Wine & The Sea
by Dorit Handrus
Wine and the Sea, Wine and the Sea… two natural phenomena inextricably and undoubtedly linked, but the relationship between the two in my mind linked up not on the basis of the vineyard’s reflection of the climactic whims of the sea, but on the sea and its history as a transportation medium for wine.
The Head (Wine and the Physical Connection to the Sea)…short bit of history
Obviously the proximity and influence of the sea to many grape growing regions has magnificent impact on the qualities of varied wines and vineyards all over the world. In Portugal this is especially true where the geographical location subjects a large portion of the country to a coastal or somewhat coastal climate. Recently having been to Portugal for the first time and falling passionately in love with all things Portugal (do I need to note that wine was one of the subjects of my obsession?). I thought it fitting to dedicate this post to such a rich country with deep historical ties to wine and to the sea.
Though wine has been part of Portugal since long before the foundation of Portugal as a country international recognition came only as a result of English merchants in Portugal who were put in a “this or nothing” situation when the wine trade with France was forbidden. The first shipment of “Vinho do Porto” took place in 1678 when the English found the rich wines of the Douro Valley to be an acceptable substitute for the unavailable French wines. Despite being 80 kilometers from the sea, the Douro River provided easy access to the city of Porto and out to the sea. The long journey demanded the addition of brandy to prevent the wine from spoiling on its way from Portugal to the eager consumers in England, thus was born the esteemed and singular fortified Port Wine. Since 1756 when it became the first official demarcated wine region by the Marquis de Pombal, the Douro is the world’s only legal producer of Port wine.
Though Port and its travel by way of the wonderful Atlantic can be credited with getting Portuguese wine an international spot in the ranks of the wine world it is by no means the only worthy Portuguese wine…SO far from it. And while nearly every wine region in Portugal has something different and interesting to offer the wine geek it doesn’t get better or rarer than Colares. So now, let’s make this sound like the fairytale it is.
Atop a cliff between the picturesque and fairytale town of Sintra and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean there exists a small parcel of land that remained untouched by the deadly Phylloxera epidemic that wreaked havoc on the vines of the rest of mainland Europe. The smallest DOC in Portugal and the westernmost DOC of mainland Europe is said to have survived the plague thanks to the sea and its having blessed the nearby Colares vineyard with beach sand soil in which to stretch its roots. Here is where powerful gusts from the Atlantic force both the vines and the comingling Reineta (Pippin) apple trees to creep horizontally along the warm sand in this strange and idyllic beach-sand piece of grape heaven.
Although it is not considered to be particularly difficult to grow either Ramisco or Malvasia, getting to that point is a bit of a challenge. The beach sand here, though able to ward off Phylloxera at one point, is by no means an ideal place for vines to flourish. That is, sand is bad…clay is good. So every time new root stock needs to be planted, they dig. Three to five meters deep. Under the sand is a rich and nourishing layer of clay giving the vines the nutrients they need to survive and produce two grapes worthy enough to warrant the labor necessary to ensure their existence harvest after harvest. Back-breaking manual harvest aside (vines crawl along the sand and are propped up manually to a height of 25 cm just a few weeks before harvest…see photo below for the height at which the grapes will be harvested)
Forget that this is one of the rarest, most staunchly fought for productions in the wine world. Forget that if you even know what it is you are in the minority. Forget the romance; the wine, the sea, their coexistence and dependence on one another in this magical land of wine. Forget that once it is gone, it is gone forever (as far as anyone knows this is the only place in the world that grows Ramisco and this particular Malvasia). Truth is, as romantic a story as this all may be, it simply would not matter if the wine sucked or was even mediocre. These wines (both the red and the white) are like no other wines on this planet…well I have not happened upon comps in any case. YES…THIS WINE IS AWESOME.
So who are three producers lucky enough to get their hands on the Ramisco and Malvasia grapes that are grown by the 55 private owners of this land? About 90% of the harvest goes to the original co-op in Colares, Adega Regional de Colares founded in 1931. Most of the remaining grapes go to the Baeta family who bought Adega Viuva Gomes in 1988. Since 2009 two young winemakers joined in the and are now producing a few hundred bottles of each the Ramisco and the Malvasia under the Monte Cascas label, using the Baeta facilities for vinification.
Point is, these wines are good.
Just wanted to share with all the wine nerds of the world that there is another fun bottle out there that is definitely worth your time to seek out and kvell over.
By Dorit Handrus
Note: all photographs are from private albums and not sourced from the internet or elsewhere