Duas Quintas

The wine that revolutionised the Douro 25 years ago

\\ Text João Afonso Ribeiro
\\ Photography Daniel Camacho

At the end of summer, and for the 25th time, the grapes that give rise to one of the most charismatic and iconic ?Douro? wines began to be harvested. Duas Quintas, from Casa Ramos Pinto, carries the weight of the winegrowing history of a region, which, 25 years ago, moved from being famous for its Port Wines, to also being famous for producing some of the best red and white wines in Portugal. A distinctly Douro wine, Duas Quintas originates from two very different estates ? Ervamoira and Bons Ares ? which, together, produce the raw material for a wine, which, in the year it celebrates it silver anniversary, stands as a classic, which Villas&Golfe experienced in the intimacy of its conception: the grape harvest.

João Nicolau de Almeida, always in a cheerful mood, greets us in the village of Muxagata, close to Vila Nova de Foz Coa. The son of Fernando Nicolau de Almeida, the creator of the famed Barca Velha, João Nicolau de Almeida was the man, who, in the 1980s, rolled up his sleeves and created, together with his uncle José Rosas, the 'model estate? of the Douro, known from then on as Ervamoira. He studied oenology in Bordeaux and it was from France, bursting with ideas, that he brought his savoir faire to the Douro, which until then was defined under the aegis of knowhow and practices that were practically medieval. Ervamoira, the estate, only began to bear fruit after a methodical study of grape varieties and rootstocks, and the introduction of other techniques, which, until then, were far from being a reality in the backward Portuguese winegrowing sector. Duas Quintas first arrived on the market in 1990, when it was acclaimed by critics as a wine of unrivalled quality, the result of the many studies made, of the innovative 'vertical? planting of vines, by individual blocks of single varieties, practices until then unheard of in the Douro region and which would revolutionise table wines from there.

Duas Quintas revolutionised the table wines produced in the Upper Douro.    

Duas Quintas revolutionised the table wines produced in the Upper Douro.    As we leave Muxagata, we join a dirt track, which takes us to Ervamoira, on a rocky road that hints at the isolation of the estate. Ervamoira is a winemaking laboratory under the skies, on an estate the shape of which transforms it into a natural amphitheatre of unique characteristics. Its hills, which rise and fall harmoniously in different directions, are entirely planted with vines, which receive different solar stimulation, variable according to exposure, in an impressive expanse stretching 150 hectares.

Bucolic silence rules here, broken solely by the sluggish flow of the Coa River deep down in the valley, and seasonally disrupted by a distant echo of a formation of people and vans, beginning the long process of harvesting. In Ervamoira, the harvest begins in August, at which time vans, tractors and people set off in mass through the estate, in a seemingly illogical procession. The harvest isn't linear, it moves according to parcels that are ripe and ready to be picked, even if, sometimes, this means that the next parcel to be harvested implies moving to the opposite end of the estate. The group harvesting Ervamoira, made up of some 90 people, impresses with the variety of people making use of the season to gain some extra income. Bright and early, from seven o?clock in the morning, entire families, of different generations, make their way through the estate and load the vans with grapes already ripened by the specific nature of the climate of this region of the Douro. The group is mainly made up of women, whose role focuses exclusively on cutting bunches. The men are responsible for lugging the filled baskets to the vans, in a mind-boggling toing and froing.

From here, the grapes are taken to Bons Ares, the estate composing the vinous duet of Duas Quintas. Bons Ares is easy to get to and the main entrance stands before a large building: the modern winemaking centre of Ramos Pinto. The 30 hectares planted at Bons Ares, at an altitude of 600 metres (Ervamoira is at 150 metres), provide Duas Quintas with the freshness it is known for. It is there, in Bons Ares, that the grapes go through a second selection process, according to rigorous quality criteria, before then being distributed according to the wine they are going to produce: Douro Clássico or Reserva. This is where the stainless steel, wooden and cement vats are installed, as well as the automatic-filling horizontal presses. 

The Ervamoira estate is an open-air wine laboratory.

In the meantime, shoulder to shoulder with these modern systems, it is in the stone grape presses that 12 men lock arms and tread grapes at a rapid pace, while they happily chat to each other. João Nicolau de Almeida coordinates the team of oenologists, led by Teresa Ameztoy, and her assistant, João Luís Baptista, who, year after year, work hard to create a wine that fulfils the quality requirements characterising Duas Quintas. In Bons Ares, what was started in Ervamoira is completed, and it is through shared responsibility that both the Ramos Pinto estates are pioneers in the creation of a wine that long ago achieved landmark status in the national and international wine scene.