In 2000, at the start of the new Millennium, a new opportunity was presented to us. The previous owner offered to sell us a field named Cova This was situated in the valley near our house. The idea to make wine was already in our thoughts. This was the perfect chance to get started.
The Cova vineyard was layed out in the traditional manner by first planting root stock (R110) and then grafting the vines the following year. After consulting with the people at the Estação Vitivinicola de Bairrada in Anadia, where I was taking wine courses, we was given cuttings of Syrah and Touriga Nacional vines by them. For the Jaen vines, we had to go to Nelas where the famous viticulturista, Ingenheira Vanda, had already made up bundles of Jean cuttings for us to take.
Local people grafted the vines for us, a skill that has largely died out now as today vineyards are usually planted with ready-made vine plants (Enxertos Prontos). Interestingly the largest collection of nurseries in Portugal making these vine plants is in Pó, a village only about 10km away! Many of our vines come from there.
In this manner we bought other fields which had not been used for many years and were often covered in trees. The land was cleared and we planted new vines, many from France from Morrison Couderc, who we met a show in Lisbon and who advised which vines to plant.
The terroir of Cortém is a lucky combination of several factors which go together to make it interesting and unique. This terroir was a prime grape growing region for hundreds of years till about 80 years ago. The wines were used to make wine for the colonies and as blends for other regions.
Our small parish of Vidais, which means vines in Latin (Vites), produced 2 million litres of wine per year in 1920. It is believed it must have been named much earlier by the travellers on the historic road passing though on the way to Santarém who gave Vidais its name.
Our Terroir is hilly with sedimentary rocks carved into valleys by rivers in the last ice age. in the evening, even in summer, we have a cool Atlantic north wind which turns to fog at night. This helps to keep the vines moist through their leaves during the summer months. temperatures rarely rise above 30 deg.C here.
Of course, we have more rain than the interior of Portugal. The countryside stays green all the year and it means we do not need irrigation. So, we are more of an Atlantic climate than a Mediterranean one.
One thing that people forget is although we are in the middle of Portugal our latitude is quite southerly, in line with the toe of Italy, so there is alot of intense sunlight. We harvest late between the second week in September and the middle of October. Thus the grapes, unstressed by heat or lack of water, have a long time to mature.
So, a couple of years later we started making wine! Our first harvest was in 2003 and then we celebrated our first commercial wine in 2006.
By 2008 our venture had expanded to 5 Ha of vineyards. We were in the first year of organic certification, and had won our first medals. And we started our life living together in Cortém! Little by little, on a very small budget, we made the necessary investments in equipment. We kept things as simple as possible in the winemaking, using enological tubs for fermentation, with hand punch down, a basket press, and only stainless steel tanks.
Of course, we had ideas which we have integrated into the process, but no oak filtration or additives were used. We employed basic machinery such as a simple bottling machine based on vacuum etc. Essentially the winemaking has stayed the same over the years. Typically, there have been excellent, good and not so good years due to weather, grape quality and the mistakes we made!
Looking back, it was a great advantage not to have a lot of money for investment because one finds out ways to make wine in a simple way. This turned out to be the best way in the end. Reading books like “Adventures on the Wine Route” by Kermit Lynch confirms that our winemaking methods are very similar to those traditionally used by small producers in Burgundy even today.
An interesting point is that winemaking was started here in the Middle Ages by Cistercian monks from Clairveaux in Burgundy, who founded the Alcobaça monastery and organised the agriculture in the region.
We were often criticised as novices because we had no formal training in winemaking or viticulture. Well this is not strictly true. Yes, we are engineers, film technicians, wine drinkers and it was obvious that one cannot make wine just from this basis. Nevertheless, our first mentors were the people living here, in Cortém. They, whose passion today is still wine, moved into fruit growing 60 years ago. These folk, all remember how they helped in making wine as children. Indeed, most of them had made wine at some point or were still making wine when we arrived in 1993. For example, Daniel who still makes wine at 83, showed us the ropes. This included teaching us pruning and many other skills. We made wine using his techniques and still do, but we added a few things to the process, mostly to improve the hygiene.
The wines were always made using the same basic process. the grapes were monitored for ripeness then handpicked and destemmed. The most was fermented in covered enological tubs for 3-4 weeks until the fermentation had ceased leading to a very low sugar wine. Punch down was done twice a day. After racking, the wines were kept on lees for one year with battonage until the malolactic fermention was complete when sulphite inlow levels was added.
After racking to stainless steel tanks the wine was kept for two years or more before bottling with one more racking in between, no filtering, additives or oak was used.
Cortém Winery Sold……now the future
In 2019, we made the difficult decision to sell the winery to Lindeborg wines https://lindeborgwines.com/pt). They are a group of wineries dedicated to making authentic wines in Portugal. However, we only sold the winery. We have retained our house, the grounds and “Cova” the very first vineyard we planted. We will continue to make wine from this field and local grapes and intend to experiment with other wine styles.
Note: Cortém wines up to and including 2017 were made by us. These wines are available to taste and buy at the new Cortém winery.
Please feel free to contact us with questions or for more details.