Old grapevines allied with mixed varieties. Why?
Organic/Biodynamic Farming. Why?
Minimalist winemaking. Why?
Historically, Reguengo (near Portalegre) is an important winegrowing centre in the south of the country. Portalegre once had seven convents. And the clergy, the liturgies and the people needed wine.
The winemaking tradition was maintained down through the centuries. In the 1960s, there were hundreds of small wine cellars in the region. They all produced wine in clay amphorae, for sale and for their own and their neighbours’ use. The majority of existing amphorae date from the 19th century.
Many small pilgrimages were made by bicycle to the mountain (São Mamede) to taste the new wine from countless producers.
At the moment, a significant part of the existing grapevines are old ones. Many of them were planted at the beginning of 1900. The bush vine system was used, without wires, using archaic training, “crawling” and not well cared for.
Curiously, the old grapevines were planted using a right-angled cane triangle (half of a square). The rootstock (at the time, Rupestris du Lot, Aramon or Corriola) was planted successively, by hoe, on the vertices of the triangle (a one-metre ditch, one metre deep). A year or two later, the grapevines were grafted. Animals were used to till the soil and the vineyards were cleared by hoe. In Reguengo, a parish with a lot of vineyards, the people were known as “Diggers”.
Old grapevines allied with mixed varieties. Why?
“The very old grapevines are agricultural reproductions very close to multi-disciplinary Nature, which gathers numerous species in one place, “socialising them” and giving all of them the same opportunity.”
The “Ancients”, who we want to imitate in this project, lived in harmony with the land, a far cry from the assaults made on it by modern-day industrialisation and capitalisation of resources.
In drier and poorer land, they planted crops better adapted to the hot, dry summer weather – grapevines and olive groves (two of the three main Mediterranean corps) – and associated them with chestnut trees and with fruit trees acclimatised to the region. In Serra de São Mamede, these are almond trees, apple trees, cherry trees… varieties that like altitude and some dryness.
In the cooler, more fertile ground, the vegetable gardens with fruit trees that need more water (citrus, peach, plum, etc.) and pasture for the animals that make the compost that fertilises the crops and give eggs, milk and some meat. This is what we are seeking too, on our little farm.
The only produce that comes through our gates is rice, pasta, coffee and fish from the Atlantic or a nearby river.
The aesthetic reason
When I see endless vineyards, without a single tree planted on the paths or near the headwaters, it reminds me of the gigantic factories where thousands of chickens fight for their brief survival before being killed and packed for the next market. I call these industrial vineyards “a desert of grapevines”. These vineyards look forced, ultra-trained and disciplined. They give a feeling of the pressure of human manipulation, sometimes stronger when the winegrowers are more professional.
We want to have a calm and comfortable vineyard.
This is why our grapevines are associated with olive groves and fruit trees and all kinds of native plants and flowers. The Mediterranean “theatre”.
This is also why we don’t use wires. The grapevines here are three-dimensional and protect the bunches of grapes from the strong summer sun (modern grapevines are two-dimensional because they are trained tightly between two wires). In addition, a grapevine without wires is a free, natural grapevine, which you can freely pass in all directions.
In their maintenance, fertilisation is practically non-existent, just annual sowing of leguminous plants and cutting grass, pruning, desuckering, some organic (biodynamic) treatment and nothing more.
A grapevine with these characteristics is a humanised grapevine, which is much closer to the “natural grapevine” than the “industrialised grapevine”, which is maintained through the use of synthetic products that harm and confine it.
Another factor, but no less important in the individual expression of each plant, is planting the grapevines in squares (1.50m/1.50m). In Serra de São Mamede, square planting, from 1.30 m to 1.60 m a side, was the tradition.
When planted in this way, all of the plants are surrounded by the same microclimate and they get the same sun and the same wind. On the other hand, conventional grapevines supported on trellises and trained into hedges have one microclimate at the top and on the two outside trellises, and another quite different one in the inside.
A polychromatic universe in a multidimensional polycultural environment is what we are looking for in this project. Everything has another volume, another colour, another dimension, another freedom and the aesthetic side will certainly help the balance of the crops. Plants feel too. The eyes rest comfortably on a harmonious landscape of “natural grapevines” instead of stopping at an uncomfortable and “imprisoned” desert of grapevines.
Another concept comes from this one: the terroir, a French term that defines a set of environmental factors that concentrate the quality of wine products from a certain parcel of land.
While further north in Europe the terroir is a concept based mainly on the soil, drainage, the orientation of the land and the variety, here in the south, added to these factors is the exuberant Mediterranean Life that will design the character and final quality of the wine that this same Life reproduces.
The winegrowing and oenological reason
The diversity and complexity of the vegetable puzzle, the different abilities of each variety and, if you like, even the individual characteristics of each plant, or even the multiplicity of varieties and clones within each variety, provide the crops with greater natural protection from plagues and diseases. The situation improves if these crops are connected with other crops. Nature always tends to balance itself out with the presence of many species and becomes unbalanced when dominated by only one. Biodiversity fosters a balanced ecosystem.
Another important factor is that in a vineyard with many different varieties, it is not possible to pick each variety at ideal maturity. This situation is only possible in grapevines with varieties in plots. In vineyards with mixed varieties, every year there will only be one ideal harvest time. Some varieties are picked at the ideal maturity time, others still haven’t reached it and others have gone past it. All of these factors contribute to the sum of the aroma and flavour in the final wine: less ripe/ripe/overripe. The wine will be richer and multidimensional.
In the same way, in the cellar, the varieties cannot be fermented separately because they were all mixed up in the vineyard. We believe that a variety made into wine along with another will give a fermented result at least the same as the sum of the characteristics of both. We can go even further and accept that both are complementary and the result will be greater than the sum of the parts.
And, with the rare and honourable exceptions of special areas, with extreme climates for winegrowing, where only one variety which is better adapted has a clear advantage over any sum, the wines of Southern Europe are blend wines, made from many varieties, all of them adapted for centuries to the local climate and soils. In Northern Europe, wine is the exception; in the South, it’s the rule.
The main varieties of our Wines
Trincadeira, Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Castelão, Grand Noir… for reds; Arinto, Assario, Fernão Pires, Roupeiro, Alicante Branco… for white wines
…and the small contributions of other native varieties…
Moreto, Tinta Grossa, Tinta de Olho Branco, Corropio, Tinta Francesa, Tinta Carvalha, Moscatel Preto… for reds; Rabo de Ovelha, Tamarez, Uva Rei, Uva Formosa, Vale Grosso, Excelsior, Salsaparilha… for whites.
… we always get a blend of improved wine.
One more reason
The de-complication of the harvest. One harvest for white and one harvest for red. End of story!
Organic/Biodynamic Farming. Why?
Agricultural chemicals were unknown at the time that we are trying to reproduce here. And, above all, it makes no sense to use chemicals where they are not needed.
In five years of experience, in two of which it was particularly difficult to control fungi, our grapevines have not suffered, while other conventional neighbours lost all or part of their production.
In fighting diseases, the main difference between organic and conventional farming is that in the former we use organic or contact fungicides which, unlike the conventional systems, do not penetrate into the plant tissue. Basically, the organic method means being on the alert during the 4 critical months for grapevines (April, May, June and July). Rainfall of over 10 litres/m2, which washes away preventive organic treatment, or the weekly growth of young shots, makes it necessary to update the plant protection more regularly.
Biodynamics, which we are going to implement, is an agricultural philosophy which uses all kinds of organic and natural stimulation to strengthen the plants and preserve the soil, making it healthy and aerated. Biodynamics intensifies the natural expression of plants. That’s why we chose it.
But, as you may have noticed, the entire philosophy behind the agricultural structuring of the project (crops, training, association, understanding the nature of the place…) already has a biodynamic base.
In Biodynamics, Man is the most active and unifying element of Nature.
Minimalist winemaking. Why?
“I’m not a winemaker. I simply make wine. I concern myself with the grape, not much with fermentation temperatures and oxygen and I’m fanatical about cleaning but not to the point of asepsis.”
The only oenological products used throughout the winemaking and maturing are sulphur dioxide antioxidant and a little tartaric acid (a fundamental ingredient in wine).
We think that any other product apart from these would take away the local expression of the grape. We want the maximum expression of the place and so the grape is called into action.
The recipients used for the wine are the traditional ones: cement vats and lagar, clay amphorae from the old house and used wooden barrels and casks. No stainless steel is involved. The reason for using these materials is to bring the land/mineral/vegetable elements as close as possible to the wine element.
White wine is fermented in used oak barrels or small casks. The red wine is fermented in the cement vats, lagar or amphora and matured in used oak barrels or casks.
Maturing is one year for whites on lees and two years for reds. Bottling is done without fining or filtering the wines. Maturing in the bottle for one or two years.
All the expression of the Estate and local Nature in one bottle of wine…
For all these reasons, and because the mountain is a geographic reality that is totally distinctive in the Alentejo, we should make it clear that we don’t make wine in the Alentejo…
We make wine on Serra de São Mamede.