This month we celebrated Women’s History, International Women’s Day was March 8th, and this past Monday, the 25th, it was National Women in Wine Day in the U.S.  So, appropriately, my guest for this episode is an accomplished woman in wine, who also happens to be an international woman. Marimar Torres is a member of Familia Torres, a historic winemaking family in Spain’s Catalonia region. She loves living in California, especially Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, where she presides over Marimar Estate Vineyards and Winery as President and CEO.

Early on, she made time to write two Spanish-themed cookbooks and has since hosted a live monthly cooking show on social media called Marimar’s Spanish Table. Her daughter Cristina cohosts the show with you. Yes, she is a true trailblazer and jetsetter.

Join us in her home as I honor Marimar for National Women in Wine Day.

Download to listen later, or click Play to listen now

 

 

Marimar Estate

A meal prepared during Marimar’s Spanish Table live cooking show. All episodes are on her website.

Marimar Estate

Your tasting can include Pinot Noir, Spanish varietals like Albarino, Godello, or possibly some Chardonnay       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing I love most about the wine industry is the sustaining longevity of many historic family wineries. In an era defined by rapid change and shifting tastes, inspiring younger generations to carry forward the family tradition can be a challenge. That said, what a milestone the Serres Family has reached as they celebrate a remarkable 100 years!

Nestled just north of the town of Sonoma, you can’t help being captivated by the expansive beauty of their sprawling ranch vineyard when driving by. You can experience the property yourself with an ATV Vineyard Tour with a charcuterie and cheese pairing featuring their flavorful Bordeaux varietals. It’s an enjoyable sensory experience you may never forget.

If you missed my podcast interview with fifth-generation family member Taylor Serres, you can listen or download it here.

For deeper details of their rich history and a description of the ATV Tour, click here. (Compliments of Lombardi Marketing)

Congratulations and Cheers to the Serres Family!

 

 

Why did I decide to travel to Ram’s Gate Winery to do a story on how winemakers and owners choose a wine barrel? In my 11 years in and around the wine industry, people have often asked me about barrels, yet related to the surface details, like whether a winery uses French oak, or 100% new oak, how many months does the wine age in oak, etcetera. Well, there are so many other details involved with barrel selection and how they can be used, it will make your head spin!

So, if your head hasn’t been spun in a while, listen in to my conversation with Joe Nielsen. He’s as smart as he is chill, which allows him to easily change hats from the positions of general manager to winemaker, often several times a day at the south Sonoma winery. Before I get into the barrel discussion, I’ll ask him about a topic that’s new to me, pressure bombs. It’s a technique they use as a means to keep an eye on the health and needs of the vineyard. Yet, as it turns out, the method is not nearly as intense as the name suggests. No explosions occur at Ram’s Gate Winery.

Ram's Gate Winery

Joe with Assistant Winemaker Rachel Bordes

A couple of the wines we discussed

Ram's Gate Winery

The 2019 Grenache Syrah, Cellar Note

Ram's Gate Winery

The 2021 Pinot Blanc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see the extensive selection of their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay among other varietals visit
RamsGateWinery.com/Acquire

In my mind and according to my palate, they’re all exceptional

 

 

The Aviana Wine brand is the result of combining the 4th generation of a historic wine brand (Charles Krug Winery, first established in 1862),

-with an off-shoot winery that is predominantly owned by women who exhibit the courage and grace of the family’s immigrant matriarch (C Mondavi & Family),

-a passion to passionately support nonprofit causes (Equality Now), and blend it all into a wine brand that is enhanced with innovative augmented reality technology.

-What’s more, the juice is sourced from three European countries to provide a certain je ne sais quoi!

This is Aviana. Giovanna Mondavi is my guest and she explains the inspiration and purpose behind Aviana Wine.

 

Aviana wine

The Mondavi G4

Aviana Wine

Click to be taken into the world of Aviana

Aviana wine

The Portuguese blend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we find ourselves in this period of holiday parties you may be considering how much alcohol you’re consuming. We’re also approaching a month that can be referred to as Dry January, which is supported by an international campaign that promotes a self-imposed break from alcohol. Does that mean wine lovers have to put aside their beloved nectar of the Gods? Not necessarily. A good option will be discussed on this episode. You’ll be surprised by the rare grape varieties they bottle and where they’re sourced from.

My guest is Catherine Diao, wine lover and co-founder of Null Wines.

 download to listen later or press the Play button to hear it now.

 

Do you fit into the Null Wines Lifestyle?

Null Wines Null Wines

                                                                                                             

Null Wines

Click to enter the Null Studio

In this episode, you’ll meet Jennifer Brown of BACA, which is a brand of Napa Valley’s Hall Family. They are more or less based in three counties, they source from a good number of appellations across California, and they have two other brands that we’ll touch upon, but we’ll focus on Jennifer’s BACA Wines.

BACA only produces Zinfandel, which I found interesting knowing that Jennifer’s family has gained notoriety for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. Jennifer and I met in 2020 at the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Zinfandel Experience Grand Tasting event and she told me she loved to skip through the Zinfandel vineyards as a child. Zinfandel? Hearing that from a Hall family member struck me with enough curiosity I wanted to hear the full story of how she ended up focusing on Zinfandel instead of the other varieties her family is well-known to produce. Today, you will get to hear that story.

Jennifer Brown of BACA

We recorded the interview on BABA’s outdoor lounge sofas.

Jennifer Brown of BACA

Just off the outdoor patio area is a Zinfandel vineyard…and a tractor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The BACA tasting bar. There are more chairs and tables as well.

BACA artwork

It’s a desire of the Hall family to include compelling, stunning artwork on all their properties indoors and out.  Here’s some of what you’ll see at BACA just west of Healdsburg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Brown of BACA

As you’ll hear in the interview BACA offers a playful atmosphere including their own board game which is part of their BACA Sensory Experience.

On today’s podcast episode I talk with Greg La Follette and Kevin Lee of Marchelle Wines. You may have heard Greg in previous interviews with other brands he’s been associated with as a winemaker. Kevin is new to the business and found a fairly easy path to venture into the wine industry. He’s proving quite helpful for Greg as his marketing manager. You see Marchelle’s associate winemaker, Evan Damiano is in the photo above but I didn’t get a chance to interview him that day. I understand he’s an integral part of the process at Marchelle.

Greg has been making wine from old vines for quite a while now. I had the great pleasure of joining him in one of these vineyards a few years ago during harvest. We were in Jesse’s Grove, south of Sacramento in Lodi, CA.

To me, you can taste the age of these vines. There’s a certain earthiness that expresses the many decades these 100+-year-old vines have spent in the ground with their roots digging deeper and deeper as time passes. That’s what I love about old or ancient vines. I suggest tasting them yourself and see if you agree. You can find them at MarchelleWines.com.

Marchelle Wines

Clusters of the rare Flame Tokay and Black Prince grapes.

Marchelle Wines

One of the old Zinfandel vines. Look at the size of that leaf!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An accomplished bagpiper, Greg offers a Blessing of the Grapes Ceremony during harvest for the first bin that arrives.

Marchelle Wines

Kevin and Greg with their wives Michelle and Mara who have been honored by the naming of the brand Marchelle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like many people in Northern California, Tony Lombardi’s ancestors emigrated from Italy. He grew up in the area and his friends are the Who’s Who of the wine industry. His background in PR and marketing led him to join his pals who founded one of the coveted cult brands of the early 2000s, Kosta Browne. That position paid off in spades as you’ll hear in this interview, ultimately leading  KB winemaker, Cabell Coursey to join Tony at Lombardi Wines. Tony shares the story of his family’s influence and his enviable position in the Sonoma County wine world.

Lombardi Wines also provides Tony with the means to support a cause that is close to his heart. He’ll share details of Hilinski’s Hope and how next year’s incredible Seine River Cruise in France will provide an additional fundraising opportunity. You’re invited to join them!

Click Play to listen now, or download from here to listen later.

 

Lombardi Wines

Tony with his wife Christine

Lombardi Wines

Each year Tony bottles 1.5 liter magnums of Sonoma County Pinot Noir to raise money and awareness for Hilinski’s Hope.

 

 

Originally posted in December of 2020, I thought I’d share this story of Frog’s Leap Winery once again in case you missed it.

John Williams has had quite a career. The story of Frog’s Leap didn’t begin until after John worked with Napa Valley icon Warren Winiarski at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. He helped launch Glenora Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes region. Afterward, he returned to Napa Valley as winemaker for the esteemed Spring Mountain Vineyard. All this, before and during the founding of Frog’s Leap, where early business decisions, like their comical slogan, “Time’s fun when you’re having flies” were made with his partners in the Frog Farm hot tub.

40 years on, John continues to evolve, innovate and successfully sustain the Frog’s Leap brand, all while maintaining his sense of humor.

Join me as John fills us in the details, with cameo appearances from former partners Larry Turley and Julie Johnson.

 

Frog's Leap

The lobby of The Vineyard House

Frog's Leap

The back porch of The Vineyard House where wine tastings are offered

 

 

The Red Barn in Rutherford

 

To be able to acquire an unexpected home and winery in Tuscany is truly a fantasy come true. It’s a story that follows the “rags to riches” life of an American with an Italian heritage.

Gudrun

My guest is Gudrun Cuillo, an Austrian woman who was working for an opera company when she met Robert, the American. The incredible part of the story is not that they ended up in Tuscany, but had the good fortune to turn their newly purchased property into a winery that sits near a long abandoned medieval village. What they were able to do with each property is remarkable.

The Novel

After 20 years of exasperating work and the loss of her husband, what does Gudrun do? She writes a fictional novel inspired by what she experienced with her unexpected home and winery in Tuscany, Casalvento, House of the Wind. 

I recorded this interview on June 7th, the day after her book was released. She was thrilled with how well it was selling. It almost makes me wonder what she’ll do next. She actually answers that question at the end of the interview. I found this dynamic woman quite entertaining to talk with, and hope you’ll find her entertaining to listen to.

Here are some links with images that will add to the story:

livernano.it (the village)

Casalvento property tour

gudruncuillo.com

Inspired Italy

The Interview

 

The Unexpected Home and Winery in Tuscany

               Gudrun’s novel

 

 

The story of how Small Vines Wines began

If you’re Paul Sloan, a restaurant sommelier and wine enthusiast, and you get so blown away by a 17-year-old world-renowned Burgundy Pinot Noir you want to replicate that style yourself, how do you achieve that goal if you don’t own a vineyard and you’re not a winemaker?

In today’s post, you’ll hear the fascinating story of how Paul and his wife Kathryn made it happen without buying grapes and hiring a winemaker.

I will say, the purchase of an unusual European tractor was part of the process.

Visit the Small Vines website here.

Small Vines

Kathryn Sloan hosting a tasting

 

Small Vines

The multi-functional, three-row CAVAL tractor in action

My destination on the wine road today is Sojourn Cellars in the town of Sonoma, CA. The Director of Winemaking Erich Bradley is my guest, who has the opportunity to source grapes from celebrated vineyards in both Sonoma and Napa Counties. His hands-off natural winemaking style allows the wine to express its own personality. As a result, they speak deeply and eloquently.

The Sojourn Cellars Tasting salon is in a chic renovated historic home, where I joined Erich after hours. If you’re still trying to wrap your head around the saying, “a taste of place” and the term “terroir” you should come away with a better understanding as Erich explains his winemaking style and vineyard choices.  Enjoy this detailed, relaxed conversation as we chill at Sojourn Cellars.

 

One topic of discussion – the 2021 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

and 2021 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

 

Sojourn Cellars

The newest addition to their portfolio, Sparkling wine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the third time I’ve interviewed winemaker Ted Henry – each time at a different winery. It’s not that I’m a Ted groupie. As a matter of fact, I didn’t plan to interview him when he moved to Groth Vineyard and Winery in 2021. But then I read four wines he produced when he was with Clos du Val winery won awards on an international stage…how could I pass up getting that story? Fortunately, we also cover much of what he’s been doing since moving to Groth. Ted is now the Director of Winegrowing, in addition to being the winemaker. All they ask from Ted is to “continue to make beautiful, elegant wines of place — wines that excite people.”
Join me as I travel to Oakville, Napa Valley to sit with winemaker Ted Henry during this On The Wine Road Podcast.

Cover photo compliments of Visit Napa Valley

Winemaker Ted Henry

Ted captured during our tasting

In the VIP tasting room

I didn’t mention it in the interview but the story of Anne Moller-Racke is one of an immigrant achieving the American Dream. In Anne’s case, it was propelled by two exceptional mentors, and her drive to create something special, like designing a Sculpture Park throughout the rolling vineyards at Donum Estate. She also developed relationships with winegrowers who could provide the grapes she needed to create ideal Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for Blue Farm Wines. Her impressive career is what prompted me to choose her as the subject for National Women in Wine Day.  To truly understand all that she accomplished in just a couple of decades be sure to listen to the full interview.

 

 

Anne Moller-Racke

Anne’s daughter Hannah who joined us at the table

Anne Moller-Racke

some of the wines we discussed

 

In December, the 2nd Annual LatinX State of the Wine Industry Summit was held at RD Winery in Napa Valley. I missed the event but thought the topic was important enough to share on my podcast, so I met up with the moderator and sponsor, Gabriela Fernandez.

The all-inclusive event focused on the impact of the Hispanic and LatinX contributions to the wine industry. The theme was “Somos Visibles: Unheard Voices en Vino,” and focused on celebrating the diversity, perseverance, and legacy-building resilience of those who have become known as the backbone of America’s wine industry. The list of sponsors was impressive.

The LatinX Wine Industry Summit event was presented by Hispanics in Wine, Uncorked and Cultured, and The Big Sip. Thirty one outstanding wineries, from Oregon to Paso Robles, shared their wine during the finale, La Gran Cata.

Gabriela recorded our conversation in her MegaMix studio to share an in-depth review of the inspiring event. I did my best to keep up with her energy!

 

LatinX Wine Summit

Gabriela during our interview

Latin X Wine Summit

LatinX Wine Summit

 

In this Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine travel blog, we head from the Douro DOC, through the Porto region into Vinho Verde. You’ll hear my interview with Quinta da Aveleda winemaker Fabiano. Click the images to see larger sizes.

Day 10 – Penafiel, Vinho Verde

As we headed west we encountered another rainy day. It wasn’t much of an issue, and by the time we arrived at Quinta da Aveleda, an umbrella wasn’t needed. The hidden Aveleda estate has been in the Guedes family for 5 generations. I saw an interactive video of Quinta de Aveleda during the Wines of Portugal online seminar, then had the opportunity to try some of the wines during a San Francisco Portugal Wine tasting event. They inspired me to book a tour of the property and taste other brands. Fortunately for us, Aveleda was on the route to Porto.

The jardins (gardens) were extreme and magical. They feature a small tree forest that, as I recall, has trees from every region in the world. We saw redwoods from California, palm and maple trees, and many others. The variety of flowers was also abundant. Then we passed by whimsically designed structures, which evoked the sensation of stepping into a fairytale!

Exploring Portugal

The original guard house from the late 1800s, seemingly from another world.

A house built as a wedding gift for a family member

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 100-year-old goat tower, where the dominant male stands guard.

During the tour, which I highly recommend, you’ll also enter the granite wine cellar dating back to 1885. This is where they age the family’s brandy, Adega Velha. The birth of the international brand stems from a well-kept secret older than the winery itself. To read the intriguing story, visit the website Adega Velha.

The aging elixir

Bottles of brandy from past decades

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the wine tasting, we tried the Solos de Granito, 100% Alvarinho from Vinho Verde. It was a tantalizing blend of citrus and tropical flavors. There was a Moscatel-Galego-Roxo from the Algarve region. It was dry with red fruit and mineral notes. Then the Vale D. Maria from the Douro Superior, further east than Pinhao. It featured grape varieties used in Port wines but was also dry, not sweet. Very good!

Villa Alvor is another vineyard the family owns in the Algarve region on the country’s southern end. This blend was layered with flavors from grape varieties Aragonez, Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional, and Syrah. It possessed dark fruit qualities, a medium body, and light to medium tannins. It’s an easy-drinking, enjoyable wine, especially for its $3 price tag. Across from the tasting room is a store and gift shop that sells many of the family’s wine brands and brandy.

 

After the tasting, winemaker Fabiano showed up for the interview. As you’ll hear, the family sources from vineyards across the country. Click Play to hear our conversation.

 

Following the tasting, and purchasing some wine, we got back on the wine road toward our next destination.

Day 10 – Porto

I’ve felt the desire to see colorful, historic Porto (or Oporto) as I did the Douro Valley. Although, instead of vineyards growing on the hillsides; historic homes, businesses, cafes, and Port houses line the Douro River just east of where it spills into the Atlantic ocean. Iconic bridges, such as the Ponte da Arrábida and Ponte Luís I, connect Porto’s center on the north to the Vila Nova de Gaia municipality to the south.

We stayed at the historic, yet modern Porto A.S. 1829 Hotel. The beautiful blue-tiled building was founded in the year of its name as a stationary manufacturer. To this day, it continues to feature elements from its notable past that you’ll see throughout the hotel. The location worked out well for us. One benefit – it sits at the end of the revitalized Rua das Flores, a pedestrian street of merchants, referred to as “the Mecca of Romanticism.”

Photo credit: Viagensa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To our surprise, the Porto location of the Wines of Portugal tasting room is located on the Rua.

 

 

 

Making New Friends

While we were still in Pinhão we discovered that not only were our new friends Sandra and Patrick traveling to Porto, but they also booked their stay at the 1829 Hotel! How crazy is that coincidence? But it didn’t end there. We ran into them on the streets a couple of times, which led to head shaking and laughs. Hooking up for dinner and meeting at the aerial gondola added to our time together which always included engaging conversation. We have remained in touch since then.

Much of our time was spent in Port Houses and cafes, yet we did find interesting sites throughout the city. A favorite was The Portuguese Centre of Photography, residing in a 200-year-old former prison. The aged concrete walls, iron bar doors and windows make for an artsy architectural design feature, in addition to the photography and the History of Photography exhibition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another impressive attraction we visited was the Church of São Francisco. Finished around 1425, the church features the beset example of Gothic architecture in Porto. In the early 18th century, the interior was decorated with exuberant gilt woodwork. Five hundred years later it continues to glow brightly. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s a mesmerizing sight to see.

And then there’s the Port wine. I love Port!

Wine has been exported from Portugal since the mid-12th century. The popularity of sweet, fortified Port took off with the Anglo-Portuguese commercial treaty of 1654 which created new opportunities for English and Scottish merchants living in Portugal. As Sophia Berqvist of Quinta de la Rosa pointed out in Part 1 of Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine, England has been deeply involved ever since.
However, the German-founded company,
Kopke boasts of being, well, as the building says…         

My wife Meredith enjoyed their 2005 White Port so much that she bought one to bring home. The photo of me was taken in Kopke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took a tour of the familiar Port producer Sandeman. As we listened to stories of their history, strolling through the low-lit cellars, the iconic “Don” was omnipresent. It was quite an educational tour followed by a tasting of 4 wines. We were part of a group of people from other countries, which led to interesting conversations.

 

 

 

I have to say, one of my favorite tasting was at Quinta do Noval. It included a 1996 Vintage Porto and 20-year-old Tawny Porto.  

We also visited Taylor Fladgate but didn’t make it to Cockburn’s, Croft, Cálem, Fonseca, Graham’s, or the others. So much Port, so little time!

Small vessels, called Rabelo boats, were used to transport barrels of Port wine and passengers from the Douro wine-growing region all the way downstream to Porto. That method existed until the 1960s, but to pay homage to tradition the Porto houses unfurl their sails during the festivities of St. John’s (São João) on June 24th. The Rabelo Boat Regatta showcase the navigational talents of their crews as about 20 rabelos strive to be the fastest to sail up river to the finish line. As a gesture to their history, you can see the boats daily as they line the river bank of Vila Nova de Gaia.

We were across the river to the north for the last couple of hours of daylight on our final day in Porto. It was a surprisingly warm afternoon for November 4th. We wanted to celebrate and heard about the Porto Tonico. It’s young White Port, and tonic water with a lemon slice. It was the ideal refreshing cocktail as we relaxed and reflected on our time along the Douro River.

The next day we took the high-speed train Alpha Pendular for the 3-hour trip back to Lisbon for our flight home the following morning. We had a feeling of “a trip well done” as we did about as much as we could have in the 12 days we were in the country. Renting the car allowed us to explore many unexpected, fascinating places. We drove about 800 miles in 10 days and the rental was only 224 Euros. And let it be known, whenever I travel on the wine road, my wine suitcase is always by my side.

Considering an international trip soon? Portugal was fantastic. The Portuguese are welcoming, most speak English, and the meals were usually more than we could eat. Felicidades!

Did you know: In 2019, Portugal was elected for the 3rd consecutive year as “Best Destination in the World” by the World Travel Awards. Additionally, Portugal was chosen as “Europe’s Leading Destination” in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2022.

In this Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine travel blog you’ll hear my interview with Quinta de la Rosa owner, Sophia Renqvist. She has been involved with the Quinta, or inn, for much of her life and contributed in numerous ways to the wine industry. The interview is later in the post. Remember to click on the images for larger sizes.

Day 7 – The Dão and Douro Valley

One of the wineries on my shortlist from the Wines of Portugal Zoom event was Caminhos Cruzados Winery. That destination gave us a reason to avoid the toll fees of highway IP3/A24 and wind our way up hills and into shallow valleys as we ventured even further northeast. The country roads continually offered interesting sites and rarely did we find slow-moving traffic. When we arrived near the town of Nelas we were disappointed to find Caminhos Cruzados closed. Well, it was a gamble as I didn’t arrange a visit ahead of time. Returning to the main road, we decided to explore. Once again, luck was on our side! We came across LusoVini Vinhos de Portugal. It’s a wine center with Taberna Da Adega (their enogastronomic space), a small but interesting winemaking museum, and a wine shop. They were just opening when we arrived so for a while we were the only ones in the place.

The Dão region is home to Touriga Nacional, the most widely used grape variety in Portuguese red wines. You can count on Touriga to be used in the wines of Pedra Concela, Varanda de Serra, and Flor de Nelas, the local brands featured in the LusoVini wine shop.

 

 

 

 

Click on the images for larger sizes

 

We were getting hungry so we took advantage of their Taberna. Once again, we were reminded that the Portuguese tend to over-serve. We ordered two appetizers, a cheese and sausage platter, and croquettes. The olives and bread were complimentary with the wine. However, if you eat them they’ll charge you for it. But look at that platter and six croquetas! Again, these were appetizers. We couldn’t come close to finishing it.

A wine bottle fireplace?
Nice touch! I don’t recall ever
seeing something like this before.

Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine - Part 2

Historic fermentation tanks are not new to us
but these copper fermenters featured in their
the museum was a first.


Feeling satiated and happy with our discovery, we drove out of Nelis and kept to the countryside roads all the way to Pinhão and the Douro Valley. Since I first saw images of the valley I felt determined to see it in person. Being an avid photographer, Meredith was all for it.

A sight to see, the Douro River

After two more hours of the two-lane route N323, we finally reached the crest of the rugged mountain, and the Douro River came into view…2000 feet (640 meters) below. It sure was hard to keep my eyes on the road’s hairpin turns while trying to get a glimpse of the river and vine-covered hillsides.

Exploring Portugal - Part 2

With the grape harvest a few weeks previously, the vineyards aren’t quite as lush as they are throughout the summer. As you’ll see in the view from our room at Quinta de la Rosa, some vineyards closer to the river still appeared greener. The town of Pinhão is set above the bend in the river.

Exploring Portugal - Part 2

Exploring Portugal - Part Two

Quinta de la Rosa sits just above the Douro River. It’s more expansive than this photo indicates. Through much of its history, the quinta was an active wine-producing facility. Now, most of the wine production is done off-site. However, barrel aging and tours of the facility continue. It’s worth taking the time to experience it.

 

Quinta de la Rosa was one of the first properties to incorporate stone walls on the treacherous terraced hillsides. The narrow rows and slippery slate rock are so challenging, this La Rosa vineyard is called Vale Do Inferno, the “Valley of Hell.” Why bother with the difficulty? Because their courageous effort results in such damn good wine!

 

The quinta offers complimentary breakfast and their dinner options range from traditional to regional styles, like braised goat. I chose it one night and added “braised goat” to my list of unusual cuisine experiences. During several meals, we sat next to a couple from Luxembourg, Patrick and Sandra. We had a series of coincidences, the first of which was signing up for the Quinta’s wine tour and tasting on the same day. More unexpected surprises with them were to follow.

Aging wine in their century-old barrels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinhão lights up at night

Before leaving for our trip, I was able to connect with personnel at the Quinta de la Rosa to set up an interview with the owner, Sophia Renqvist. Following lunch on our second day there, she invited us to her home on the property. We chose the dining room, with the Douro as the backdrop, as the setting for the interview. Aside from her family’s long history in Portugal, you’ll hear how her father, Sophia, and her son have incorporated new ideas for the Port, still wine, and even craft beer industry.

Exploring Portugal - Part 2

We did leave Quinta de la Rosa for dinner one night. It was a tempting revelation to hear a Michelin Star chef opened a restaurant a few miles down the river in the town of Folgosa. Nestled between the roadway and the Douro is DOC by chef Rui Paula. The décor, the service, and the cuisine were exceptional! World-class restaurants show up in some of the most remote regions in this 21st-century gastronomy era.

There are more wineries or quintas than you’re likely to have time for, but don’t let that keep you from hitting as many as you can. Aside from the wines of Quinta de la Rosa, we tasted a flight of Port wines at Quinta do Bofim, a Symington Family Estate, and chose a selection of dry white, red, and Port wines at Quinta das Carvalhas. As you can see by the picture at Carvalhas, the pours were generous. Both locations, and most others, overlook the Douro River. The wines offered an authentic expression of Portuguese grape varieties that we’ve become so fond of. Add the scenery and tasting spaces and you know you’re in one of the most distinctive wine regions in the world!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day before we left we drove northeast into the hills to see where the road would take us. After another twisting, curving drive we made it to the top. We passed by one winery but it was closed. Driving just a few miles further we followed a sign and ended in the quaint little town of Provesende. We wandered through a couple of tight streets, then ended up at Cafe Central for tapas and wine. (Ya, no surprise). But it was very cool to witness the local activity while sitting at the table. An extended family was to our right, some coming and going, and to our left, older gents were playing cards, grumbling about a disagreement, while watching football (soccer). After eating as much as we could of the super-sized tapas appetizers again (!), we left and found ourselves among parochial churchgoers gathering for an All Saints’ Day procession heading to the cemetery. What a fantastic snapshot of a day in a small Portuguese town. Yet another travel lesson; unforgettable experiences can occur when you explore outside of your plans.

The next day we headed east. You may lament having to leave Pinhao, but the N222, then N108 routes follow the Douro River Valley for nearly an hour. We had hard-to-dismiss valley views to the left, and small towns clinging to the hillsides ahead of us and to the right. Across the river, a number of the terraced hillsides featured large billboards signifying the vineyards of Sandeman, Grahams, Crofts, and other Port producers. We were on our way to Porto, with a dreamland stop at a most amusing winery along the way. Join us for the pleasures of Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine, Part 3.

Did you know: The Douro Valley was the first Demarcated and Regulated wine region in the world. It is also a Unesco World Heritage Site.

This first of three Exploring Porgutal travel blog posts was inspired by an invitation I received a few years ago from Turismo de Portugal asking if I would write a blog about the country. It’s not what I usually do but it planted a seed. A few years later, I’d say the idea blossomed. For the recorded interviews only, look for On The Wine Road Podcast on your favorite platform. 

Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine Part – 1  features my interview with
Carlos de Jesus of Amorim Cork.

My wife Meredith and I decided to explore Portugal in late spring, 2020. Well, that didn’t happen. But when the world was opening up, and flights were available again, we dove back into our plans to travel in October and November of 2021.

Fortunately for us, Portugal had just begun receiving travelers and they were thrilled to see new faces.

As we expected, lodging, restaurants, and even car rental were quite affordable. We wanted to get a real feel for Portugal and the people, so we planned our route with the intent to see as much of the country as we could within 12 days.

If I say so myself, we did an awesome job planning our schedule. We balanced short jaunts and stays in lesser-known places with quality exploring time in Lisbon, Pinhão in the Douro River Valley, and Porto, which helped us avoid overdoing it.

map of our route

The road trip. We took the high speed train from Porto back to Lisbon. Source: Google Maps

And this is how it played out…  

Lisbon – Lisboa wine region

We wanted to stay near Lisbon’s older areas of Barrio Alta and Alfama so we chose Hotel Lisboa. It was just off the main corridor, Avenue de Liberdade. It was a perfect location. The hotel was modern and fairly small, yet offered an extensive breakfast (referring to it as a “continental” breakfast wouldn’t do it justice!)  The hotel offered a car service to pick us up at the airport which was greatly appreciated. The local driver shared helpful details during the 20-minute ride.

Just around the corner from the hotel and down a few blocks we found Sr. Lisboa. We were anxious to dive into the local fare. They offered Portuguese versions of Spanish tapas, which hit the spot. It was like a country diner with excellent food and the crew made it even more enjoyable.

In front of Hotel Lisboa

 

 

You can click on the photos to see larger, higher resolution images.Exploring Portugal

 

In July 2021, I was invited to join an international online event sponsored by Wines of Portugal. Rather serendipitous, I thought. The moderator was the Portugal Wine Ambassador to the U.S., Eugenio Jardim. The event featured interviews with winemakers from various regions, a couple of which made it onto our itinerary. As we ventured through Lisbon we came across the Praça do Comércio, a large public square on the coast. Along the western row of buildings was the Wines of Portugal tasting room. It featured wines from every Portuguese region along three walls of wine bottles – an unexpected discovery that we took full advantage of! Later, we came across the second location in Porto.

The Wines of Portugal tasting room

 

We enjoyed walking around the Alfama neighborhood, one of Lisbon’s oldest areas, lined with shops, cafes, and convenient historic trams. If you go, try to catch Tram 28, which carries tourists and locals on the most popular route. My sweet tooth couldn’t resist the local pastry, Pastéis de Nata.

Exploring PortugalThe popular Tram 28 in the Alfama district

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historic Rossio Railway Station, circa 1890

Historic Rossio Railway Station, circa 1890

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you go to Lisbon or any other foreign city for that matter, try to set up a dinner or a tour through the WithLocals website, or something similar. You can choose a variety of tours or experiences with local residents. You’ll learn much about the country’s culture and their favorite things to do. It’s certainly worthwhile. We decided on the home dinner experience and chose Isabel. She offered multiple courses that included fried salted cod balls, fruit and vegetable items, and a local delicacy, black pork. Isabel also provided a selection of cheeses and two wines. She turned us on to Porta da Ravessa white wine, and the red Vila de Frades, both produced in the large Alentejo wine region east of Lisboa and Tejo. Isabel was a delight to spend time with, and her dog was pleasant and chill…sleeping at my feet while we ate.

Dinner with Isabel from WithLocals

Exploring Portugal

This vinho blanco was an ideal starter wine. The blend of Roupeiro, Fernão-Pires, and Arinto was light and fresh, and a bargain at 2.49 Euros!

A very nice red blend of Aragonez (Tempranillo), Trincadeira & Alicante Bouschet. It paired very well with the black pork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could create a full post on our day trip to Sintra, but I’ll provide a short synopsis. Sintra is located on the Portuguese Riviera. A 45-minute train ride drops you into the magical, wonderous mountainous region with majestic castles, royal palaces, historic structures, and mansions. And then there’s the Quinta da Regaleira. Its dazzling architecture and grounds are “conducive to the contemplation of the beautiful and the sublime.” To avoid the tourist groups and lines we chose a zippy way to tour Sintra – the electric Twizy from Go2Sintra Eco Tours. It’s a kick!

Exploring Portugal

The night before we left Lisbon we searched for a bar or restaurant that offered live fado music. It’s the country’s mournful folk music about the sea, losing loved ones, struggles of the poor, and it can nearly bring a tear to one’s eye. Due to the slow recovery from the pandemic, there were no live performances in the area; however, luck was on our side. As we wandered and searched, we came across Fado & Wine. There was no one in the place, but Fado filled the air. Shelves of wine were on every wall. Finally, a young woman came in. After a discussion of what we liked in wine, she provided a couple of options. I fell in love with the 2010 São Domingos Garrafeira from the Bairrada region. (Remember that region, it comes up again.) She also served us some tasty tapas, then left us alone to enjoy the music, delectable wine, and fare. She returned to let us try other libations she thought we’d enjoy, one of which was Ginja wild cherry liqueur. It was fantastic! Such long-lasting, intense flavor.

Exploring Portugal

Meredith enjoying her gooey entrada.

Exploring Portugal

This bold blend of Touriga Nacional, Merlot, and Cabernet featured floral and spicy notes, and blanketed my tongue with red and dark fruit, with a touch of toast and spice. Delicious!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Évora – Alentejo wine region

After two and a half days in Lisbon, we rented a Peugeot SUV and headed east to the ancient walled city of Évora. It’s also the capital of the Alentejo region. A larger town has since grown around the walled city but the interior has maintained its historic character. In the city’s center stands the ancient Roman Temple of Évora (also called the Temple of Diana). Nearby, whitewashed houses surround the Cathedral of Évora. It’s the largest medieval cathedral in Portugal. The massive Gothic structure was built between 1186 and 1250. Not far is the must-see skeleton-adorned Chapel of Bones. It’s as fascinating as it is creepy. All four walls were completed with bones from the dead of the 17th century. The Franciscan monks believed the use of their bones guaranteed the absolution of their sins while providing a site of contemplation for the living. Those zealous Franciscans!

ancient Roman Temple of Évora

The ancient Roman Temple of Évora also called the Temple of Diana

Igreja de São Francisco dating from the 12th century

The Franciscan Gothic and baroque Igreja de São Francisco dating from the 12 century

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The creepy but fascinating Chapel of Bones

The Chapel of Bones

Exploring Portugal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To our delight, a half block from the cathedral was the Rota Dos Vinhos-Alentejo, which means Alentejo Wine Route. The tasting room offered a good number of wines from the region. Helena poured us a couple of whites and two reds. Grape varieties included Bical, Grand Noir, and the region’s traditional Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet, Castelão, and Antão Vaz (a new one for me!). 

Exploring PortugalRota Dos Vinhos-Alentejo tasting room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coimbra – Bairrada wine region

You know how sometimes you see a photo and you say to yourself, “I would love to see that in person”? That’s how I felt when I saw this photo of the historic University of Coimbra high above the city. It’s among the oldest continuously operated universities in the world! At night, it’s stunning.

Exploring Portugal

Fortunately, we found the Hotel Oslo Coimbra with a rooftop terrace, and a room facing the university. Established in 1290, the university moved locations a few times, and in 1597 it ended up in Coimbra at the Alcaçova Palace, previously owned by the Royal Family. On a drizzly evening following our dinner of Portuguese-inspired pizza, we walked the parkways along the rows of shops. There, next to the Igreja de Santa Cruz, was a cafe and we stopped in for a drink. What luck, Fado de Coimbra was performing. The sound was mesmerizing as it reverberated through the historic architecture.

Click here to see and hear it for yourself.

Exploring PortugalIgreja de Santa Cruz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mozelos – Amorim Cork

In the months leading up to our original travel plans, I had been in touch with the Director of Marketing and Communications for Amorim Cork, Carlos De Jesus. Traveling from Coimbra to Mozelos, Amorim was a 1-hour 40-minute trip. While the rain varied in intensity, the freeways were easy to travel through the mountains and valleys. We met up with Carlos at their headquarters and production facility. What an experience! We spent nearly two hours touring the production area and laboratories. Cork is one of the most useful materials on earth. As Amorim states, cork oak forests “contribute to climate regulation, are a driving force for sustainability development, and play a crucial role in the world’s ecological balance.” Also, harvesting cork bark does not harm the oak trees, which have an average life span of 200 years.

image of harvested cork bark

Piles of harvested cork tree bark

Exploring Portugal

 

 

 

A oak cork tree that was recently harvested. You can see the tree’s red hue. The branches show where the harvesting ended and bark remains. The painted 1 indicates it was harvested in 2021.

Amorim cork's huge facility

Part of Amorim’s huge facility

Cork punched out from the bark the traditional way, by hand and leg pump.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Portugal

Shaped cork in various levels of quality

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s my compelling conversation with Carlos about the extreme efforts Amorim undertakes in their mission to achieve perfection and 100 percent sustainability.

 

The Benefits of Taking the Road Less Traveled…

After leaving Amorim Cork we chose the backroads on our return to Coimbra. Along the way we passed this sign.

It caught my eye so we backed up and decided to follow the “rota.” We drove a ways wondering if we missed a turn, then finally a park like setting with a few buildings appeard. To our delight, it was a tasting room in an old, yet ornate 1920s train station. We became friendly with these two ladies, grape grower Adrianna Faria and her winemaking friend, Margaria Matos.

 

 

 

Adriana turned us on the these wines, which included the gripping, tannic Baga. However, the winemaker managed to calm down the tannins, yet would be best with food. The wines of Bairrada feature rich, deeply colored red wines. Aside from Baga, these also include varieties like Touriga Nacional, Castelão and a few others. The whites are often made with Loureiro, Verdelho, ad Alvarinho. I image Margarida’s own M&M sparkling, Espumante Bruto, contains some, if not all those varieties. We enjoyed the wines and the ladies, who were an unexpected plesasure to meet.
Adrianna and I have been following each other on Instagram!  (@jdwineroad)

 

In Exploring Portugal, Drinking Wine Part 2 we make our way to the Douro River Valley with its majestic terraced hillside vineyards.

 

In Ocotber I was invited to a media luncheon that was served with Valdo Numero 10 sparkling wine. I couldn’t resist attending as it took place in one of my favorite San Francisco restaurants, Sens. It also included a vertical tasting of 4 Valdo vintages.

Matteo Bolla hosted the event. Yes, the same Italian name behind a number of varietals including Bolla Valpolicella. The family split a century ago but Matteo’s family lineage concentrated on prosecco under the name Valdo, which pays homeage to the region in which the wine is made, Valdobeadenne. What’s special about Valdo Numero 10? It’s made in the same style as Champagne. That’s unusual for processeco.

In my interview with Matteo, you’ll hear about the Bolla family, and what makes Valdo 10 so special.

Valdo Numero 10

Click on the photo to see a larger image of the incredible menu Sens Restuarant prepared for the luncheon to accompany the Valdo vertical tasting.

Theresa Heredia has been a winemaker to watch since 2012 and continues to be. I really enjoyed sitting down with Theresa of Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery. Not only is she savvy, she’s quite playful too, further adding to the enjoyment.

Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery is one of the early producers of Pinot Noir in Sonoma County, and remain in the forefront of bottling cool climate Pinot and Chardonnay. Theresa Heredia is a perfect fit. Please join us in their nicely designed tasting salon, won’t ya?

 

Theresa Heredia