Carcavelos Wine, A Family History, pt 1

Ξ November 1st, 2009 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, PORTUGAL, Wine & Politics, Wine History, Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |

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.


One Response to ' Carcavelos Wine, A Family History, pt 1 '

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  1. Pea Noir said,

    on November 2nd, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Wonderful! Sounds like you’ve got synchronicity going on Ken! Can’t wait to hear your musing on the taste of the 1946.

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