At Ervideira, Duarte Leal da Costa and his sons pe...

At Ervideira, Duarte Leal da Costa and his sons perpetuate a tradition of innovative winemaking

Duarte LC e filhos, Ervideira vinhos

By: Alexandra Stilwell

Dating back to 1880, Ervideira is an ever-evolving winery in the Alentejo

The Alentejo. A land where traditions endure, wines are made in clay amphorae like the Romans did 2000 years ago, and time appears to pass slower than anywhere else. That is the Alentejo we all know and love.

But there is another side to the region. A land of forward-thinking men who have developed traditions and passed on a pioneering mindset to the next generations.

Duarte Leal da Costa, like his forebearers, is one of these men. He may be as traditionally alentejano as they come, but he is not one to conform to the norms. In this paradox, we find a unique personality that has contributed to the success of Ervideira, a modern winery set in the tranquillity of the region’s vast rolling plains.

Count of Ervideira

Ervideira’s story dates back to 1880 when the illustrious Count of Ervideira, a well-respected man in the region, organised what was called the Casa da Malta (The People’s House) at a time of great famine.

“This is where the farm workers received three meals per day: ‘lunch’ at 5am, ‘dinner’ at 11am and ‘supper’ at 5pm. That way, they worked on a full stomach and ate before going home,” explains Duarte Leal da Costa, the Count’s great-grandson and 4th generation of the winemaking family. “The Casa da Malta was open every day of the year, and wine [produced on the estate] was part of the three meals.”

Over time, the Count reduced payment in kind, increasing the workers’ wages. However, to this day, Ervideira workers are still entitled to a certain amount of wine as part of their salary. “There has always been a culture of great proximity with the staff,” says the wine producer. First with his great-grandfather, then his grandfather, an aunt, and now with Duarte, who took over after the Revolution of April 25.

He recalls that the family was ‘invitedto leave the property in 1974. Having moved to Lisbon in the interim, he returned in 1988, at just 21, and found that there was nothing left. “No vines, no winery, nothing,” he exclaims. Everything had been destroyed. His great-grandfather’s project had to be restarted from scratch.

New vines were planted, including the region’s first Touriga Nacional and, in 1991, the grapes from the first harvest were sold to the Vidigueira Cooperative. “The cooperative wanted kilos. But we had invested in quality grapes. We had Touriga Nacional, Tinta Caiada, and Alfrocheiro, higher quality varieties, however low yielding.” And because Touriga Nacional was not autochthonous to the Alentejo, it could only be classified as a regional or table grape variety. “I was penalised both in terms of value and quantity. So, I decided to make my own wine, renting out spaces in private cellars”, until he built a modern winery at Ervideira in 2002. “From then on, we never stopped growing.”

Innovation is Duarte’s middle name. On top of being the first to plant Touriga Nacional in the region and to harvest at night, he also produced the first certified sparkling wine in the Alentejo and, together with Amorim (cork manufacturer), created the Helix cork, an easy-opening bottle stopper.

Then, in 2009, came his most significant novelty, Ervideira’s famous “Invisiblewine – a white wine made from Aragonez red grapes.

And in 2015, the “water wine”, made by submerging bottles in the Alqueva dam.

Today, Ervideira’s portfolio includes 30 references, divided into five families: Conde d’Ervideira, Vinhas d’Ervideira, Terras d’Ervideira, Lusitano and Flor de Sal. “The Conde d’Ervideira family represents more than 50% of our turnover. That is, the company has a completely inverted pyramid. We sell more top-of-the-range wines,” emphasises Duarte.

The 2 Barricas Magnum, a field blend of autochthonous grapes, sells for €500.

However, with its subtle aromas of Earl Grey tea, mint, lime peel and sage, Invisível (Invisible) is Ervideira’s crown jewel. Duarte explains that it came about because he wanted to make “a good Blanc de Noir” using Aragonez grapes. When it was launched 14 years ago, he produced 9000 bottles. Last year, he was up to 136,000 bottles. “It is our fastest-growing wine, Ervideira’s flagship. But it causes problems because it sells out every year.” A good problem for which they found a solution by planting a further six hectares of Aragonez.

Ervideira has 116 hectares of vines spread between Reguengos de Monsaraz and Vidigueira. Last year they produced 800 tonnes of grapes, which is equivalent to a potential of 800,000 bottles. But Ervideira has rules. They only make wine with their own grapes and only bottle 80% of the production. The best wines are bottled, and those that do not have Ervideira potential are sold in bulk.

As for the Vinho d’Água, the “water wine”, Duarte admits he was curious. “I always have been. I have read a lot about shipwreck wines and how they turn out to be completely different”, due to the pressure and constant temperature of the water. “So, I decided to put a case of 12 bottles in the Alqueva.” After three months, he was shocked to find the bottles were empty. Initially thinking someone had played a trick on him, he realised the pressure had pushed out the corks.

He submerged 12 more bottles with a stronger cork and a wax seal. After three months, he tasted the wines with Nelson, his winemaker. “It was totally different.” Six months later, it was even more surprising. Excited with the outcome, Duarte asked Nelson to submerge 30,000 bottles. A significant risk, which turned out to be a great success story.

The wine is a complex blend of Touriga Nacional, Aragonez, Trincadeira, Tinta Caiada, Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in French Oak barrels, it is bottled and further aged for eight months at a depth of 30 metres under the calm waters of the Alqueva.

Ervideira is also a pioneer in wine tourism. Fifteen years ago, Duarte recalls deciding to invest in wine tourism instead of advertising. Visits started at the winery, then he opened shops in Monsaraz, Évora and Lisbon. On top of the traditional tours and tastings, at the winery, Ervideira offers a “Winemaker for the Day” and the “100 Pés” (one hundred feet) experience, where visitors can tread grapes barefoot and make their own wine.

For the future, Ervideira foresees more investments, with the construction of a new winery for premium and super-premium wines and wine tourism, in the pipeline. A new project that will be overseen by Duarte’s two sons, Duarte and Bernardo, the 5th generation of this pioneering winemaking family.

Follow Ervideira on Instagram and Facebook.


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