Rediscovered on the slopes of a historic valley by a Brazilian football player, Jampal is the forgotten white grape of Portugal making oenophiles salivate
With over 250 native varieties, Portugal has one of the largest numbers of indigenous grapes in the world. A few are well known, many are neglected, others forgotten. So, when a new producer comes along and makes a single-varietal wine with a grape that no one had heard of for decades, it is something pretty special. This happened recently in the Lisbon region. A small winery, with the unusual name of Manzwine, launched a wine made with a white grape called Jampal.
If you are into fitness, you will probably have come across a Body Pump or Body Balance class. What you probably don’t know is that the man who brought these innovative fitness classes to Portugal in the 1990s is André Manz, a Brazilian goalkeeper, who came to Portugal to play for Estoril Football Club, and who, by chance, ended up producing a unique wine made with Portugal’s rarest grape variety.
Manz, whose name reveals Hungarian origins, sadly had to put a stop to his football career due to a hand injury. Having to reinvent himself, he decided to bring a new fitness trend to Portugal and needed a place to build a training academy. He found a plot 30 minutes north of Lisbon, in a picturesque village called Cheleiros, set at the bottom of an idyllic valley with a little river running through it. Enchanted by the location, André’s wife, Margarida, decided to scrap the academy idea (which would be built somewhere else) to make their home here.
The history of Cheleiros, with its Neolithic sites, Roman bridge (now featured in the producer’s logo) and medieval monuments, is what drew Manz here. Its fame for quality wine also turned out to be a great appeal. This is where kings and noblemen stopped to spend the night and stock up on wine on their way to Mafra Palace, which brought trade of great importance to the local economy.
In 2007, an old lady told André that in Cheleiros tradition means “having a vine to make wine”, and suggested he buy hers. Having discovered a new passion for wine in Portugal, he was only too keen to take her up on her offer and make wine for family and friends. He later enlisted winemaker Ricardo Noronha to make his wine and learn more about the hectare of vine he had bought. It was mostly made up of Castelão, but also included 200 vines of a white grape they didn’t know. With the help of José Eduardo Eiras Dias — Portugal’s greatest expert on the matter — they were able to identify the vines as the last of an autochthonous variety called Jampal; a fragile and unprofitable variety, which was almost extinct.
Until 40 years ago, the steep, rocky clay and limestone slopes surrounding Cheleiros were covered with vineyards, and there were no less than 43 artisan wineries in the village. Sadly, people started to head to the cities, and those who remained to cultivate their vines sold their grapes to cooperatives, which pay by weight and alcohol content. Since Jampal has a very low yield, it was not worth keeping and slowly disappeared.
Although the village was famous for the quality of its vineyards, thanks to its soil, plantation on slopes and terraces, and a singular microclimate, André now faced the challenge of making wine with a grape that was difficult to grow. On top of being susceptible to disease, this peculiar variety also requires a particular type of pruning, which is more expensive. Many tried to convince him to get rid of the vine. But he knew what he wanted and insisted: “I don’t want to produce a lot of wine. What I want is good wine!”
As word got out and journalists started to take an interest in his discovery, André realised he had something unique on his hands. He started Manzwine in 2017, producing just 250 bottles of Dona Fátima, a 100% Jampal wine he named after his mother-in-law, “because of its acidity”. The company also released a traditional regional blend of red he called Pomar do Espírito Santo.
With a better understanding of the variety’s needs, he now produces it successfully on a larger scale. Today, Manzwine has four hectares of Jampal, which can produce around 8,000 bottles on a good year. “As far as we know, this is the only existing certified Jampal vineyard to exist,” says Sónia Ramos, Wine Tourism Coordinator at Manzwine. “And Dona Fátima is still the only Jampal single-varietal on the market.”
Close to the shore, Cheleiros benefits from the freshness and humidity of the Atlantic, which, along with marine soil filled with fossils, give the wine its delicious acidity and minerality, whilst the low yield of the vines guarantees its depth and elegance.
Known for producing aromatic wines with floral and citrus notes, Jampal has a distinctive and surprising character, making you salivate whilst still having a creamy feel on the palate. And, as it ages, it can gain more texture and nutty notes. Aged in oak barrels for six months and best served between 12ºC and 14ºC, Dona Fátima (€16) is the perfect example of this.
Manzwine also uses Jampal to make another single-varietal wine, without the influence of oak, called Extreme (€25); the Dona Fátima Reserva (€25), aged in oak for 12 months; and a sparkling wine (€29).
They also produce a superb 100% Castelão rosé (€7.50), and red blends, with varieties such as Touriga Nacional, Castelão, Aragonez, Syrah and Petit Verdot, not only in Lisbon but also in the Douro and Setúbal regions (with bought-in grapes), all exported to 26 countries.
André’s passion for history has led him to develop his project sustainably, helping to rehabilitate the village that has adopted him and showcasing its history. On the main square, the winery shop doubles as a museum. It includes an exhibition of archaeological artefacts from the Neolithic and the Chalcolithic, found in the nearby Penedo do Lexim, an extinct volcanic chimney. And, opposite, what was once the local primary school was the barrel room until a couple of months ago and will soon become a wine bar, where visitors will be able to taste Manzwine’s precious vintages.