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.
Clusters of the rare Flame Tokay and Black Prince grapes.
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.
Kevin and Greg with their wives Michelle and Mara who have been honored by the naming of the brand Marchelle
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Marchelle-OTWR.png5651400Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Podcast-Logo-for-website-copy.pngJeff Davis2023-09-26 12:51:572023-09-26 13:16:29Old Vines and Marchelle Wines
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!
You may have heard of Family Winemakers of California, but did you know Family Winemakers of California presents tasting events to highlight and support their member wineries? They also lobby for legislative action on behalf of the wine industry, focusing on the smaller producers.
The Director of Administration and Marketing for FWC, Jessica Venezia, joins me to delve deeper into the details.
Family Winemakers of California supports close to 200 wineries state-wide, most of whom are small family wineries. Yet, their members also include more established wineries, like Jackson Family Wine Estates, ZD Wines, Tablas Creek, Freemark Abbey, Justin Vineyards and Winery, and many more. Be sure to catch the code in this podcast for a $25 discount off their upcoming wine tasting event in Oakland on August 13th. (click the event image below).
Recently, FWC partnered with Wine Routes, a web and app based platform that provides wine and fun-loving people with details about many wineries across California and other popular U.S. wine regions.
As you can tell Family Winemakers of California exists for wineries small and larger that are looking for support to generate growth, awareness, and sales.
Click Play to hear all about FWC:
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/FWC-OTWR.png5691400Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Podcast-Logo-for-website-copy.pngJeff Davis2023-07-24 18:15:062023-07-24 18:39:48Family Winemakers of CA – Tasting Events and Advocacy
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.
The lobby of The Vineyard House
The back porch of The Vineyard House where wine tastings are offered
The Red Barn in Rutherford
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Frogs-Leap-OTWR.png470540Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Podcast-Logo-for-website-copy.pngJeff Davis2023-07-14 14:48:272023-07-14 11:05:02The Story of Napa’s Frog’s Leap Winery – Classic
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.
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.
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:
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/casalvento-winery-otwr.png5901488Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Podcast-Logo-for-website-copy.pngJeff Davis2023-06-24 10:13:042023-06-24 10:13:04The Unexpected Home and Winery in Tuscany
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.
The multi-functional, three-row CAVAL tractor in action
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/Small_Vines_web.png5701400Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Podcast-Logo-for-website-copy.pngJeff Davis2023-06-08 11:50:542023-06-08 11:50:54Making Burgundian Wine in Sonoma County with Small Vines
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
The newest addition to their portfolio, Sparkling wine!
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Sojourn_OTWR.png5881449Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Podcast-Logo-for-website-copy.pngJeff Davis2023-05-24 08:24:012023-05-24 08:36:06Join Me For A Sojourn
As they celebrate 140 years, you can say Wente Vineyards is the leader in the U.S. as the family winery has survived longer than any other. That’s quite an accomplishment! They are also a leader in sustainable practices, in a variety of areas. That’s impressive!
And you may wonder why it took me so long to interview a family member about their remarkable achievements. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. They’re busy people. But, in honor of Earth Month, I managed to connect with Aly Wente (granted this is posting in May but we recorded last Friday, April 26th, just days after Earth Day.
Oh sure, Wente Vineyards has had more time than any other winery to develop sustainable business practices beyond what most can replicate, yet the family’s desire to do so goes as deep as the roots of their expansive vineyards. Aly Wente will share the details about the many sustainable initiatives they have incorporated to lower their impact on the environment.
Whether sustainability matters to you or not, you have to appreciate that they’ve surpassed a number of American wineries that started 20 to 30 years before they did yet couldn’t manage to stay afloat.
Join me as I travel to Livermore, California to share their story.
The Family Series wines we tasted
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/wente-vineyards-website_560.png5601400Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Podcast-Logo-for-website-copy.pngJeff Davis2023-05-03 16:56:502023-05-07 09:51:56Wente Vineyards – A Leader in…
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.
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’s daughter Hannah who joined us at the table
some of the wines we discussed
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Anne-website-3.png6341728Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Podcast-Logo-for-website-copy.pngJeff Davis2023-03-25 11:04:172023-03-25 13:01:20National Women in Wine Day, Anne Moller-Racke
In this Exploring Portugal, DrinkingWine 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can click on the photos to see larger, higher resolution images.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Meredith enjoying her gooey entrada.
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!
The ancient Roman Temple of Évora also called the Temple of Diana
The Franciscan Gothic and baroque Igreja de São Francisco dating from the 12 century
The Chapel of Bones
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!).
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.
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.
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.
Piles of harvested cork tree bark
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.
Part of Amorim’s huge facility
Cork punched out from the bark the traditional way, by hand and leg pump.
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 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.
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.
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Valdo-Matteo-website.png6041400Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Podcast-Logo-for-website-copy.pngJeff Davis2023-01-16 08:19:032023-01-16 08:19:03Valdo Numero 10 Sparkling Wine
Happy Holidays and New Year! My gift to you, a story featuring Taylor of Serres Ranch. She’s an ambitious 5th generation family member who loves to share the story of their nearly 100 year old ranch. She does so with guests while introducing you to their wine in the middle of the vineyards. I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of the experience as I did.
However, winemaking is just part of the many endeavors the family at Serras Ranch has embarked upon over the years. Growing blueberries is crop they also farm, and since the berries are available, why not make wine out of them? Ya, no kidding. They sell Bleusé!. You’ll hear about the wine grape they use to blend with the blueberries. Details about the other ventures they’re involved with await you. Did I not mention the spa? You’ll hear about that too. Click the Play button to join me in the Serras Ranch vineyard with Taylor.
This is where you’ll sit when you enjoy their Cabernet Sauvignon with Taylor
And this is how you’ll get there
This is why the call Sonoma Valley, the Valley of the Moon
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Serres-web.png5881400Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Podcast-Logo-for-website-copy.pngJeff Davis2022-12-21 17:37:062022-12-21 18:19:11Taylor of Serres Ranch – Sonoma Valley
This podcast features the segments from my radio interview with Fabiano Ramaci of Mora Estate. I’ve had Fabiano on my show before, but I felt it was worth repeating. The Sonoma County winemaker has imported Italian varieties to craft an incredible Valpolicella (Valp0) in the ripasso style, and a Valporone, an appassimento made in a method that dates back to ancient Rome. In a sense he has brought Italy to California. Aside from that, he hand paints each bottle he produces! Try wrapping your head around that one. You may have seen his colorful wines on the shelf. If not, take a look at his Trio package below.
Click the arrow below to hear the story of this impassioned winemaker.
The Kingdom of Bhutan has been referred to as “magical” for quite some time. So I suppose it should come as no surprise that the introduction of vineyards, while in the shadow of the Himilayas, occurred unexpectedly. And like a centuries-old fable, the hero in this tale possessed an unwitting innocence.
Words that can best describe the project are, adventurous, challenging, and even daunting, but it has the potential to be miraculously rewarding.
Today I share the tale of the Bhutan Wine Company and its founder, the exceptional Michael Juergens.
On this podcast from Saturday’s radio show, I touch upon one of October’s greatest wine events, the Healdsburg Crush event. It’s a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma-Marin. Winemaker Bob Cabrall (Bob Cabral Wines) joins me to share the details. The the organization is close to Bob’s heart, as is joining 60+ other wineries to pour Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wine from Sonoma Co. The event is October 16th. During the interview I’ll share a promo code will save you $15 on admission! Hit the play button to pop the cork on this interview!
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?
https://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Theresa-Heredia_Gary-Farrell-website-MS.png5341400Jeff Davishttps://onthewineroad.us/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Podcast-Logo-for-website-copy.pngJeff Davis2022-09-18 13:35:192022-09-18 13:36:06Theresa Heredia, A Winemaker To Watch
In the 20th century until the mid-70s or so, west Sonoma County was about as rural as a region could be. When it came to agriculture, it wasn’t far removed from the centuries prior in the farming, orchard, and grape growing regions of the old world. And like many small towns across America, it was common to marry “the boy next door.” Or girl. That’s part of the history of Dutton Ranch and Kozlowski Farms; two small family run businesses who managed to gain success through determination and ingenuity. Out of that setting Tracy and Joe Dutton eventually founded Dutton Estate Winery. Tracy joins me to share their impressive story, which still embraces their family’s essential attributes.