Wine blueprint: discover Herdade do Freixo

Wine blueprint: discover Herdade do Freixo

By: César Brigante

Now more than ever, good wine and good architecture go hand in hand. Herdade do Freixo, in the Alentejo, is a project built from the ground up that goes to show that this is indeed a fruitful marriage

It’s not a new phenomenon and certainly not a national exclusive. Investing in a winery where architecture plays a role beyond the minimum expression of the maxim “form follows function” is an increasingly common choice for Portuguese producers. Wine has gained new meanings as a business, and a highly competitive global market demands added assets. Besides the practical issues that have to do with the rational use of an infrastructure, the prominence that a project like this – when done successfully – can bring in an era of digital communication is certainly an invaluable asset. If we add to this the fact that these are two areas that have most made their mark abroad in the last few years, this alliance makes even more sense.

Joining this growing group of wineries of architectural interest in late 2016 was Herdade do Freixo. Located in Redondo, Alentejo, the 300-hectare property – of which just 26 are planted with vines – was separated from a larger estate covering around 1000 hectares, owned for many years by the noble Vasconcellos e Souza family, with roots in the region. The mentor, partner and man responsible for the project is Pedro Vasconcellos e Souza, an experienced winemaker known in winemaking circles for his ties to Casa de Santar in the Dão region. With an investment of more than €10 million, Herdade do Freixo was only achievable thanks to a group of investors who decided to back the dream of Pedro Vasconcellos e Souza, who has come to be idolised over the last 10 years or so.

The objective wasn’t only to create wines that “convey the best of the essence of its land, its vines and its terroir, resulting in great concentration, persistence and simultaneously in a distinctive freshness and longevity for the region’s wines”, but at the same time “contribute to strengthening the international positioning of super premium Portuguese wines and particularly those of the Alentejo, making Herdade do Freixo a world-class wine tourism destination”, explains Pedro Vasconcellos e Souza. The property boasts an interesting and diverse natural heritage, with important cork tree forests that are so characteristic of the region.

It is also the habitat of various migrating species, such as the vulnerable and difficult-to-spot black stork, and a vast amount of ancient olive trees, clustered around the irrigation dam and dotted throughout the estate, where one can still see various megalithic monuments and archaeological remnants from Roman times. It’s not surprising then that the respect for nature and the countryside is the foundation of the project, the direction in which the construction of the winery, usually an intrusive element, had to be steered. “The last thing we wanted was another building sticking out in the landscape. We wanted visibility not through its grandeur, but through the intrinsic quality of the project and the respect for the surrounding nature,” explains Pedro Vasconcellos e Souza.

This search for respect and preservation, which was expressed unequivocally in the international tender launched for this purpose, was interpreted in a radical way by the winner, the architect Frederico Valsassina, who literally hid it underground at an altitude of 450 metres, which would otherwise have given it a dominating position on the horizon. With three storeys that extend 40 metres deep into the ground, the beautiful effect of the building, which inevitably draws comparisons to the famous Guggenheim museum in New York, owes to the architect’s use of the metaphor of a cork-screw entering the earth as if it were a cork.

Despite being underground (the only one of its kind on a global scale), the first thing that’s surprising when we walk in is the amount of natural light, which reflects the concerns with sustainability, particularly in terms of energy: it is self-sufficient, thanks in large part to the most modern technology installed for that purpose. A spiral concrete ramp connects the visitors’ room, located on the top floor, to the bottom, home to the cellar filled with French oak barrels. Along the route, those visiting the winery can witness the various stages of the winemaking process, thanks to the strategically placed windows and lookout points, without any interference whatsoever in the work, even in the more intense stages such as the harvest.

It’s fair to say that everything was thought out, down to the most minute detail. Much more than an aesthetic and environmental choice, a demonstration of Pedro Vasconcellos e Souza’s love for the Alentejo, the construction of the winery underground took into account more complex technical and functional issues that, along with the state-of-the-art winemaking technology, enables the production of the distinctive wines envisioned by the winemaker.

The location, literally beneath the vines, which enables the grapes to arrive at the winery in a matter of minutes; the need to reduce the undesirable effects of the significant temperature fluctuations so typical in inland Alentejo; the fact that the entire winemaking process takes place using the force of gravity rather than pumps; and even the depth of the winery that provides the ideal conditions for the wines to evolve (a temperature of between 15°C and 18°C and an average of humidity of 85% with the minimum use of artificial acclimatisation) were some of the deciding factors for its underground setting.

Above ground, the vines were also planted from scratch, a careful process intended to achieve the profile of wines envisaged by the winemaker, who has long been associated to high-quality wines. Eight years ago, a total of 26 hectares were planted with Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alicante Bouschet, Petit Verdot and Syrah, in regards to the red varietals, while the whites included Arinto, Sauvignon Blanc, Alvarinho, Chardonnay and Riesling. There are plans to plant a further 9 hectares this year, which will bring the total number of hectares to 32, 12 of which will be of white varietals.

The first fruits of this unique winery are already on the market: the Freixo Reserva white 2015 (Arinto, Alvarinho and Sauvignon Blanc), the Freixo Reserva red 2014 (Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet) and the Freixo Family Collection red 2014 (Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alicante Bouschet and Petit Verdot), this last one the Herdade’s premium wine. Nine new labels are expected to be launched in 2017, with emphasis on the premium whites. These wines can be found at selected sales points, at the best wine shops and gourmet stores, and can be sampled at the winery itself, which is now open to visitors by appointment and depending on availability (more information at

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