From The Vineyards To The Adega Regional de Colares

Ξ January 21st, 2010 | → 2 Comments | ∇ International Terroirs, Interviews, PORTUGAL, Wine History, Wine News, Wineries |

When in Lisbon, Portugal for the European Wine Bloggers Conference, I had the good fortune to be taken on a detailed tour of a few Colares DOC vineyards by Francisco Figueiredo, enologist for the Adega Regional de Colares cooperative. This rewarding encounted I chronicled in The Vineyards of Colares, A National Patrimony At Risk. I must stress that little of what follows here will be fully appreciated without first having read this part. For now comes a part 2, a continuation of our conversation, but with the accent on the field research the cooperative is doing with clones and trellising.
 
Colares sits is along the Atlantic Coast, in the western Estremadura, a region surrounding Lisbon. A simple and inexpensive train ride north from Lisbon takes the visitor to Sintra. From there a bus on regular rounds, wends its way to Colares proper. As recounted in part 1, its wines are particularly interesting, first because of the grapes permitted by the DOC, Ramisco, Malvasia and Molar (Negre Mole); secondly, because the Ramisco grape has been historically grown in sand, the vines never required grafting during the phylloxera plague of the 19th century. They remain quite rare in all of Europe.
 
And so I resume the conversation. With the wind howling, I ask…
 
Admin Is this a fairly steady wind?!
 
Francisco Figueiredo (laughs) Yes, yes!
 
When I came into Colares the other day it was completely still. But we are on the other side of the hills….
 
FF This is the place I was talking about. We are here making the clonal selection. This is planted with several cuttings from the area. We have here the three main varieties we use here: Ramisco, Malvasia, the white, and also we have a traditional red variety which is Molar. It is known by Negra Mole in Madeira where they also use it for their wines. This is trellised to help us study. It helps us watch the canes and more easily see the harvest.
 
This is a fairly large vineyard. Was this always a vineyard?
 
FF This was always a vineyard. If you ask me how the wine is we make from this vineyard I will tell you that it is different from the wine made in the other vineyards we’ve seen. The maturation period is quite different here. Here we have early maturation on that type of vineyard, the ones low on the ground, than we have here with the trellis. It can make a big difference in terms of wine quality because of the weather. That can be a big problem, especially the rain. So what we see, mainly in the white varieties, is that we have early maturation on the traditional vineyard instead of the trellised vineyard.
 
What are the bunches like on the Ramisco?
 
FF They are very small. Do you know Pinot Noir? They are more or less like that. Small, open clusters, with small grapes, a lot like Pinot Noir. Ramisco has very large seeds in relation to the skin and pulp of the grape. That’s one of the reasons why the Ramisco wine has a lot of tannins. We have to soften them in the wood barrels before we can bottle it and put it on sale. This region does not produce very high alcohol wines because of the climactic conditions. They tend to be 11 to 11.5 percent alcohol; a maximum 12 to 12.5 percent alcohol in the white wine. And it also has some natural acidity; so the wine improves a lot with this four-year aging in the barrel, and after that in the bottle.
 
Yes. I’ve had maybe eight different vintages from a couple of different producers since I’ve arrived. I’ve been doing lots of research!
 
FF Do you like the wine or is it a difficult wine?
 
Yes! I love the wines.
 
FF I ask because the usual consumer likes high alcohol wines with very sweet flavors. Colares is very different from that! It is a very good wine for food.
 
So are Colares wines sold principally in Lisbon?
 
FF Yes. Mainly in Sintra, in Lisbon and the Sintra area. We make a very large amount of the sales directly from the adega regional, from the cellar in Colares itself. Colares is a small production. We make around 5,000 to 7,000, to 10,000 liters a year. So it is a very small production. The clay soil wines have higher yields, a higher production. Those types of wines we tend to distribute more widely. But the Colares wine is mainly sold in the Sintra and in some wine shops in Lisbon. But not in the big supermarkets.
 
Now, I notice that all the vineyards we’ve seen are on the top of the hills or dunes. Are there some that grow on the slopes? [Back in the car, we drive east to another vineyard.]
 
FF A little. But the ocean is very near. Maybe 200 meters away. Different from the traditional vineyard, here we are looking at mechanizing harvesting along the rows, between the rows. So here we have a low trellis. This way we can still keep the leaves and the bunches near to the ground. Here it is a divided canopy to allow the wind to pass through so as to give us a little bit more protection against powdery mildew. The higher the vine the more protection is needed. These are very old vines. This vineyard is of the adega’s director. He is also an agronomist.
 
And you own a vineyard.
 
FF My parents have planted a vineyard, in 2007. But unfortunately it is not on the sandy soil. My parents’ land is on clay! (laughs) I’ve not put in Ramisco. But I have planted Molar because it is better adapted than Ramisco which does not mature well on the clay. It needs the sand, the hot sand. So I have planted Molar, which is also a variety from here. But it’s not Ramisco. It’s not DOC. It would be nice to have a piece of sandy soil… but nevertheless I have planted a vineyard. It’s my home.
 
How did you become associated with the Adega Regional de Colares?
 
FF I have known the director for a while. When I was studying and doing my thesis, he was doing his final thesis, his PhD. And we were using the same vine for collecting data for our own work. I knew him there, and then he invited me to work here on the 1999 harvest. So I came to Colares for a one month job during the harvest, in the adega itself. I came back in 2000 and again in 2001. He then invited me to work in the cooperative. And in 2006-2007 I assumed enology position in the wine production. I was working with the wine but before we had an ‘external’ enologist. From 2007 on I assumed that part of the job.
 
During the height of the tourist season, how many tourists come here? Are the roads busy?
 
FF Yes. During summertime it is a busy, busy time. As for the adega and vineyards, there are some companies who organize wine tours and trekking around this area. They also show the vineyards to the visitors. We also organize tastings. The adega gets a lot of tourists. We put on tastings all year round. Between tastings, wedding and dinner parties, we probably have around 12,000 people pass through the cellar. If some groups require a more technical tour then they call me and I will do that.
 
Do enologists and wine experts from around the world come here as well?
 
FF Yes, yes. I’ve received guests from Australia, from France… we have received a of of people who work in the field. And some wine blogs have made reference to Colares I can recall.
 
[We drive along the coast, past very large new homes.]
So these large houses are mostly second homes?
 
FF Mostly, yes.
 
Was there a building project that was an especially big battle over a vineyard?
 
FF No. It’s just chipped away little by little.
 
What other DOCs in the Estremadura are under threat from development?
 
FF Carcavelos and Colares are the two. They are also small. They are nearest Lisbon. And Bucelas, which a region demarcated only for white wine. They produce white wine from the Arinto variety. So they are a little bit threatened. But the remaining areas of the Estremadura are not threatened.
 
But one of the bigger threats must be the importation of foreign varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
 
FF That is now happening in the Estremadura. You have a lot of varieties getting in, mainly Syrah with a little bit of Cabernet Sauvignon. And the Portuguese varieties are being used less. People are probably now using only Touriga Nacional, which is good, and Tinta Roriz which is the Spanish Tempranillo. We see a lot of Syrah, a lot of Cabernet, Alicante Bouschet… and so our traditional varieties are being used less with the exception of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (which is not Portuguese, but it almost since it has been grown here for many, many years in the Douro and in the Alentejo.) But if a different grape is grown here in Colares, you can call it a regional wine, but the name ‘Colares’ cannot appear on the label.
 
Founded in 1931, the purpose of the cooperative was to produce all of the Colares wine as a legal protection, a guarantee of quality. And then the cooperative sells the wine to different storage companies, with different aging techniques, for example, their own barreling, their own blending, all under their own label. Back then the Colares cooperative didn’t even bottle their own wine. They sold the wine to different brands. Colares Chitas, for example, was one of them, and still is, one of the two remaining.
 
Now, however, since 1994, if a person came from outside and wanted to produce Colares, if that person respected the DOC law, they could do it all themselves, even the vinification. So there are now two labels and two producers who do the vinification, including the Adega Regional de Colares.
 
End of part 2
 
Read part 1 here.
 
The next and last installment will be a tour of the adega itself.
 
Admin

 

2 Responses to ' From The Vineyards To The Adega Regional de Colares '

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  1. Anonymous said,

    on January 23rd, 2010 at 1:59 am

    Ken, many thanks for your excellent reportage on Portugal’s historic viticulture and enology. Thanks to you, my recent trip to Lisbon and Estramadura exceeded all earlier expectations. Prof. Virgílio Loureiro graciously shared both his impressive knowledge, and well-informed contacts, arranging for me to see some of the sights so well described on this blog. I was happy to pass along what I learned to my colleagues in Lisbon, so now some of this important legacy has a wider audience in Portugal as well. Muito obrigada for helping the rest of us better understand Portugal’s viticultural patrimony! –Deborah

  2. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on January 23rd, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Deborah, I am very pleased you had such a wonderful time. It is very satisfying work to make more widely known these extraordinary vineyards, wines and winegrowers. I welcome you to the cause!

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