I have a friend. His name is Josh, and he is a marvelous man. He has stepped into the lead of his family’s business, which among other endeavors, keeps D.C.’s politicians (and customers like Bobby and me) happy with the finest and most unique selection of beverages at Schneider’s of Capitol Hill.
When Josh caught wind of my voyage to Portugal with my mother (former bilingual director of the Italian Trade Commission’s Wine Center), he set the cogs in motion for the most superb of vineyard visits in the Douro: the Alves de Sousa Family at the Quinta da Gaivosa.
In his email introduction, Josh’s colleague in New York does justice to the delightful father-son producers:
His words ring true! Domingo (bottom left) and his son Tiago (top right) are warm and welcoming, and excited to answer all of our questions. Their passion for tending vines, growing grapes, and making wine is deeply rooted.
The father-son duo are revolutionizing port and wine production in the Douro. Traditionally, and exclusively, a port-producing region, Domingo and Tiago are blazing the trail for table wine.
Tiago recieved his PhD in Viticulture from the university in the nearby city of Vila de Real, and is now applying his knowledge of and belief in sustainable practices. However, he reminds us that the “old-timers” are the true reservoirs of knowledge; for centuries, growers like his father produced quality goods without machines and irrigation. By merging their skills and enthusiasm with the history of the land, some plots over a century old (!), Domingo and Tiago have transformed the Alves de Sousa label into a world phenomenon.
The complex and rare flavors that emerge in the port wine are unique to the land. Some plots, including the famous “Abandonado“, were left fallow for nearly a century, the vines thick and unruly. With tender care and training, the wine produced from this plot now retails at $70 or more!
We set off in a 4-wheel drive car, necessary to climb the near-vertical trails connecting the vineyards, lined with olive groves that border the land from their neighbors. Tiago does a fantastic job explaining how the growing and production processes, sharing details from the different terracing systems and pruning methods to the science behind a red blend or a white port.
Not the usual lush, vineyard landscape one visits. In the winter, there is tireless work to be done. The vines must be pruned and the soil prepared for the spring. The pruned vines are chopped into mulch and left to decompose and built up a soil base in this impossibly rocky region; pure schist.
Some farmers burn excess vines, hence the smoke billowing from chimneys below.
After a thorough tour of the vineyard, with astonishing views and fresh, sunny air, we return to the stockroom for a proper tasting! Our small company was treated to nearly a complete tasting of the Gaivosa’s ports and wines. This was the most exquisite selection of wine I have ever tried. There is no comparison to California or Ithaca. Italy is close. Wow. I would venture to describe some of the impressions, but I fear butchering their quality in public. So instead, I beg you to seek out one of their bottles. Josh carries it, as do other importers in major cities. Check here: http://www.alvesdesousa.com/
Incredible experience. Thank you, thank you Josh, Domingo, Tiago, Mamma! Obrigada!