Sunday, May 1, 2011

Quinta de Santa Maria

Last Saturday Peggy and I again borrowed João's car for a day tooling around the Minho.  Our primary destination was the Quinta de Santa Maria - a winery about 20 kilometers west of Braga.  Despite the hand-drawn map that I'd laboriously (and maybe not so accurately) transcribed from Google maps we managed to get lost, both on the way out and on the way back - but this just meant we saw more of the countryside.  That's what I kept reassuring Peggy of at least...

Once we found it, we were given a great tour of the vineyards and facilities by the wine maker, Maria Francisca.   In the vineyards she showed us the 3 different support structures used for grape vines over the years.  The oldest method is to support the vine on a tree. 

We hadn't noticed this before, but saw this many times while driving the rest of the day.  The newest method is the traditional fence-like trellis.  Maria takes great care of the grapes and the soil, leaving the natural grasses and wild flowers free to grow around the vines.  This improves the quality of the soil to the point where they use no artificial fertilizers.  It is also beautiful when the poppies are blooming.

Another method involves the arbor-like structures that line the border of many farm fields.  These were used to form the dramatic entrance to the vineyard.

The reason why so many fields are lined with these is fascinating. According to Maria, the Marquis de Pombal, in 1758, decreed that the Douro region would be the main wine producing in the north of Portugal and thus allowed grapes grown here in Minho to only be grown on these arbors lining the fields that were to be used for other crops.  Thus, these are everywhere.    It was only 1979 that the commercial production of grapes was allowed and thus vineyards with the fence-like trellis structures began to appear.  Of course, there were plenty of wine making experts already - now they could just produce more wine!

We were also treated to a tour of the wine making facilities, including the fermentation vats and the chillers used to control the fermentation temperature.

Perhaps most intriguing was the tour of the cellar where the aquardente de vinho is aged.  This is a wine brandy distilled from their grapes.  When they have too much wine they make brandy.  The yougest brandy was from around 2001 and the oldest was from the 1950's.  The youngest has a bit of a bite in the nose as I was willing to find out (see below).  The oldest, however, was very smooth.  Our sample in the tasting room was delicious and we did bring a bottle home that we are saving to bring back to Minnesota.  (Though if you ask me about this at home I will deny it as I intend to hoard this stuff and not be a very good sharer...)

They have a beautiful tasting room here, in the oldest part of the house, and Maria was joined by her husband to give us some samples of some of their favorites.  Did we like them?  Well, the fact that we came home with 9 bottles should answer that question.

With the gorgeous spring weather and great views we stopped on our way out for more photos.

I'd have gotten more of the vineyards, but as you can see, my exclamations of "Will you get out the way!" went unheeded... ;)

~ Eric

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