July 10: Colares is the centuries old antique wine region located near the youngest royal palace in Sintra near Lisbon and although, Ramisco and Malvasia de Colares being used there today are the rarest grape varieties, they were the finest and most favoured wines in the ancient days but it is today an endangered wine region in Portugal, said Rui Falcão, one of the organisers of the recently concluded Must Fermenting Ideas Conference in Cascais, and who was a Speaker talking about the region as one of the interesting topics, writes an inspired and sensitized Sheetal Kadam who was at the Conference for the second year
The second smallest wine producing region of Portugal, Colares (pronounces as Co-laar-sh) appears like a fillet of land with the onliest terroirs in the world, situated in a husky terrain of granite rock mountains on its north as well south. Affected by gusty winds and the gigantic waves off the Atlantic Ocean in concert, enclaved by the tall cliffs and marked with tiny beaches, camouflaged by dense forests. The vineyards held down the cloudy skies are flared-up with the fog and salt spray, board on the turf of low nutrient sandy soil.
Rewardable to have such potent wine region standing tall against the adversities, isn’t it?
The sandy soils apparently encourage “bush system” for growing the grapevines. These grapevines are centuries old un-trained with un-grafted rootstock. Trellis system on this site can’t survive due to heavy flowing winds. Eventually one needs low trained vines to avoid the biting of constantly blowing wind off the ocean. As the vines sprawl along the sand, the branches need lifting-up to handpick the bunches, which is labor intensive too. Chemicals in the form of fertilizers and insecticides are not used as it adheres to old-school wine making style. Layering done on the vines is one of the peculiarities of Colares, no wonder the vines are real clones.
Phylloxera attacked Europe in the late nineteenth century but it never struck Colares, owing to the sandy soil vineyards as sand inhibits the insect infestation. Lastly, Colares wines became the source of fine wine for the world. With the increase in demand many growers started buying grapes from other regions and started labeling wines as Colares. This aping of grapes ceased only when the government introduced a new law. To maintain the provenance of Colares grapes and wines in 1931 the Adega Regional de Colares (ARC) was established. ARC was as a primary producer of Colares wines on the co-operative basis. Since 1934-1994 over 60 years it was a mandate to produce Colares wine at the Adega, therefore ARC was the only winery able to make wines on co-operative basis. ARC was only permitted for wine production, whereas the wine buying, selling and aging was done by the Négociant.
“The 50 years old Colares wine is the youngest one I saw at the winery during my wine swing, this wine is not at all fruity or flowery, but it is capable of aging for decades. The wine has 11-12 % alcohol, which is not at all derived by fortification. It has been achieved only by natural wine making style” mentioned Rui Falcao during his presentation. Ramisco is an indigenous red grape variety of Colares DOC, bush vine; light-bodied, acidic, well- balanced with alcohol, good amount of tannins helps in ageing wines for decades. The youngest aged red wine is 10 years.
Malvasia de Colares which originated exclusively from this wine region is different from the Malvasia grape variety. The white wine is saline in expression, with herbal notes and rich in texture- I am short of words, why don’t you experience the wine by tasting, if you get a chance?!
According to the Speaker, out of total production of 1000 hA of vineyards earlier, today we witness only 26 hA of vineyards, but as compared to its previous year the area under grape cultivation is seen increasing from14 hA.
Is the sudden increase in demand of these wines a ray of hope, asks a member of the audience “Yes and No” answers Rui Falcao, expounding further, “slightest increase in area under cultivation of Colares grapevines could be time specific or timely yet appreciable. But let’s not forget the decline of grapes and wine production is over centuries, we need to introspect and understand the reasons behind, to formulate solutions for the upheaval of Colares wines.
Really keen on understanding the marketing of Colares wines an audience picks up a question. Should there be any change in the wine style of Colares wines to make it more sellable? The speaker reacts intrinsically, “Colares should be produced only in its century old traditional way, we can’t take away its identity or soul to make it survive. The Colares wine represents its terroir and the adverse climatic conditions in which the grapes thrive. In principle, it’s our moral responsibility towards these wines to preserve this antique wine making style and its legacy”.
A curious organic wine promoter questions, ‘do you think Colares wines are made in an organic way? “I would say, Colares wine is a true example of Natural wines. The producer can’t afford to apply fertilizers to their fields so the farms are chemical free, with limited amount of yields in hand. There is no scientific way of pruning as the grapevines are allowed to grow in a natural way totally dependent on the climate. The vines naturally combat the pest and disease infestation.
As we see at present only 20,000 ltrs of Colares wine is produced, miniscule to subsist in a long run. Highly labour intensive and expensive as the viticulture practices demand hand picking etc. The producers can’t derive higher yields so the quantity of wine production is hampered due to shortage of grapes. The wine sale is not impressive enough to gain profitability. Comprehensively, if Colares wine is never able to be a mainstream wine, it is too difficult to last.
The son of soil Rui Falcao puts across his thought heavy-heartedly, “Colares wines may get curtailed one day. If we don’t value our own wines then the world will never either.”
Absurdly, Sintra a tourist destination being hit by masses across the globe, is just in the vicinity of Colares DOC, yet has not gained fame arm in arm. Sintra reaped and became a sophisticated residential area to dwell for many celebrities and niches. If the tourists and visitors get fascinated or attracted to this spurned, legendary wine region, perhaps then, Colares wines may gain a spurt of growth.
The perceived attention from outsiders, won’t be sufficient enough to restore the birthright of these stunning wines. There has to be a holistic way of approach to make these wines feasible. The wine producers, local authorities, associations, traders, promoters etc need to join hands together to turnabout the face of Colares wine.
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