Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Visiting Portugal's Dynamic Wine Region

One hour from Guimaraes, a quaint town dating to the 10th century that's seen as the cradle of Portugal's identity and is preparing to be European Cultural Capital 2012, I had one of my most unique and delightful wine experiences. I was spending several days in the country's Vinho Verde region, the northwest sector renown for its fresh, aromatic, light citrus-tinged wines. This region, one of Portugal's oldest, is named not, as often thought, for the youth of its wines, but rather for the verdant landscape carpeting this land that's blessed with warm summers, cool winters and plenty of rain -- perfect conditions for producing some fine varietals. Curiously, the vines grow along wires and arbors, lending a picturesque quality to the terroir. The reason, however, is a practical one: Originally it was a way to efficiently plant the land and now the aerial growth allows for plenty of sun to rain down upon the leaves while keeping the grapes far from standing water which would breed mildew.


A mighty family house hovered in the background as Vasco Croft, the congenial and knowledgeable wine maker and owner of Afros Wine, greeted us. From this hill top retreat, the vineyards growing Loureiro and Vinhau grapes, used to make white and red wines, respectively, are spread before us. Piercing the idyllic valley far below is the tower of a parish church and, beyond, gently rolling hills.

The tour of the property started out quite ordinary as Vasco pointed out the stone dwelling that's been in the family since the 17th century and the stately trees that his great grandmother planted -- some are more than 100 years old. (But wine production in this region goes way back to Roman times.)

Then the conversation became decidedly more unique as Vasco showed us many of the elements involved in the production of biodynamic wines. Though there are many people who still hold that this green methodology that goes far beyond simply producing an organic product is hocum or some sort of magic, it's the results that count. (But I'll get to that later.)

The process involves considering a host of cosmic factors -- from the phases of the moon to ambient magnetic radiation -- that can affect the health of the vines. Here, the entire eco-system is seen as playing a core role in grape agriculture. Sure, there are some production aspects that, to the traditional wine producer, seem certainly curious. Vasco told us that he plants and harvests according the phases of the mood; places cow manure in cows' horns that are buried underground to produce a humus that's used in minute quantities; and uses a dynamizer machine that sequentially rotates clockwise and then counterclockwise to mix up various components, such as crushed quartz and dried flowers that help build up the quality of the soil.

He even showed us a tinkling organic-shaped waterfall he had built that optimizes the rhythmic quality of the water. (Another key biodynamic principle.) Vasco keeps bee hives on the property for pollination purposes, uses tea tree oil to prevent mildew on the grapes, and sprays them with silica to maximize photosynthesis.

It's all quite complicated and precise, but it obviously works. I sampled five wines that were some of the best I've tasted during my many visits to Portugal. These wines were transparent, vibrant and full of life, just like the wine producer, Vasco. My favorite was the elegant, light citrus-toned 2007 sparkling white made with 100% Loureiro. Vasco told me that his 2008 Loureiro was recently voted "most ethical wine" by the Independent. I also had the opportunity to taste a couple of the 2009 vintage that were still unlabelled. The 2009 Loureiro had grapefruit notes while the 2009 Vinhao (a red) had ripe tannins and plenty of licorice notes. I would've loved to have packed away all five in my backpack. Sadly there was no room.

Sure, it's hard to explain how these unorthodox methods work. But Vasco is producing wines that maximally reflect the region's terroir. I'd be delighted to visit this vineyard and taste any of these wines again. Anyone who is interested in a wine tasting at this quinta needs to call to make a reservation in the summer only.

26 comments:

Marthaandme said...

I've never heard of biodynamic wine - what an interesting idea!

JTravel said...

Hi Marthaandme, I know, super interesting and curious. The idea of biodynamic farming is a very big movement.

Peggy Bourjaily said...

I am dying to go to Portugal. If I ever get there, I want to visit this winery - sounds amazing!

JTravel said...

Hi Peggy, You'll adore this and so many wineries in the Vinho Verde region. They're producing some really fine wines that complement the cuisine.

Alexandra Grabbe said...

Thanks for sharing all this fascinating information on wine production and the winery's name. My husband and I loved Portugal, which we have visited twice. I only wished we had had the time to travel north from Lisbon into wine country. We always order Vino Verde, if possible, in summer with fish. Lucky you to be able to travel through the Portuguese countryside this way. I'm so envious!

JTravel said...

Hi Alexandra, It's interesting that I'd never tasted Vinho Verde before I visited the region. It's cool that you are well acquainted with this wine. I'll be sure to ask my local wine shop to order it so I can have a few bottles in the house this summer.

Vera Marie Badertscher said...

Fascinating subject, but I must say that you've been traveling too much when you think that 17th century houses and 100 year old trees and wine country since the Roman times is "ordinary." ;-)

JTravel said...

Hi Vera Marie, I love your sense of humor. But I definitely see what you mean. I guess I've become accustomed to visiting centuries-old houses and Roman ruins on my travels. Thanks for your comments

CĂ©lia said...

I didn't know biodynamic wine... and i live here in Portugal. Very interesting!

JTravel said...

Hi Celia, I know. How surprising. Apparently there are only three biodynamic wine producers in the Vinho Verde region and no others in the rest of the country. Very interesting.

sarah henry said...

Portugal is high on my list of places to visit...now I can add this biodynamic vineyard to the itinerary.

MyKidsEatSquid said...

Even though I don't drink wine, I think the view looks well worth the trip! Just gorgeous.

JTravel said...

Hi Sarah, I think you'll really enjoy visiting this scenic region, including the locale where I found this vineyard. Just make sure to call first for a tasting reservation in the summer because, unlike the other vineyards, the stone dwelling is a family home and they're only around in the summer.

JTravel said...

Hi MyKidsEatSquid, You'd definitely enjoy the views as you drive through this Vinho Verde region and especially from the hilltop vantage point of Afros.

Donna Hull said...

Thanks for the introduction to bio-dynamic wines. You've described a fascinating concept. The northwest area of Portugal looks lovely from your photos and reminds me that I'd like to explore Portugal.

JTravel said...

Hi Donna, Yes, the whole idea of bio-dynamic production is amazingly interesting. This was my first visit to the NW region of Portugal. I hope to return. There's so much more to explore.

Name Tags said...

Looks like an incredible destination. The pictures are incredible and the descriptions are amazing. I love vineyards, wine, and everything associated with them. Very cool to read about bio-dynamic wines. Thanks for sharing... Wish I could tag along on many of your trips!

JTravel said...

Hi Name Tags, So glad you enjoyed the post. Visiting vineyards and sampling wines is definitely one of my favorite things to do when traveling. And the bio-dynamic place was one of the highlights of the trip.

Que Ver En Lisboa said...

Great you are showing the best spots of Portugal! And the best of wines! two thumbs up!

regards,
Flavio

JTravel said...

hi flavio, thanks for your comment. It's amazing how few people know about the Vinho Verde region. Hopefully this post will give readers just a hint about the wonderful wines the region offers.

Bali Villa said...

This region really caught my attention too during my research on geography for my thesis. Good post!

hotel bedding said...

Would LOVE to take a tour of the region - always up for a wine tour :)

jcreaturetravel said...

Hi hotel bedding, I love including a wine tour when traveling. It's a great way to learn more about the land and the culture.

elen said...

hi. you gave me a very important information! i will go in Portugal this summer...and...i'm very happy to read this post! i will follow your advice...! In add I would to visit all of Portugal...expecially Algarve..! you know this place? My friends told me that it's very fun the Algarve tours...you know it? what do you recommend to me?

JTravel said...

Hi Elen, I wonder if you made it to Portugal this summer. If you did, I'd love to know if you made it to this vibrant wine region? I've blogged about the less-touristy parts of the Algarve, the southwest corner, and hope you had a chance to check that region out too.

wall art said...

Thanks a lot for your great blog, I feel like I know this place so much better!