the church.
A church and a bar later, I gave up. I passed through an open market on my way back to the train station. What a fine waste of a morning.
There was a bookstore/tabac. I stopped for a bottle of water. Just on a lark I asked the proprietor, Jose, whether he knew of a museu da vinha being built. He wasn’t certain of its location. But his grandfather used to make Carcavelos wine many years ago. And his mother knew a great deal about its history here. Would I like to speak to her? My spirit leapt to the very end of its tether. Yes.
“Come back at 1. I’ll take you to her. It’s about a five minute walk.”
I had a little more than an hour to pass. Passing by some kind of retirement housing complex, I again began asking people after the museu. A North African gentleman emptying the trash finally put the pieces together. In perfect English he sent me to the abandoned winery, Quinta do Barao.
Loosely translating from a pamphlet I was later given by Jose, Carcavelos, a Vinha e o Vinho, published out of Cascais.
“The Quinta do Barao, up until the 1980s of the 20th Century, was the most important center of the cultivation of vines and the production of Carcavelos wine, a view all share in their memory, especially the people of Carcavelos (os carcavelenses).”
It is for this reason Quinta do Barao was selected to house the museu. And when I retuned to the bookstore/tabac as 1 o’clock came around, upon mentioning my discovery of the quinta, Jose Maria Ramos Costa Sequiera, his full name, quickly added details as we walked to his mother’s apartment.
(In all the discussion to follow I shall interfere with the Portuguese to English as little as possible. I am responsible for all errors of their actual intent.)
“It’s a sad day to destroy everything they used to sell. It is now owned by a private owner. But I think the city wants to maintain it because it is very old. Oeiras came and took the vines, and moved them within the city walls of Oeiras, our neighbor. They want to start to produce again [Carcavelos wine] with the old vines. But there are many problems with legalities, some not very clear, but they also plan to plant olive trees for olive oil.
We are at the end of the territory [DOC]. It begins in Cascais and ends here. When you see the towers, that is Oeiras.”
Jose added that it was the construction of the freeway through the middle of the Quinta do Barao vineyards that brought about the beginning of the end of wine production at the facility and in Carcavelos overall. The final blow was the construction of apartment towers he mentions above which effectively blocked the breezes off the Atlantic, breezes necessary for the proper maturation of the grapes. It is that freeway which now divides the two cities.
Correction: I learned today (11/03) that as a matter of public record the apartment towers were built over twenty-five years ago. The freeway was put in around only seven years ago. And according to this source the owners Quinta do Barao very much wanted out of the wine business. That the Atlantic breezes were blocked is, therefore, met with considerable skepticism. In any event, the property was sold in the mid-eighties. Wine-making then ceased. The balance of the property, the larger division, was sold to a real estate concern with plans to build a luxury hotel. Same result. Only the details have changed. Admin
We arrived and waited for his mother to return from her volunteer work at the Fire Station. Jose continued.
“Carcavelos used to be little houses and all farms, farms, farms. Now people come here only to sleep. It’s not a town now.
It is very interesting. I bought the shop three years ago. I was an accountant but I retired from accounting and bought the shop. Here, everybody knows who I am. It’s very complicated here. People go to work somewhere else and come here only in the night to sleep.”
Up walked his mother and into the apartment we went. Her name is Licete Das Dores Ramos Costa Sequeira. (Jose helped with the Portuguese translation. Licete and I found common ground in a bit of French. To protect their privacy I took very few pictures.) Her voice was very strong. And she looked at me with combination of amusement and grace.
“My mother wants us to go upstairs. But she is concerned that it is a little disorganized. She is the vice-president of the Fire Station organization. It’s her hobby! She goes everyday to the station.”
We climb up a very thin and narrow, iron circular staircase. From the landing I immediately see dozens of framed labels, their vintage dates beginning from more than a hundred years ago. The room is filled with books and thick binders. Everywhere I turn I see drawings, old bottles and posters, all related to the family’s wine history and that of Carcavelos. Indeed, much of the material will be or has been given to the city for the museu. There for a few minutes, we head back down (but not before Licete gives me the poster pictured at the top of this post as well as the labels pictured here).
Owing to my sudden arrival, we quickly agree to meet again on Tuesday, November 3rd. Then much more will have been planned, including, if possible, a meeting with the author of the definitive text on the region, A Vinha e o Vinho do Carcavelos, Ana Duarte Baptista Pereira. As Jose turns the pages he explains,
“Published by the Cascais city hall, it is the story of every farm. Here is a picture of my grandmother and grandfather. My father wrote many texts and collections because he wanted to write this book. But he died five years ago. He had a lot of documentation about this farm and other farms. This book is very interesting because it contains everything.”
Licete has disappeared into the kitchen. I hear glasses clinking. Jose takes me to the wine cabinet and begins pulling out bottle after bottle of old Carcavelos wine, the oldest dating from the late 1890s. I ask if I may be permitted to photograph them. Yes. And as he places them near Licete’s working desk, she enters with a tray of walnuts, mildly sweet biscuits, and tastes of a 1948 Carcavelos. I take a glass but suddenly realize how much better it would be to take a picture of her holding the tray. So I put the glass back and raise my camera. She says something I ought not repeat. Jose laughs.
“She does not serve that to everyone!”
End of part one. Please read Part 2.