A passionate harvest

By: Alexandra Stilwell

New winemakers are reaping the fruit of their investment at Quinta dos Vales, thanks to a unique project

It has been a little over a year since Quinta dos Vales’ exclusive The Winemaker Experience project was officially launched. Since then, 13 wine-loving couples and individuals have embarked on an exceptional adventure, which sees them become winemakers, producing wine to their taste by either renting or buying a plot of vines at the Lagoa winery.

Although the pandemic put many activities on hold, this was yet another example of how technology brought everything closer during the lockdown. Thanks to a young and dynamic team led by Michael Stock — son of Quinta dos Vales owner, Karl Heinz Stock — these new wine-makers were able to stay up to date and participate in the production of their wine remotely.

“We send out comprehensive reports every month and are in touch with them every two to three weeks, keeping them involved and emotionally connected with the project,” explains Michael. This regular contact also helps the winemakers make important decisions, such as when to harvest depending on the type of wine they want to make. For example, with the heatwave in July, the build-up of sugar in the grapes accelerated, but the phenolic maturity (the astringency of the skin and seeds) did not, resulting in bitterness. To find the optimum balance, Michael recommends setting a goal for sugar concentration. When this is achieved, they taste the grapes and give the winemakers the chance to decide whether to harvest or wait until the bitterness mellows.

Karl and Michael Stock

For Peter and Brenda Folch, the pandemic meant they still would not be able to be at the vineyard for this year’s harvest. Based in South Beach, Miami (USA), the pair fell in love with wine when they moved to Argentina in 2004. Since then, they have both become certified US sommeliers and now plan their holidays around wine tasting. “That’s how we discovered The Winemaker Experience,” says Brenda.

Huge fans of Portugal and its wine culture, they did some research and found their dream property at The Vines, Villa-Suites in the middle of the Quinta dos Vales vineyards. They had already purchased a small plot of vines in Mendoza, Argentina, part of a project similar to The Winemaker Experience, and decided to do the same in the Algarve in August 2020, without ever having visited.

“Michael recommended we first start slow and rent a vineyard, but we decided to go ahead with the 99-year lease. We chose a plot of Touriga Nacional because we thought, in Argentina we have Malbec, so in Portugal, we’re going to go for one of the iconic varieties,” explains Peter. They are hoping to be more involved in the future, “but in the grapes were delicious,” he says, confessing it was difficult not to eat them all.

Under Marta’s guidance, Patrick made an interesting last-minute decision. “Some of our vines didn’t bear as much fruit as they should have done. The quality was there, but not the quantity. So, Quinta dos Vales offered to make up the quantity at no extra cost. The wine I always wanted to make from the onset is a Palhete (a light-bodied red), in which a bit of white is added. So, we decided to add 15% of Arinto, which they were harvesting at the same time.”

Patrick’s wine will be bottled in March next year and be ready for drinking around June. Approximately 250 bottles of it, which he plans to give to friends and colleagues. Having visited wineries all over the world, he thought he knew a little bit about winemaking but admits it has been a huge learning curve. “Every single time, we come away with more knowledge. It’s absolutely fascinating.”

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