The Resplendent Quetzal: Fine food, wine and art i...

The Resplendent Quetzal: Fine food, wine and art in Alentejo

By: Ben Austin

Fine wine, food and art hidden away in the Alentejo

Located in the heart of the Alentejo, nestled on the fertile slopes of Vidigueira, Quinta do Quetzal is home to a first-class vineyard and a contemporary art space. It is the visionary result of a Dutch family — Cees and Inge de Bruin-Heijn and their daughter Aveline, who have been closely associated with Portugal for more than 40 years.

The family’s overwhelming desire is to share their passion for the country’s culture, wine and food. As contemporary art collectors, the beautifully designed exhibition space gives them the opportunity to display pieces from their collection as well as inviting international artists to exhibit within curated shows.

The vineyard consists of 49 hectares of vines, of which 1.5 hectares are made up of old vines. The region can chart evidence of an ancient Roman winery and the hills have a distinct microclimate and a soil rich in schist, the local mineral. Vidigueira has a warm climate, yet its position on the foothills of the Serra do Mendro means that there are cool breezes coming off the Atlantic Ocean, providing perfect conditions for the grapes to ripen and then a more temperate environment for them to gently recover. When harvested, they are naturally brought into the cellar and allowed to age gradually, giving the wine a complexity achieved by the fermentation process over time.

The winery produces a white Reserva from the Antão Vaz grape variety, all handpicked and allowed to ferment in French oak barrels, which results in an aroma of tropical fruits, toast and spices. They also produce a Quetzal Brut and a special Quetzal Family limited edition, which is only manufactured when the quality of the grapes and maturity are exceptional.

Then there are the Guadalupe wines and Guadalupe Winemaker’s Selection, which pays tribute to the 17th century chapel next to the property honouring Our Lady of Guadalupe. These wines are versatile and the perfect choice to enjoy on a daily basis, with or without food. The Winemaker’s Selection red consists of the best grapes at the ideal maturity of Syrah, Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon vines.

The experts behind the wine production at Quetzal are resident winemaker José Portela and consultant winemaker, Rui Reguinga. José has a post-graduate degree in Oenology from Évora University and has been at the estate since it was founded. Rui, who has a degree in Food Engineering from the Lisbon School of Agronomy, has worked for several top wine brands in Portugal and on major international projects as well.

Within the new Quetzal building (which is partially clad in schist) is a first-rate restaurant, shop and art ‘room’ below. The restaurant is helmed by resident chef João Mourato, with chef Pedro Mendes acting as their consultant chef, and specialises in traditional dishes from the Alentejo, with much of the seasonal produce sourced from their own vegetable patch.

The art exhibition space, like everything at Quinta do Quetzal is of the highest standard. The design of the gallery is on a par with spaces to be found in London or New York, and the same can be said about the quality of their exhibition programme. Aveline de Bruin is more than just an art enthusiast — she is a curator who travels the world in search of the best practitioners and galleries to work with. One moment she is attending the Venice Biennale, the next she is at ARCOlisboa, Portugal’s chief contemporary art fair.

“I love my mother’s quote that collecting is like picking flowers in a field, and so my job is to arrange them together,” says Aveline.

Quetzal Art Centre’s current exhibition is entitled Cave Myths (Endless Spelunking) and features acclaimed international artists such as Georges Dorignac, Mike Kelley, Nathaniel Mellors and Paul Thek. The show scrutinises notions of the subterranean, the earliest and darkest origins of mankind and our collective development through language, art and rituals toward what is known as ‘civilisation’. Previous exhibitions have included renowned artists such as Marlene Dumas and William Kentridge for the Drawing Africa on the Map showing, and Ed Ruscha, Thomas Schütte, Richard Deacon and John Baldessari in a collaborative show with the Bruin-Heijn Collection.

As an art centre, this may appear to many as off the beaten track, but it comes with a sense of discovery for visitors. On a much larger scale, the Dia Art Foundation’s art collection in upstate New York is located in the relatively remote area of Beacon in the Hudson Valley and attracts visitors from all over the world.

Quinta do Quetzal as a whole package, with its world-class vineyard, restaurant and art centre, it is a unique and memorable experience. The only drawback being that the estate does not currently provide guest accommodation, but this is something they are looking to rectify in the near future. One only has to take a glance at the rave reviews on travel sites to appreciate just how special this estate in the Alentejo is.

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