The Douro Valley

The Douro Valley region extends from the city of Porto and the Atlantic Ocean on the west, to Portugal’s eastern border with Spain. Within it are three recognized UNESCO World Heritage Sites: one in the historic center of Porto (the Gateway to the Douro Valley), one in the Alto Douro Wine Region, where you will find pre-historic rock art sites in the Coa Valley, and one which contains the Douro Valley vineyard themselves. Within the vineyards, UNESCO recognizes the 2000 years of viticultural work which created a landscape of unreal beauty and reflects the region’s technological, cultural, and economic evolution. 

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The Douro Wine Region is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. It was demarcated in 1756 to produce Port wine, which is 20 years prior to America’s independence, and 100 years before the Bordeaux Premier Crus were demarcated by Napoleon. The grape varietals that are grown here include over 200 native to Portugal. Many, like Tinta Barrocca, Touriga Franca, and Rabigato, are direct descendants of the pre-historic vine plants that developed here before man ever arrived in this region. Any combination of these Portuguese varietals can be used to make Douro DOC table and port wines – offering plenty of opportunities for winemakers to be creative.

douro horizontal vineyardsThe terrain is extremely hilly with 45 degree inclines down to the Douro river, which necessitated the creation of terraced vineyards that mostly run horizontally to the earth.  There are several vertically developed vineyards, and I can only imagine the difficulty of pruning and harvesting the vines while working up and down the hills! As it is, most of the vineyards cannot support any mechanized help; only a burro or a horse are able to augment the manual human labor. The soil consists almost entirely of schist with less than 5% of organic matter. Rain is scarce throughout the year, and temperatures can range from 4 degrees C in the winter to a scorching 50 degrees C in the summer. The stress on the vines in this terroir is extreme to say the least.

The vines struggle to stay alive for the first 15-20 years of their planting.  If they make it, their root system goes deep into the schist in search of water as irrigation is forbidden within the Douro region. While the vines are planted close together, there is no competition between the vines to survive, since their root systems go straight down.

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Quinta de Covela

My host in the Douro was Tony Smith, of new Kindred Vines and Woodberry Wine partner Covela. Tony is a British expat who always dreamed of owning and vineyard, and with his Brazilian business partner Marcelo Lima, he now has three: Quinta da Covela, Quinta da Boa-Vista, and Quinta das Tecedeiras, all within the Douro Vally and situated along the Douro River.

Quinta (which means “country estate”) da Covela is in the Vinho Verde region, between Douro and Minho, and is where Tony now maintains his residence. Covela covers 49 hectares, 14 of which are vineyards. The remaining property includes ancient structures, streams, walking paths, woods, kitchen gardens, and orchards of orange and lemon trees. Purchased by Lima & Smith in 2011, the estate has a storied history and produces award winning wines. In the 1950s Covela was owned by a Rennaissance man Manoel de Oliveira, one of the most important European film directors in the second half of the twentieth century. Oliveira, who had inherited the estate from his wife’s family after she died, re-imagined Covela and renovated many of the buildings where the winery now operates. In the late ’80s, the estate was sold to businessman Nuno Araújo, who invested significantly in the vineyards. During his time there, Araújo helped the wines of Covela gain international acclaim. In 2007, the estate was designated biodynamic and cemented itself among the elites of Portuguese winemaking. Enter Lima & Smith, who purchased Covela in 2011 during the midst of the financial crisis, when banks pulled loans and Araújo lost the property.

douro orange trees 2They got to work and assembled a great team, including several of the original Covela staff, like acclaimed winemaker Rui Cunha.  They spent two years recovering the vineyards and repairing the buildings. The result is nothing short of amazing. Tony took me on a tour of the estate and it was stunning. The orange trees were loaded with fruit, the landscape was green and lush, and a stream rushed noisily through the property. Dinners are hosted amongst the ruins of the original manor house, Casa de Covela, which dates back to the 1500s. There are remains of the Chapel St Quiteria, and stone paths that date back to the Roman empire. Importantly, there are three houses on the property, one of which is Tony’s and one of which is Marcelo’s, and one which serves as a guest house. All of them were designed by the famous contemporary Portuguese architect Jose Paolo dos Santos and have sweeping views of the Douro river valley.

The vineyards at Covela are a thoughtful assemblage of Portuguese and international grape varietals. Local varietals like Avesso and Tourgica Nacional are the cornerstones for the Covela blends, with Arinto, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Gewürztraminer complementing Avesso and Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot blended with Touriga Nacional in the reds.

douro fireplace 2Dinner my first night was held in the Salon, the second story of a restored building with a roaring fireplace. I met Covela export manager Vitor Mendes and Chief Financial Officer Orlando Freitas here. There were enjoyed a light pureed vegetable soup, a heavenly rice-less fish stew which included cubes of butternut squash, and a stunning ginger/lemon soufflé. The chef at Covela is truly incredible.

douro seafood stew 2The sesational Covela Rosé, made from Touriga Nacional grapes, was paired with the soup course. This rosé will become a new favorite in the Kindred Vines and Woodberry Wine portfolio, with extraordinary acidity, elegance and light fruit, and a beautiful color. It is a refined, gastronomic rosé. The seafood stew was paired with the Covela Reserva Branco (not Blanco!), a blend of Avesso, Arinto, Chardonnay, and Viognier. It has a beautiful straw color, notes of melon and pear, and carries a sophisticated weight to it. Dessert was deliciously paired with the Tecedeiras Tawny port (more on Tecedeiras to follow).

The Covela line is quite large, and we look forward to expanding the Covela brand over time throughout the Central United States market. Our initial order with Covela includes the rosé and the Vinho Verde – Avesso, a wine with a story. Tony Smith asked winemaker Rui Cunha if there was a style of wine that he always wanted to create but never could, and Cunha responded, “Yes. A Vinho Verde made from 100% Avesso”.  His idea was a smashing success and sold out its first vintage, and we are thrilled to introduce it to the United States market. The wine has a bright and floral nose with vibrant lemon aromatics, and lemon and peach flavors on the palate. It is a beautiful and sophisticated Vinho Verde that will sell out quickly.

 

Next to come: Quinta da Boa-Vista and Quinta das Tecedeiras!

 


Written by

Dan Glisky, CEO
Dan Glisky is the Managing Partner and CEO of Kindred Vines Import Co, and is proud to lead the Company’s strategic planning initiatives, and to oversee its implementation in the Company. Dan is also the CEO and Managing partner for Woodberry Wine, LLC, a Michigan distributor of fine wines from around the world.

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