Vitifrades, a Festival of Jar Wines

Ξ December 13th, 2009 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, PORTUGAL, Technology, Wine History, Wine News |

From December 4th-6th Vila de Frades (the village of Friars), a small community of 1000 souls, hosted Vitifrades, the festival of clay jar wines and olive oils. Begun in 1997, the Vitifrades Festival has been the principle showcase for this very rare tradition of winemaking. The Alentejo region of Portugal has seen a great many changes in wine production over the last 30 years. But what has changed little, what still clings heroically to life, in Vila de Frades, Vila Alva, Vidiguiera, and other local villages, is the dedication to a specific winemaking technology little changed since the time of the Romans. Winemaking in our time is obsessed with new technologies and is limited in its expression by narrowing differences foisted upon winemakers by marketing forces and the well-publicized palates of a very few. But who among we drinkers would not welcome the opportunity to visit Vila Frades and to taste the wines at such a festival? Indeed, it is a festival dedicated as much to clay jar wines (and olive oils) as to a local culture of resistance.
From a recent (vol 49, #4, 2009) Chronica Horticulturae article by Virgilio Loureiro titled ‘Historical Wines of Portugal’,
“Portuguese culture did not escape the ‘wave of progress’ that devastated the viticultural world in the end of the 20th century but contributed to affirm the wine as a global drink of prestige. Besides the Port, Madeira, and Mateus Rosé wines, which were already globalized, the Green wine, the Alentejo, the Douro, and the Dão reached international maturity. However, not everything has been positive. The powerful force of new technologies and the anxiety to produce more and lower-priced wine caused irreparable damages to regional originalities, the soul of world cuisine, especially in its millenarian grape and wine-growing patrimony. It is in this context that it has become urgent to speak about old European historical wines, so that one of the most important symbols of the Mediterranean World and Western civilization is to be understood as more than merchandise or business.”
And of clay jar wines specifically, he writes,
“White, red, or pale wines made in great clay jars, hence their name, have a long tradition in the Alentejo, the southern part of the country, and these wines continue to be made according to this Roman process. The special taste conferred makes it the preferred one to Alentejanos, who only drink another wine when jar wine ends. The jar manufacturers, that did not use the potter wheel, have disappeared, and the gateadores, who placed the patches (cats) in the jars, as well as the pesgadores, who waterproofed the interior of the jars with pitch, are almost gone. Among jar wines, the Palhetes of Vila de Frades assume particular relevance and are locally known as petroleiros. They are a variety of the jar wines that originated in the Saint Cucufate Convent. The friars, having used one of the largest Roman villae in Lusitania, now in ruins, created a petroleum color jar wine called palhete, made from a blend of about 80% white grapes and 20% red grapes.”
What follows is a series of photographs taken during this most recent Vitifrades Festival by Prof. Virgilio Loureiro. I post them here with his kind permission. Saludos!

A Jar Wine Cellar

Antonio Ferro (left) with Virgilio Louriero.


A traditional wine bar.

Principle Pavillion.

Visiting another cellar.

People in the street.


A wine cellar after the visit.


2 Responses to ' Vitifrades, a Festival of Jar Wines '

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  1. ryan said,

    on December 14th, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    a few years ago I had the chance to visit Jose Sousa in the Alentejo where they still use these “tanks”. Fun visit

  2. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on December 14th, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Great link and a fine read, Ryan. Thank you.

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