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.
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 meantime, the experience has been amazing”. They add: “Michael and his team have been sending us information about every step of the process, sending pictures, even videos. We feel like we have actually been there.”
For local food and wine writer Patrick Stuart, The Winemaker Experience has been hands-on. He is one of the lucky few winemakers to live in the Algarve and have the chance to follow the project in person. Making his own wine is something Patrick had always dreamt of, something which, until now, was beyond his financial reach. For him, “The Winemaker Experience makes it affordable and practical”.
Last May, he bought 180 plants of Alicante Bouschet and since then, together with his daughter and Marta Rosa, Quinta dos Vales’ winemaker, he has been following the process very closely. “At the beginning of August, we did a final maturation test and were already estimating 11,7% of alcohol,” explains Patrick, who is looking to make a fairly low-alcohol wine. “Ideally, I don’t want to go above 12,5%. So, on that Friday, I took the decision, and Marta agreed with me, to harvest on the Monday, as the forecast for the weekend was hot weather.”
They harvested in the dark to avoid having to refrigerate the grapes. “We went at 6am, when it was still dark and finished just as the sun was coming up. The grapes were still really cool, and by 7.30am, we were pressing them.” Patrick was delighted with the quality of the fruit, “We hardly took out any grapes at all, the fruit was absolutely superb, and 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.”