A Look Inside The Colares Cooperative

Ξ February 2nd, 2010 | → 11 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Interviews, PORTUGAL, Technology, Wine History, Winemakers, Wineries |

Presented here is a detailed look into a historic winery, the Adega Regional de Colares outside of Lisbon, Portugal. It is also the conclusion of my thorough interview with Colares enologist, Francisco Figueiredo. He was very generous with his time, spending more than two hours indulging my curiosity. I would encourage readers to, well, read the first two installments: The Vineyards of Colares, A National Patrimony At Risk and From The Vineyards To The Adega Regional de Colares. It is a strange twist of fate that well after thinking I should not soon pass this way again, in two days I shall in fact be returning to Portugal for more wine work. More details to come.
 
Admin You were bottling the other day? This is your machine?
 
Francisco Figueiredo Yes. It is a little messy in here because we just got forty pallets of bottles. We were bottling some of the red 2004 Colares. And this is our bottling machine.
 
I’ve seen these guys before. Is this Italian?
 
FF Yes. Many are. So are the crushers and de-stemmers. The press is French. We have, more or less, modern machines. We still have some work to do. We have some walls to paint. We laid down a new floor about two years ago. We have to go slow with the investments. We will repair the roof and the walls soon, I hope.
 
These are the old lagares where the grapes used to be crushed and pressed. And part of the reds were fermented here. We don’t use the lagares anymore.
 
Does anyone still use lagares?
 
FF Yes. In the Douro Valley there are places where they still use them. And some of our own growers, they also do their own wine at home, they use them… Here are the old cement vats, fermenters also. We don’t use them anymore, either. And here is an old centrifugal crusher. And our new one. We use a pneumatic press for our wines. We also have two hydraulic vertical presses over there which we can use if we have a problem with the pneumatic press. And we have a machine to fill the ‘bag-in-box’. We use that type of package for our table wines. They are the boxes with the small tap. We use vacuum filling. The wine stays good for quite some time. And that is now our substitute for the glass jug. We are getting good sales from using the bag-in-box system.
 
So we ferment in temperature controlled stainless steel. Some of the red, because we don’t have enough room in the stainless steel, we still use those big wood vats over there. We call them ânforas; we still use them for some of the table wine. Of course, we have no temperature control with them. An interesting fact about those is that, as you know, for our steel vats we have to use the pump to circulate the juice, from the bottom to the top, to pump over to get the color out. But in the wooden ânfora, the process is done naturally because the carbonic gas pressure that builds inside is enough to push the wine to the top; and it fills that cup on the top so that the pomace always stays beneath the wine. We can do this without the use of pumps or electricity, just the carbonic gas pressure which build up naturally during fermentation. I have not seen these anywhere else in the world. The system is the same for the cement vats called ânfora Argelina, but I have never seen wooden ones.
 
Where did these come from?
 
FF They were built here. The wood is Portuguese Chestnut. Each takes ten tons of grapes. And later we then bring over the pneumatic pump and open a small door to take the pomace to the press. This has a tube inside. The cup on top has a hole, in the center, so the wine goes up, fills the cup, and the wine then drains back on top of the pomace.
 
It’s like a giant coffee percolator!
 
FF (laughs) Yes. Almost exactly like a coffee percolator. This is the same system as the traditional cement that appeared in the ’60s.
 
May I climb up?
 
FF Yes. As long as you are not afraid of heights!
 
We climb up a narrow ladder.
 
FF You can see the tube. This is really spectacular to see during fermentation because the cup is filled with wine and it bubbles! It is a pretty sight.
 
The doors are very small. How do you clean out the interior?
 
FF We go inside. Someone has to go inside to remove all of the pomace. We put a ventilator up here and let the vat breathe for some time because of the danger of suffocation. In fact, four people have died in Portugal during this harvest time because of carbonic gas. They die without knowing it. We are very careful about that. For cleaning we have a special device that sprays hot water. But it is very difficult to be 100% sure that it is perfectly clean. It is wood, after all.
 
But we don’t have a problem with Brettanomyces because our wine has a low pH. And we don’t have a lot of sugar in the wine. We produce dry wines, around 12% alcohol. All the sugar is consumed by the yeast. So it is not easy for Brett. The main problem for us is not having temperature control here; not the wood but the temperature control. The wine can heat up quite a bit, around 40 degrees celsius.
 
Really?
 
FF Yes. That is high enough for the wine to lose a lot of the aroma. The tube, by the way, is connected to the crusher so that the grapes come through here. We use two or three of these vats or ânfora, each year.
 
Whose initials are these, JVN? The maker?
 
FF That means Junta Nacional do Vinhos, the National Wine Institute [founded in 1937]. Since the fifties, until 1994, this cooperative was a kind of hybrid organism; it was half cooperative, half was intervention by the state, the agricultural minister. Because of that all of the wine had to be made here in order to use the Colares DOC. That is no longer the case.
 
And what are these tools?
 
FF We don’t use them any longer, but they are for pushing down the cap. They were used if we didn’t put in a full 10 tons of grapes inside the ânfora. With less grapes inside, the carbonic gas would not be enough to push the wine out of the top. These forks would be used to push the pomace, the cap, down to mix with the wine. We now use a pump for that if it becomes a problem.
 
These are beautiful. I trust they will eventually end up in a museum.
 
FF Yes, yes. Some of them already are. And they are not permitted for use these days. They are made of wood and iron. What was done at the time was to paint, to use special paints to protect the iron parts in the tools and machines. Now it is all stainless steel. But every year all of the old tools had to be painted with the special paint that protected the iron from contact with the wine.
 
We climb down the stairs.
 
So, to be clear, someone has to climb into the anfora from the top…
 
FF Yes, yes. You go up to the cup and climb in from there using a ladder. The center tube is pulled out and someone goes down.
 
Do you ever have any cork issues?
 
FF No. We use only corks. I have never received cork taint complaint. Never. I will always choose cork.
 
I agree with you completely.
 
FF Would you like to taste some of the wines?
 
Of course! You know, I have a odd thing to ask. Being from America, we like to collect hats or shirts of the places we’ve visited. I’m looking for something with the name ‘Colares’ on it. Do you know where I can find such a thing? A rather silly idea!
 
FF No. But it is not a silly idea. It is an idea I have given to the directors. Why not a polo shirt or something? Even for the workers!
 
Not to mention Gonçalo, the winegrower we spoke with earlier. He wasn’t even wearing a hat!
 
Francisco laughs while getting two tasting glasses.
 
It must be very satisfying work for you. You’re doing so many things at the same time; preserving a way of life, preserving a wine culture, preserving memory…
 
FF Yes. It is all very important. I am also afraid that things might not go well in the future. The vines are in danger. That’s the only thing that I regret.
 
He uses a thief to draw a barrel sample. This is the white Malvasia, sandy soil, 2008. We will bottle it probably in a couple of weeks. [Late November.] Malvasia has a very citric, very minerally, acidic taste, and an almost salty taste, I notice. It also has an oxidative character; I think of hay or honey.
 
Very oceanic… very bright and fresh. How is the water quality here?
 
FF We analyze it inside our HACCP plant: ‘Hazard Analyses and Critical Control Points’. (laughs) There is some paperwork that we have to do. We have to analyze the water. It is good.
 
That’s one helluva name. So when you’re doing bottling session how many people would normally be here?
 
FF Working? Around four. We do it with a small crew to get into the rhythm. We can do about 1000 to 1200 bottles an hour. That is a good speed for a machine like ours. One guy puts the bottle on the carousal, another one taking it off and putting in the cork, another one carrying the bottles, another stacking the bottles. It would be quicker if we had one of those pallet movers, but we don’t have one yet.
 
Do you use wild yeasts?
 
FF No. We inoculate. The reason is that I had some experiences making the wine with natural yeasts, the wild yeasts, but I had some problems with starting the fermentation. It is too risky for me to risk that when I do 7000 liters of Ramisco or 2500 liters of Malvasia. But I did make an experiment. It is a question of trying to select a natural yeast from the area; that would be a project that I would like to do.
 
So you have experimented…
 
FF Yes, with several yeasts. For the whites we use a Portuguese yeast; it was selected in the Vinho Verde region, in the north of Portugal.
 
How was it done historically?
 
FF Naturally. But the big difference is that it would have been in an open lagar. That makes a lot of difference from using the closed stainless steel vats. I have made wine at my parents home using, not a granite lagar, but a small plastic lagar, more or less; and I had no problem starting the fermentation. Sometimes we have a problem with it stopping!
 
It can stop at 12% ?
 
FF Yes, before the sugar is depleted. That is a risk for the wine. But the main problem is fermentation within a closed tank. That’s when it becomes difficult. We would probably have no problem if I did the Ramisco in the lagar.
Francisco draws a second wine.
 
Have there ever been experiments done with fortified wines in Colares?
 
FF No. Just for the workers. I have done one this year. (laughs) We call it jeropiga or Abafado. I have taken the juice out of the tank before fermentation started and added our wine distillate. I made five liters last year. We give a small bottle for each of the workers. It is for drinking now. We have a tradition of drinking it during Saint Martin’s Day, the 11th of November. That day it is traditional to release the young wine for the first time; and you also drink abafado. An abafado is when the fermentation has started a little bit, like a Port, it is the same. Port is a special type of abafado. We add the spirits before the fermentation has started. One is usually a little bit sweeter than the other.
 
He pours the second wine.
FF This is the Ramisco. This has been in the big wood vats for around two years. Then it was put into these oak barrels. This is not young oak. It is three year-old oak. Our Ramisco wine doesn’t go well with new oak. It is too strong for our wine. So we use a two to three year-old barrel. What we are doing now is three years in the big exotic barrels in the other room [another part of the adega] and one year in the small oak barrels. We now see that this is the best for the wine.
 
How warm does it get in the other room?
 
FF This room is much hotter than the other. Even during the summertime the other room only gets to 16, maybe 20 degrees celsius. Here, no.
We drink the Ramisco. This Ramisco is regional because it has not yet been certified. It becomes DOC only after certification. Before that it is regional. Six months before bottling we have to send the wine to a certification board and they will certify the wine as DOC.
 
What does certification involve? And who is on the panel?
 
FF It involves a chemical analysis and a tasting. The panel is made up of one representative of the city, there are the persons who represent the associations and cooperatives of the Estremadura region, and then there are representatives of the producers. The panel or board has about 15 people.
 
What wine do you use for topping off?
 
FF We use the same wine held in a different vat. We can mix a maximum of 10% of different years of Ramisco. If we have the need we can do that, to play with the volumes. When you use new oak, and I’ve this experience in other places, you often have to use 15%. The Australians usually don’t top. They put the barrel on its side and leave it there for a only a few months. They probably do that in California as well.
 
Just out of curiosity, what do you think of wine ratings, and wine descriptions, the tasting notes?
 
FF They are very exaggerated. Wine is simpler than that. I think that is the beauty of wine. Sometimes a wine smell like something, but the critics exaggerate. Sometimes the wine smells like something tangible, but….
 
We exit the adega and make our way to his car where I retrieve my personal effects.
 
What do you have here in the back of your car?
 
FF My mother-in-law sent this to my mother. It is a basket of walnuts and some chestnuts, and a bottle of jeropiga! (laughs) It is my mother-in-law’s present to my mother.
 
Thank you very much, Francisco. This has been an eye-opening visit.
 
FF It was a pleasure, Ken. Let me give you some wine before you go.
 
Does the adega keep a wine library?
 
FF Yes. Since 1931, the first harvest in the year of the foundation of the cooperative; the first wine we made.
 
Back to 1931? My goodness. So what is next for you, your next series of tasks?
 
FF We will bottle a few things. We always have a busy commercial time at Christmas. After that, in January, we usually transfer the young wines to the wood vats, take the lees out. Then we continue to bottle if we have the need. And I start in the springtime I get out of the cellar to give technical support to the vineyards. And then the cycle begins again!
 
Admin

 

11 Responses to ' A Look Inside The Colares Cooperative '

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  1. Deborah said,

    on February 3rd, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    Ken, once again, thanks for your excellent reporting on the historic wines of Portugal, & good luck with your return trip and film making project! I know that many in Portugal are looking forward to your return. Please give my best to Virgilio Loureiro, Francisco Figueiredo, and the wonderful people of Vila de Frades, all of whom generously shared their knowledge with me during my visit in January. And if your travels take you to Ourem, do carry my greetings to Andre Pereira,who showed me the last Cistercian wine produced in Portugal.
    Boa viagem! –Deborah

  2. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on February 4th, 2010 at 12:23 am

    Thank you, D, for the warm greetings. My return is in order to give something back. Knowledge freely given us carries this responsibility. The work must flow both ways. I always ask myself when in a new environ, ‘Have I held up my end of the conversation?’ As La Fontaine tells us, the sound of a coin on the cobble is not the same as money; neither is the aroma from a kitchen a meal.

  3. Deborah said,

    on February 4th, 2010 at 12:50 am

    I wholeheartedly agree, Ken, and follow the same path. Already your attentive accounts here manifest this reciprocity, sharing what you’ve learned with many who will now enjoy a deeper appreciation of Portugal’s winemaking traditions. Safe travels!

  4. Chris said,

    on February 4th, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Nice interview. I am moving to Portugal soon to set up a wine tourism business. So it’s great many of the great wineries are getting a lot of visibility recently.

  5. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on February 4th, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Thanks, Chris. I checked out your site. Perhaps you can work Colares into one of your day tours. Good luck in Portugal.

  6. Anders said,

    on February 8th, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Hi Ken, Great post with more on Colares. I follow your posts on this region with particular interest as I find the region and the Ramisco wines, one of the absolute best in Portugal. I just came by the same addega this Christmas. I understand from the comments above that a film project is on the drawing board. I would look very forward to see the outcome of such an interesting project.

  7. Anders K said,

    on January 6th, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Thanks for a nice series of articles, Ken. I am just writing an article about Colares and had good use of your writing when my own notes from a visit in June last year to the untiring Francesco at the Adega were a bit unclear. /A

  8. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on January 6th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    You are very welcome, Anders. Best of luck with your work. Should you find the time, send me a link when your piece emerges. I shall soon be editing a documentary on historical Portuguese wines. Colares figures prominently. And Francisco, as you probably know, is a very eloquent spokesperson for the AOC. Cheers.

  9. Anders K said,

    on January 12th, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I will, Ken, though I’m afraid it will be in Swedish…

  10. Anders K said,

    on October 31st, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Ken, finally my report has been published in AuZine, the blog of AuZone – the wine society, as well as in the magazine of Sweden’s largest wine club, Munskänkarna. You can have a look at it here: http://auzine.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/ett-besok-i-colares-vindistriktet-som-vagrar-att-do/
    Try Google translate, it might yield a readable translation. Cheers, A

  11. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on October 31st, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Well done, Anders. I’ll give GT a try. Cheers.

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