Carcavelos, From Ruins To Renewal

Ξ November 16th, 2009 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, PORTUGAL, Wine History, Wineries |

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
 
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  1. Licete R. Costa Sequeira said,

    on November 17th, 2009 at 7:05 am

    Hello Ken,
    I was very happy to see the beautiful tribute you are making to my dear husband and his family. I’m very very happy.
    I hope everything is good with you and your family, and I hope to see you all soon in Portugal.
    My house is open to you all.
    Best regards,
    Licete Sequeira

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