The future starts here (Dao, Portugal – Day Two)

Knowing so little about Portuguese wine everything I am experiencing is new to me. With such an objective opinion of wine and the wine industry here, I am open to different ideas and I have been developing some ideas which may or may not be particularly accurate. One of the first things I noticed about wine in Portugal compared to other European countries is that more premium wines tend to be a little more expensive, particularly in restaurants where they have pretty much the same markup as in Australia. The second thing I have noticed is that there is a big difference between commercially produced wines and more premium boutique wines both in terms of quality and volume, but there seems to be a huge gap in the middle with very few medium-sized wineries. The third thing I have noticed is a lack of cooperation between wineries, which I experienced when visiting one winery and them talking in a slightly negative or condescending way about other wineries. Obviously these wines are competing with each other, but perhaps they need to look a little bigger and consider that they are actually competing with other product categories like beer, spirits and countless non-alcoholic beverages. You also can’t ignore the trend for the best Portuguese wines to be consumed within Portugal, with port the only exception. All of these reasons combine to create a situation where very few outside the country know how good the wines are, and as such not much is exported in a profitable way. Hopefully this will change as new groups have been established to promote the wines around the world. The two wineries I visited on my second day in the Dao region are probably the most important for the region in the export markets.

Sandy granitic soils in Dao

One of the most recent wineries to join the Dao fold is Quinta de Lemos, established by a native who lives in Belgium and who is also involved with the industrial textile and agricultural businesses. Inspired by the best wines from all over Europe, Celso de Lemos Esteves wanted to produce truly iconic Portuguese wine using indigenous Dao varieties. He bought an estate with some vineyards on it back in the mid-90s which now has 23 hectares planted, but wanted to truly have a grasp of what the property could offer before releasing anything. New rows were planted, and the terroir was explored through individual vinifications in different ways to best express the site. A world-class gravity-fed winery was designed into the hill to limit the amount of handling of the wine. The winemaking style eventually settled on is quite modern and international, including stainless steel tank and oak vat fermentations and macerations, maturation in French-oak barriques up to three years old, a wine for each variety as well as blends, and bottle ageing before release. The first commercial vintage was in 2005, but the wine wasn’t released until 2010. In the bowels of the winery there are now four vintages ageing in bottle, as well as the 2011 vintage ageing in barrels and the 2010 wines in tank soon to be bottled.

Down in the cellars of Quinta de Lemos next to the primary granite rock

The estate director appointed from the beginning is Hugo Chaves, also a Dao native who is not only a qualified oenologist but also a food engineer. Hugo took me on a tour of the vineyards to look at the quite different viticultural practices, which include much denser plantings than all of the others I saw in the region, lower trellises, and regular tilling of the soil. In some of the vineyards they were thinning leaves by hand to open up the canopy and give good exposure to the fruit as well as reducing the risk of fungal diseases. There are two separate green harvests to reduce the yield to about four tonnes (4,000 kg) per hectare, providing great concentration to the fruit. The estate is currently having a beautiful new hotel and restaurant built which should be complete by the end of the year. With Hugo I tasted a few of the 2010 wines from tank to see how the single varietal components may work. We then looked at some of the finished wines from bottle, which he very graciously allowed me to taste in isolation whilst he made some lunch. The future looks pretty bright for the estate in terms of hospitality and tourism, but there are also several hectares of olive trees that will be used to produce olive oil in the future. Click here to read my notes on the tasting.

The new hotel at Quinta de Lemos being constructed

By all reports Alvaro Castro is one of the most important and most eccentric winemakers in the Dao. Unfortunately he wasn’t there when I visited as he is promoting his wines in Angola of all places. That’s in Africa by the way. Very fortunately however I was lucky enough to be welcomed by Alvaro’s daughter Maria, who has worked with him since 2000 having gained experience in Bordeaux and the Douro Valley. I was also welcomed by the three dogs that terrorise the estate, and they joined us on the vineyard tour in an ancient Toyota Landcruiser. Alvaro started his own business back in 1989, but the family have been growing grapes at Quinta de Pellada for over 100 years. In the past wine was produced here and provided to the king in the form of tax, but after Portugal became a republic the fruit was sold to the cooperative. Alvaro began experimenting and he bottled his first wines from the 1989 vintage, and a new player in the Dao was born. The Pellada estate is quite close to Mount Estrela, the highest in Portugal which looms over this part of the Dao. For many years there were two vineyards used for the wines, the second being Quinta de Saes, but there has recently been a third estate added and redeveloped.

One of my hosts at Quinta da Pellada

To say that there is a lot of quartz in the granitic sandy soils is an understatement. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much granite and quartz in the same place since I was in the Grampians in Victoria (which incidentally is a great place to go hiking if you are in the area). The viticulture is quite Australian in style, utilising the famous vertical shoot positioning (VSP) system developed in my fair country. A wide range of wines is produced from the three estates, some blends of varieties and/or vineyards, and some mono-varietal or mono-vineyard wines. The object is to express the site in an elegant and structured way without high alcohols, tannins or oak. They use a range of barrels from different coopers in France, including my favourite (I’m not sure why), Francois Freres. Not only do they grow the classic Dao varieties, but they also have a wider range of red and white varieties from other regions in Portugal. Tasting the wines with Maria showed the uncompromising attitudes to wine production she shares with her father, but also delivered some extraordinary and some OK wines. Click here to read my notes on the tasting.

Jaen ageing in Francois Freres barrel

Click here to see more photos from my second day in the Dao region of Portugal. The following three days are spent in Porto, partly to visit the port lodges and partly to relax and enjoy the second largest city in the country.

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1 Comment

Filed under Winery Visits

One response to “The future starts here (Dao, Portugal – Day Two)

  1. "The third thing I have noticed is a lack of cooperation between wineries, which I experienced when visiting one winery and them talking in a slightly negative or condescending way about other wineries"James, unfortunately you are right… Some of us have tried to work together sharing know how and new developments but it is only a beginning.Regards Peter Eckert, Quinta das Marias

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