Wines > The Vineyard > Background
Work started on developing the vineyard in 1999. The only site on the estate which seemed suitable was a steep uncultivated hillside at the far end of the property which was covering in dense gum cistus shrubs, and some eucalyptus and pine trees. All other areas were strewn with outcrops of granite bedrock.
We were initially advised by Rupert Mathieu, a viticultural consultant, who obtained his Masters degree in viticulture at the University of California at Davis, probably the World’s leading viticulture and winemaking college and research establishment. On Rupert’s recommendation we appointed a local consultant to oversee the development on a day to day basis. He was Iain Richardson, who had previously been running his family’s wine estate at Mouchão, 50 km further South. Mouchão is rated as the best wine in the Alentejo region and one of the best in Portugal. Iain went on to set up his own viticultural consultancy operating in Spain and Portugal.
The hillside had to be cleared using a heavy bulldozer towing a heavy duty disc rig. After that the ground, which in many places was only thinly covered by topsoil, had to be ‘ripped’ by the bulldozer pulling a 1 metre deep heavy steel blade through the ground which broke the underlying schist into stone fragments. The ripping was done three times both up and across the slope. The bulldozer was also used to cut a new road from the vineyard to the house, access having previously been through neighbouring property.
Soil tests taken at various points and depths around the hillside were then taken and sent to a laboratory in America. Based on the lab results soil corrections were applied to the ground (including manure, lime and minerals) and then the ground was ploughed and levelled, prior to sowing a cover crop of clover. The idea of the latter being to hold the soil in place and reduce erosion and also to provide an inter-row mowable sward to assist vine root growth. During this period the site was entirely fenced in with a strong fence capable of keeping out wild boar who were known to inhabit the neighbouring hillside in some numbers.
The land had previously been mapped and contoured by a cartographer and based on this, a plan of vineyard blocks, row orientation, irrigation layout and roads was developed by Iain Richardson. Using this, the vineyard was set out using wooden pegs.
The next step was sinking of the borehole and installation of the underground irrigation ring main in 50 mm pipe. We had to dig a trench, parallel to the new vineyard road, all the way from the electricity transformer near the house to the borehole in order to lay a power cable to drive the pumps – a distance of well over a kilometre. At the same time we laid a 50 mm pipe in the trench to bring water back from the vineyard to assist with garden irrigation.
Planting of 26,000 bench grafted vines (five different varieties of red grape) was commenced in March 2000 and completed within six weeks. Shortly afterwards the irrigation pipes were laid on the surface along the vine rows and connected to the newly constructed pumphouse.
In the spring of 2001, the trellis posts and wires were installed and the irrigation pipes lifted and suspended from the cordon wire. Replanting of vines which had failed to take also took place around this time, as did further applications of lime and fertilisers to further correct the soil
It had become evident in the previous summer that the borehole pump was insufficiently powerful to raise the water from 120 metres below ground as well as push it up the hill and around the system. This had led to certain irrigation sectors not receiving enough water and consequently vine development in these areas was impaired. A decision was therefore taken to construct a 100,000 litre concrete water storage tank adjacent to the pump house and to operate two separate pumps, one from the well into the tank and the other powering the irrigation ring main. Soon after that we decided to sink a further borehole to increase the supply of water.
The first vintage took place in 2002 with a yield of around 27,000 kgs. Most of this production went to the local wine cooperative in Portalegre, of which we are members, but some grapes were retained for our own private wine which was vinified in a microwinery which we prepared in one of the old stables. We also made our own artesanal wine in the following three years. In 2006 we joined together with the Pinsent family to develop a winery at their property at Paco de Camoes near Azaruja. Unfortunately this all came to an end in 2009 at which point we started making our own wine on a commercial basis.