Portugal is known for surf, sunshine, and sad songs. But unlike its neighbors – Spain, France, and Italy – wine has never been the country’s calling card. Until now. Passport heads to the Douro to meet a new generation of women looking to change that.
Portugal’s Douro Valley is one of the toughest places on the planet to grow wine. Steep, terraced hills, treacherous river rapids, and blistering hot summers are a sharp contrast to the rolling hills of Spain’s Rioja or the Cypress-lined country roads of Tuscany. And yet, the Douro is actually the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. And even though a vine plague in the 1800s nearly wiped out every vineyard in the region, the Douro survived.
That’s because the people here are famed for their resilience and ability to repeatedly outsmart nature, no matter what it throws at them. And that goes double for the women. In fact, it was one of the valley’s daughters that saved wine in the region. Who are these remarkable women? What makes the Douro Valley, and its world-class wine scene, so special?
And will the threat of climate change – and now Covid – finally be their undoing?
Passport’s Jennifer Carr invites you to open a bottle and discover a place for wine lovers, warriors, and the women who are changing the face of winemaking – one glass at a time.
5 boozey and beautiful ways to sample the best of Portugal.
- QUINTA VALE DO MEAOSip iconic Douro wine in this historic sprawling quinta that was the last great project of Dona Antonia. Tell them who sent you!
- QUINTA NOVA DE NOSSA
The original wine hotel in the Douro. It serves up a ridiculous view of the valley, award winning food, an infinity pool, and even a wine museum.
- WINE & SOUL
Wines with that taste of passion, soul, and a sense of place – located in a particularly scenic part of the Douro – the Pinhão Valley.
- RYAN’S LAB IN PORTOCavernous Porto wine shop focused on wine and food with a sustainable, local slant. And did we mention Ryan’s homemade vermouth?
- QUEVADO TASTING ROOM, GAIA
Sip incredible 20-year-old vintage white Port while a singer bathes the room in the traditional melancholic song of Portugal – Fado.
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CONNECT WITH OUR GUESTS!
Sandra Tavares: on Instagram
Francisca Van Zeller: on Instagram
Luisa Amorim: on Instagram
Oscar Quevedo: on instagram
Antonio Graca: on the web
This episode of Passport was written, produced and edited by Jennifer Carr
Huge thanks to Francisca Van Zeller, Luisa Olazabal, Luisa Amorim, Ryan Opaz, Oscar Quevedo, Antonio Graca, Sandra Tavares and Joao Brites.
Theme and music in this episode by the incredible Nick Turner with other tuneful support from Mondo Jermo, T8, hint of mint, Music Box Classics, Imilly, Auracle and Riverdeep Mountaindew.
The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.
Eliza Engel is our Production Assistant.
Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijansky are white port at sunset. They also executive produce the show…
Which is hosted by Neil Innes and a man who opens bottles only with his teeth or an old pistol, Andrés Bartos.
We’ll see you in the next place!
EPISODE 30 – TRANSCRIPT
ANDRÉS: All right. Cheers.
NEIL: Cheers. We’re going to Portugal
[PASSPORT MAIN TITLE]
ANDRÉS: A destination isn’t always a place.
NEIL: Sometimes it’s a new way of seeing things.
I’m Neil Innes
ANDRÉS: And I’m Andrés Bartos.
NEIL: From Frequency Machine, this is Passport.
ANDRÉS: Your ticket to everywhere.
[END MAIN TITLE]
ANDRÉS: Portugal, on the Western part of the Iberian peninsula between Spain and the battering Atlantic Ocean, was once one of Europe’s most commanding powers. A vast maritime history, ancient architecture, incredible people, hospitality, food, and most importantly, wine.
NEIL: Portugal is a rich and old place. The south, the Algarve, it’s pretty warm and fertile. While in the Northern part of the country, it’s rocky, windy, rugged, sparsely populated. It’s tough.
ANDRÉS: And right in the middle of these wilds of the North, you’ll find the Douro Valley.
ANDRÉS: One of the hardest places to grow grapes and make wine on earth. Between the steep terraced hills, the treacherous river rapids and the searing hot summers, a diamond has formed in the rough.
NEIL: What’s pretty remarkable is that the place and many of the feisty female winemakers that live here, much like the grapes, are also some of the most resilient.
The Douro is the oldest demarcated wine region and it was nearly wiped out in the 1800s from a deadly vine plague. But today, the valley may be facing its biggest threat yet – hotter summers, frostbitten winters and unpredictable rains.
Nature is changing rapidly and the Douro’s future looks uncertain.
ANDRÉS: This week on Passport, producer Jennifer Carr heads there to discover a land of wine, women and how the people of the Douro are fighting back.
NEIL: Extreme wine-making
JENNIFER: Extreme wine-making
ANDRÉS: You’ve never been to Portugal.
NEIL: I’ve never been to Portugal, no.
JENNIFER: You’re missing out.
ANDRÉS: It’s incredible.
NEIL: I know.
JENNIFER: It is incredible, isn’t it.
ANDRÉS: It really is.
JENNIFER: It’s like really flown under the radar.
ANDRÉS: Yeah. It’s one of these underrepresented, under appreciated, just glorious, Atlantic… Atlantic meets Mediterranean.
JENNIFER: Yeah, no, the Douro is like, it’s a region that was repressed from even making wine for such a long time.
ANDRÉS: Here’s a question. Are you a wine person or is this your… with a glass in your hand.
JENNIFER: We’re recording with a bottle of wine. I’d say so. Um, but I did a wine tasting in Portugal. Uh, in the Douro. And that was what kind of got me into the region. It was just like, this is mad. Why aren’t people talking about this?
There’s so much love and passion and commitment put into it. It’s the oldest demarcated region in the world and no one’s talking about it.
NEIL: That’s so weird.
JENNIFER: Like they’ve got 250 indigenous varieties of grape.
JENNIFER: I think it’s the most, any, like, especially given that Portugal is a pretty small country. They have more than anywhere else in the world. It’s pretty exceptional.
JENNIFER: I first came to Portugal’s Douro Valley in 2019. It was love at first sip. Between the terraced vineyards that snake along the river’s hair pin bends, to the sparkly eyed old man who sat in sleepy village squares at dusk, pondering poker or chess, shucking little marinaded snails like peanuts out of their shells.
Yep. This place got me enchanted from the get-go.
The Douro coaxes you back in time with a generosity and a safe tranquility that disarms. It’s a leave your house unlocked and welcome mat at the door kind of place. It’s also impossible to imagine anything bad happening here.
SANDRA: With the COVID situation, it was really like a bomb coming for all of us.
JENNIFER: This is Sandra Tavares. Ex professional volleyball player, international model and nowadays, a world-class winemaker in the heart of Portugal’s port wine country. The Douro Valley. She’s had a hell of a year.
SANDRA: So we had to learn and to teach our team how to behave and to, to keep working in the vineyards and in the winery in order to be safe.
But we have a fantastic team that believed in us and, and continued… that we never stopped.
JENNFIER: After an unpredictably wet spring that meant some emergency maintenance against humidity on her vines, the pandemic hit.
The wine estate that she launched with husband Jorge back in 2001 was under imminent threat.
COVID brought a deep uncertainty about their sales and frozen contracts, but the grapes continue to grow and the annual harvest wasn’t going anywhere. They had no choice but to keep calm and keep growing, despite the entire world going into lockdown.
SANDRA: Harvest for us, it’s so meaningful. Not always because it’s finalizing a cycle of one year, you know,
JENNIFER: As I come to discover, Sandra’s cheery resilience is not the exception.
In one of the world’s toughest places to produce wine, it’s actually the norm. This is the Douro, a place for wine lovers, warriors and women who are all changing the face of viticulture one glass at a time.
The N222 in Portugal has been voted by Avis as the best road in the world to drive. 27 miles, 93 bends and home to endless sculpted terrain.
JENNIFER: Snaking from Portugal’s sleepy, sun drenched, river town of Peso de Regua, sitting on the Western fringe of Portugal’s demarcated port wine region. 20 kilometers along the contours of the Douro river to the picturesque pueblo of Pinhao.
JENNIFER: It’s a road for petrol heads and nature lovers in equal measure. Blinding emerald hillsides, ancient villages, church spires, and bells that chime erratically, nail biting sheer drops, and of course, miles upon miles of bulging juicy vines.
OSCAR: I grew up in the Douro. I lived there until I was 15 years old.
JENNIFER: I met up with Oscar Quavado, a third generation member of the world famous Quevado port wine family, one sunny Monday afternoon on the banks of the river Douro in Porto. We caught up in Gaia, a neighborhood on the south of the river, in the cellars of his Quevado tasting room.
OSCAR: I only realized that how intense our reach, our diverse, how diverse, how amazing the Douro is when I had the possibility of traveling to 10 or 15 different countries, visit dozens of wineries and realize that there is nothing close.
OSCAR: The more you go outside of those, uh, populated villages and get lost in the wildness of the Douro, it’s when you see that the Douro is still a virgin, it’s still wild.
JENNIFER: By the way, Gaia as locals refer to it is a mini cobbled neighborhood consisting of warehouses that were built for the arrivals, storage and distribution of casks coming in and off boats arriving from the Douro. Today, these warehouses are chic galleries, tasting spots, and high-end boutique restaurants or hotels, all rich with history and often the scent of oak and finally fermented grapes.
JENNIFER: This is a region that’s been closeted for wine lovers and unfairly so. Unlike the diverse terroir in Fracne’s Languedoc or the punchy Riojas that put Spain on the map, or even Italy’s knockout Tuscan chiantis. Portugal’s wine scene has until recently remained pretty much in the shade.
Along with Spain, Portugal forms the stretch of Southern Europe’s Iberian Peninsula. Millions flock here annually, primarily because of its 1,115 miles of raw Atlantic coastline.
Isolated coves, killer surf spots and pristine golden sands. The country has rightfully earned its stripes as one of the top places for beach junkies and surf nuts in Europe. Maybe even the world.
Inland though, Portugal seems to have sidestepped getting much attention at all. Until recently.
Hopping on a boat and heading up the Douro river from the country’s principal port city, Porto, you’ll find a land that’s borderline bucolic.
The beat is slower, the humans to nature ratio bigger, and the geography good enough for UNESCO. Weeping willows protruding over lakes, rivers with more dragonflies than boats and terraced fields bulging with grapes.
Somehow a big boozy chunk of Portugal got forgotten, or at least overlooked, including for the longest chapter, its buried wine scene.
OSCAR: So the, um, the Douro region was first demarcated in 1756. It was the first wine region in the world to be demarcated and the delimited at the same time. So it marks a change in the wine business, 1756. At the same time, a few other things were, were implemented.
JENNIFER: When he says implemented, Oscar basically means clamped down on.
OSCAR: It was no longer allowed to blend white vines. So no white wine, no white port. All port had to be exported from Porto.
All the thousand growers of grapes in the Douro and winemakers were not allowed to get into the export business.
JENNIFER: Up until Portugal’s joining of the European union in 1986, continued restrictions on winemakers in the Douro meant there was little to no freedom to trade and export wine freely to other places outside the country. For winemakers from Portugal, which isn’t a very big country, the only way to succeed was to get their product into other markets.
For Portugal’s wine scene, this was the tipping point. Suddenly the freedom to grow, market and produce wine on their terms gave Douro]s winemakers the break they needed. The Valley shifted out of old world thinking and the dusty male dominated world of port, wines and the potential for Portugal’s wider viticulture began to open up. Wine was back on the table.
FRANCISCA: Diversity is important for, for the wine trade in general, we don’t all want to be tasting and talking about the same things. It’s exactly each individual story, each individual person, each individual grape variety or region.
JENNIFER: This is Francisca Van Zeller, the daughter of renowned Portuguese wine maker Christiano Van Zeller.
She’s the youngest generation of the Van Zeller family who established themselves as an important port shipper family back in the late 1700s.
JENNIFER: Port is a wine that is fortified during fermentation, killing yeast and leaving the residual sugars that give it its characteristic sweetness.
The Brits love it. Especially at Christmas. Just ask my grandma.
Today, Francisca is a major player in the modern Douro with big visions for the valley and it’s notoriously distinct terroir.
She’s also on a mission to support other local female winemakers and viticulturists keen to grab a slice of the global limelight.
FRANCISCA: That has forced us to really look at our value, look at what we’re different at and target different countries around the world and show the world what Portugal can produce on a quality level, not just volume level.
JENNIFER: Speaking of quality, wine lovers, if you’ve never tried a Portuguese wine, you’re in for a treat.
FRANCISCA: They’re very seductive. I think that’s the best word to describe Ports and Douro wines because they’re, they’re very fruity. They’re very velvety and very involving because, because of all the different varieties, we can have, um, many, many different fruit profiles.
So it’s hard to pinpoint when you’re tasting a wine from the Douro, that it’s Douro because it’s so diverse. So anybody that’s come across wines from the Douro could have had so many different experiences.
JENNIFER: Terroir is basically a fancy name for the environmental conditions, especially soil and climate that influence a wine’s flavor and aroma. In the Douro valley’s case, conditions are harsh. It’s the driest and hottest sub-region for wine in Portugal. As I’m about to discover, the Douro is a place of extremes, of paradoxes in people and the climate, nature as a whole.
And it’s almost been wiped out by both people and plagues more than once. But somehow the people of the Douro and its vines keep finding their way back.
NEIL: Wowzers. I’m totally there
ANDRÉS: You look so sad, like melancholic.
NEIL: No, I’m, I’m so just relaxed.
ANDRÉS: This is the rare Passport coronavirus episode where you were actually there.
JENNIFER: I was there, it was lush.
ANDRÉS: Look and you.
JENNIFER: And there were no masks, just ports.
NEIL: This puts us in a really hard position because now we both really hate you now, Jen.
ANDRÉS: So jealous, so jealous.
NEIL: But you know that place, you know that place pretty well, right?
JENNIFER: Yeah, yeah. So it’s a land that time forgot, you know, just dragonflies and old gits in squares eating snails. No one has an agenda. No one has a clock. Like no one cares. It’s just you flow with nature, that’s it.
NEIL: So Port could only come from Bordeaux, like champagne
JENNIFER: Yeah. It’s like champagne from Champagne, exactly,
NEIL: Man. I didn’t see, I did not know that. And I am definitely a wine person.
NEIL: I mean, I’m not a port person.
ANDRÉS: I was going to say, port is disgusting, let’s just get that out. I’m sorry Portugal.
JENNIFER: It depends, it depends. I mean, I was, I was convinced that being in Oscar’s tasting room, we tried the white port and that was it.
ANDRÉS: I’m with you on the white port.
JENNIFER: Like okay, no longer in the granny at Christmas port judgment.
ANDRÉS: That is just gross.
NEIL: No Granny, you’re not at Christmas in Kansas anymore.
ANDRÉS: Sorry to anyone listening, who thinks, you know, you put on a robe and drink somebody’s swill, but the white port is very nice.
ANDRÉS: There, the one thing that seems to come wherever you are, is that, uh, the harder the terrain, the better the wine.
JENNIFER: Yeah. It’s almost like the more you have to put the vines through, the more they reward you.
ANDRÉS: How crazy is that though, it’s like torturing the grapes to get the finest one.
JENNIFER: Yeah. It’s like tough love.
ANDRÉS: Yeah. And then all of these territories are now facing, like this thing that took so long to figure out in this place.
ANDRÉS: Maybe we won’t be able to ever do it here again,
JENNIFER: if you’ve got one type of grape or one type of grain, you’re kind of fucked.
ANDRÉS: Right. Because that’s what
JENNIFER: You need to keep it like super diverse, because then you’ve got as many grapes as possible because the whole nature of climate change is so unpredictable, that’s the thing. So it’s like, okay, let’s like cast the net wide and just keep learning from the vines, every single harvest. That’s what they do, you know?
JENNIFER: Yeah. Not easy.
NEIL: God I hope wine doesn’t go away.
ANDRÉS: It won’t go away.
NEIL: Can you imagine?
JENNIFER: It won’t go away.
NEIL: After the break, more trekking around the vineyards with the Douro with Jen, plus the story of Antonia Ferreira, the woman who saved wine and the others trying to keep it going through the tough times ahead. We’ll see you after the break.
JENNIFER: The Douro hasn’t always felt this idyllic. 200 years ago, it was on the brink of full-scale devastation thanks to a deadly vine plague called phylloxera. This plague was a result of European botanists and vine growers bringing back native vines that they discovered in North America. But these same American vines carried small yellow mites, which fed on their roots and sucked away at their sap, bringing disease.
The valley was almost wiped out. Almost.
One unassuming young woman came to the rescue with an unheard of approach, grafting the vines with the exact same vines that had originally caused the plague. The killer was also the cure. And the woman’s name? Dona Antonia Ferreira.
LUISA: She was raised in a very conservative way. So a rural upbringing, uh, nothing much was expected afar, just the traditional, you know, um, girl upbringing in, in, in the countryside.
JENNIFER: This is Luisa Ortzabal. She’s talking about her great, great, great, great grandmother Antonia. The same woman who helped to introduce grafting into the valley and someone who many locals consider a bit of a legend.
JENNIFER: Luisa works at Quinta Vale Do Me-ao in the northeast of the valley, also known as the Douro Superior. It’s a name that’s well-deserved. It’s staggering.
Until as recently as the late 19th century, the Douro was as remote as it gets. We’re talking no direct road access, let alone the best road in the world. A treacherous river with grade five rapids and hundreds of miles of rolling hills blanketed with gnarly vines that locals have broken their backs and limbs on.
By all accounts, life in the Douro for middle-class, piano playing Antonia in the 1800s was kind of boring. But at a young age, she was coerced by her successful port making father to wed her cousin, Bernardo Ferreira the second.
Their partnership quickly turned sour. Soon after marrying, things fell apart because of his extravagant, bohemian lifestyle.
LUISA: I think at a certain point she was spending more time in the Douro than him in Porto and, um, he had a theater in his house and, you know, he was very, uh, connected to Porto and I think also Lisbon aristocracy and yeah, totally.
We believe that she was already separated from him when, when he died.
JENNIFER: When Antonia was only 33, her husband and cousin died. She was left a widow with two kids and the weight of her husband’s debt on her shoulders. So true to form, she rolled her sleeves up and got busy.
LUISA: She was named by the family, the one who should take the decisions. And most of the family were in favor of rapidly selling the stocks of wines that he had. And she said that it wasn’t a good idea. I mean, we are one family, our core business is wine. I want to keep the wines and see and get rid of the rest, meaning furniture, very expensive that he had used to one of several houses he owned in Porto, horse carriage that was state of the art and things like that.
JENNIFER: Luisa’s ancestor clearly didn’t waste any time selling off her deceased husband’s material goods. Antonia kept her main focus holding onto the vines.
Pretty quickly, Antonia made a name for herself as the valley’s newest female wine entrepreneur. She muscled her way into a man’s world going where few women had dared before her.
A famous story about her lingers on in the history books about one fated boat ride down the Douro with Baron Joseph James Forrester, a leading scientist in early viticulture and someone who found fame mapping the wild contours of the Douro.
He was also an admirer of Antonia’s.
In a bid for Antonia to escape the pressure of the vineyards and find a little peace one day, it’s reported that she and the Baron traveled down river on a boat. But as they approached the infamous rapids in the Cachao de Valeria gorge, the vessel capsized.
Forrester got dragged down apparently by the weight of a belt of gold buttons. But Antonia survived, her skirt ballooned out, making her float to the riverbank unscathed.
The tragedy echoed through the merchant’s taverns in Porto for weeks, although Antonia’s name was barely mentioned.
She did start earning attention for her response to the phylloxera plague though, especially after she took the decision to head to England in the hope that she might find a solution.
Here was Antonia, a new widow already having sold many of her valuables to keep her family’s vines and livelihood. Everything was in jeopardy.
So in the mid 1860s, Antonia made the long, hard journey out of the valley on a quest to England to get the land of her childhood back on track.
LUISA: In our properties was where she first planted, um, with the grafting method, because the American woodstock resists the, um, the phylloxera, um, plague, you’re then safe from the vineyard being attacked by, by this, by this plague.
JENNIFER: The grafting technique worked. She also began experimenting with planting different grape varieties. Soon, other parts of the Douro were adopting the same method. And as a result, many vines that were on the brink of decay survived.
It’s becoming clearer to me, the Douro is a metaphor for endurance against the odds. The toughness of the elements, the people, the nature, through resilience, this is a place that thrives.
LUISA: You know, there is a Portuguese writer that says Douro is a monument to efforts because you see the terraces and you see how it’s carved, you know, in order to, to try to contain the, the, the water for the vineyards. You see efforts all around. It’s like painted in the hills.
JENNIFER: The desire to ensure and adapt in the Douro is something that CEO Luisa Amorim is also no stranger to.
Luisa passionately runs Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo, a luscious family owned vineyard that extends 1.5 kilometers along the north bank of the river. The indigenous grapes planted on the quinta all produced letter-A wines and have won many international awards.
In 2005, Luisa decided to be the first in the valley to go one step further. So she opened a wine hotel and wine museum, bringing a fresh new direction for wine and female leadership into the valley. I’m excited to hear how she’s carved out a space for herself in the world of wine and the lessons that she’s learned along the way.
LUISA: I started in the port wine trade a long, long time ago when Douro valley in port wine trade, I think was really a different reality. When Douro wines were starting and port wine was still the role in the Douro region.
So I might say that then when I start, I’m the only one, I was almost spoiled, I believe. I was also like the kid among them. So it was very nice and I was very embraced.
JENNIFER: When she says them, of course, she’s referring to the old Douro, the quintessential boys’ club.
JENNIFER: But has that really changed from an old world of merchants to become more inclusive and open to everybody? Luisa, like so many of the key female players in the Douro, saw beyond the harvest and a business just built on exports and hard labor, crushing bunches of grapes by foot, according to the traditional methods. She had a wider vision. For the record, many of the vineyards still hold onto the tradition of grape treading to macerate the grapes down and help begin the fermentation process.
Yes, they do clean their feet beforehand.
Beyond the wines and the bottles, she wasn’t just one of the first female CEOs in the Douro, she was also one to pivot the Douro as a lifestyle destination for wine lovers.
LUISA: I must say that we were, I think the, almost the only one, the only people that were receiving someone.
And then we start to open the hotel and, uh, again, we didn’t have anybody. And then step by step we had someone at the, during the weekends and then a while, some dinner time. And then, uh, after four or five years, I decided to open, uh, the, um, the restaurant during the lunchtime. And then we start to, well to change the menus. And then we did the museum, the museum.
So when we noticed that Douro valley was changing and port wine and Porto city was changing and that tourism in Portugal was changing. We always follow the opportunity.
JENNIFER: And here’s the paradox. The Douro today is both unrecognizable in terms of the experiences hidden seductively in its contours.
Boutique four by four rides through the vines, Michelin starred meals, Six Senses Spas hugging the river. But at the same time, it somehow hangs onto its raw, rugged and rebellious wildness. Here, nature really does have the final say.
In the world of wine, getting smart to the threat of climate change is everything.
Luisa surprises me with her philosophical take on things.
LUISA: We have to make a lot of question marks in thinking, you know, about the old people and your grandparents, the way that people, you know, lived and so many things that people were right, and people were correct. Sometimes biodynamics it’s like that.
People look to the nature and they decide according to what they feel.
JENNIFER: Is Luisa hinting that in a once alpha male land, the missing ingredient for success is actually female intuition?
LUISA: I always say sometimes it’s like the planes in your house. You know, there are some people that look to the plants and they feel if they, they, they need water or if they don’t need water, you know, there are plants in some houses, they are always perfect.
And in some other houses, are always dying, you know, you don’t know why, because it’s the feeling that the people understand or not, the way of living their plants. And it’s the same of the nature. So you have to wait and be patient.
JENNIFER: Luisa could double as a life coach for me right now.
Albeit an extremely glamorous one who happens to run an 18th century wine estate with an infinity pool and a wine museum on site.
Her point about balance really gets me. Is this the secret for wineries and a future threatened by climate change, to go back to the rhythms of nature and work with it, not against it.
NEIL: Jen’s got it girlfriend.
JENNIFER: I did have a bit of a girl crush on her, it’s true.
NEIL: I just love, I love her, her great, great, great, great grandmothers wherewithal…
ANDRÉS: It’s an incredible story.
NEIL: It’s amazing. To go, we don’t need the horse and cart, we don’t need the furniture, get rid of it, get rid of it. Let’s just do the wine. We’ll sit on the floor.
ANDRÉS: The vines are worth more than this piece of furniture and this state-of-the-art horse carriage.
JENNIFER: She died the richest woman in Portugal.
JENNIFER: And she built the hospital. She built the, helped with the railroad. One of the vineyards was like she made a rail stop by the vineyard so that people could come in and go out.
ANDRÉS: A wine Pablo Escobar.
JENNIFER: She was super on it, yeah.
NEIL: Where were all the guys in this story, like all the husbands, they were just like drunk merchants?
JENNIFER: There were a lot of drunk merchants, I think just dominating the landscape. She was the one that found the solution. You know, she found the solution that was also the problem. Yeah.
NEIL: It’s like a little, a little flu vaccine,
NEIL: A little bit of a disease to cure it.
JENNIFER: A homeopathic approach
ANDRÉS: and those are still…
NEIL: They’re still the vines now
ANDRÉS: Today, yeah.
NEIL: That’s wild, it’s crazy. It’s nice to hear somebody kind of not really be that phased as well by… this is a weird thing to say, but
ANDRÉS: by climate change?
NEIL: not be phased by climate change. She was like, you know what, we will be okay.
ANDRÉS: I was going to say, she’s very Portuguese about it. She’s like, it’s going to be all right.
JENNIFER: Which I didn’t expect. I was like, um. So to your point, we’re always going to have wine, Neil.
NEIL: We might not be here, but
ANDRÉS: The wine will be
NEIL: The vines are going to be all right.
ANDRÉS: Well, let’s find out about the, what the future holds.
JENNIFER: Given that wine is amongst the most delicate and demanding of agricultural products, it goes without saying that the threat of extreme weather patterns, freak hail storms, acidifying soils or intense mildew-forming humidity – that’s as a killer for healthy vines, by the way. It needs to be expected and learnt from fast.
Wanting to learn just how threatening climate change might be for the Douro, I decided to track down someone who could enlighten me. Antonio Graca, like so many in the Douro wine world, has a passion for grapes running through his veins.
ANTONIO: Portugal is a country of wine. So, I mean, anywhere you go in the country, uh, you have wine regions, you have wines and you have a very diverse type of wines being made for in such a small country. Wine being a result of, uh, an open air activity, uh, climate is a major driver to its success and to the quality and, uh, and the quantities you can make in a single year.
JENNIFER: The son of port wine maker, Antonio decided to swap his education in agricultural engineering for an oenology degree back on an impulse in 1985.
Oenology, by the way, is the study of grapes and wine.
This impulse paid off.
It led him to become a talented winemaker. He was even nominated in 2010 for the best winemaker of the year award in the red wine category at the prestigious international wine challenge. But that’s not all Antonio is renowned for. Today, he’s a key figure and a pioneer in climate change research for the viticulture scene here in the Douro.
ANTONIO: We were observing in the fields, how things were starting to be different from what they were before. Generically, we had quite a more stable situation then we, uh, started to see after 2000. On one hand led scientists and technical staff from companies to get together, to partner with farmers and to start getting hard data on what was really going on.
JENNIFER: As Antonio and his team discovered, quite a lot was going on.
ANTONIO: We started to realize that, uh, climate change at the same time that it represented a couple of threats, was also offering a number of opportunities, especially if we could capitalize on that, uh, diversity that we already had ancestrally, but that was being exacerbated by, uh, the ongoing climate change.
JENNIFER: When Antonio says exacerbated, what he means is that the diversity of grape styles was growing in the region as a smart response to climate conditions.
After all, the broader the styles of grapes you plant, the better the chance some of them have of withstanding climate extremes and thriving, no matter what nature decides to throw at you.
ANTONIO: The major impact of climate change is an increase in variability, in climate variability. You can have a very warm, dry, uh, year being followed by a very wet and cool year.
So, um, this type of climatic variability, um, allowed us to think that we have to adapt our production systems, our vineyards, our wineries, even our markets to the idea that diversity would be there.
JENNIFER: Adapting to diversity mightn’t sound like a big deal, but in the world of viticulture wineries only growing one type of grapes put themselves at risk.
This is because grapes, it turns out, have a spectrum of characteristics that all interact with climate shifts in different ways. Antonio refers to these as inter varietals clones.
ANTONIO: If you are looking into having higher temperatures more often, you will want to have those clones of the, of these varieties that are more tolerant to heat.
And that is what we have discovered last year. We were able to select, it was not with Touriga Nacional. It was with Tinta Roriz.
JENNIFER: Two popular Douro grape varieties.
ANTONIO: We were able to strike the group of 12 clones among 257. That together, those clones, would on average lower the temperature of the leaf by about three to four degrees Celsius, which is huge.
JENNIFER: He’s right. It’s a big deal for winemakers. They’re always looking for ways to ensure cooler temperatures and with the right levels of photosynthesis. Again, the Douro strikes me as the ultimate metaphor for endurance.
ANTONIO: It’s a region that’s been there producing high quality wines as a business for at least three to 400 years.
It has withstood incredible challenges, both from the, the, of the place, which is hard to work and live. And still the people in there were able to bring their wines out and make it a household name across, across the world.
And any time they have to face such a challenge and, and solved it, they became better equipped for the next challenge to come.
Uh, this is the definition of resilience as a concept. And I think the Douro and the people in Douro if anything are the paradigm of resilience.
ANDRÉS: It’s wonderful because you know, for the longest time as we’ve been doing like agro industry, you know, as a civilization, thousands of heads of cattle or whatever it is, and this is the shit that’s not working, you know what I mean? And the fact that he, he brings it back to that very simple thing. It’s like a terrain that is difficult, but you make it work.
And then the variety is what saves you.
ANDRÉS: It’s, it’s so simple, but it’s, it’s wonderful.
JENNIFER: It’s like, no, this is, this is the Douro. Like we’re not changing it. We’re working with you.
NEIL: In Australia, in some of the vineyards in Australia, which are just like massive, the big vineyards are getting to that stage now where they just own everything around them. And it’s like, fields and fields and fields and fields and fields of one type of grape. Which is an impossibility.
JENNIFER: Yeah. I mean, I think not only is that a risk. Yeah.
ANDRÉS: It’s a danger.
JENNIFER: Yeah. If that grape doesn’t vibe with the climate, then you’re in trouble, aren’t you?
JENNIFER: And also just that homogenates, it’s almost like mass agricultural farming taste of a beef burger that’s been produced like that versus a cow, you know, in a small farm, you know.
ANDRÉS: Who is listening to Bach.
JENNIFER: It’s a completely different experience.
NEIL: Those bach-burgers.
NEIL: I had a cheeseburger once in Cadez. It was from a wild cow. It was, it was, it’s a special breed of Spanish cow.
NEIL: And I took a bite into it and it made me cry.
ANDRÉS: Like tears coming out of your face.
NEIL: It’s only happened to me like two times in my life eating food. That happens to me every time I open a bottle of wine it doesn’t matter where the grapes come from.
JENNIFER: I didn’t see any tears tonight.
ANDRÉS: Yeah, tonight you haven’t cried. You must’ve kept it yourself.
NEIL: It’s coming.
ANDRÉS: From your trip and then coming back, what do you think of now when you’re thinking about that place?
JENNIFER: My hope is that it doesn’t get so popular that it changes, you know, there’s something so special about that region. They really got the balance of the real Douro. I think the people there, they managed to maintain a harmony, cause they’re not greedy.
They don’t really have a priority to do it. They don’t really have the, the wherewithal, but they actually just want to keep their thing kind of quiet.
NEIL: That’s a really amazing like thing that only really that happens on the peninsula though, like, we’re okay. We don’t want to do anymore.
ANDRÉS: Yeah. I mean,
NEIL: Can you just like leave us alone?
ANDRÉS: Slow it down.
NEIL: There’s something so lovely about it, like
JENNIFER: And that’s the kind of the juxtaposition, isn’t it. The more you want to, you want to experience that loveliness, it’s like you want to hold onto that. They want to hold onto it and you want to feel that when you go in as a tourist or a consumer.
ANDRÉS: Something where there’s still character and you still feel like you’re in the place. You’re connected to something.
JENNIFER: Yeah, it’s real authentic.
JENNIFER: Yeah. There’s no performance in the Douro, that’s for sure. It is real. You know, it’s not this sort of glossy veneered version. It’s like you really are getting the real deal.
NEIL: Today’s saved pins are very boozy and very beautiful. Both necessities, but also unavoidable ones in Portugal.
ANDRÉS: Number one is Quinta Vale do Meao. The last great project of Dona Antonia and the birthplace of iconic wine, this sprawling quinta is open for semi private tastings and 4 x 4 tours among the vines. Call ahead to book one of their unique experiences – and tell them who sent you!
NEIL: Number two, Quinta Nova de Nossa. This is the original wine hotel in the Douro. It serves up a ridiculous view of the valley, award-winning food, an infinity pool, and even a wine museum. It goes without saying that you can drink world-class wines here in any number of different tasting sessions with CEO Luisa’s welcoming team.
ANDRÉS: Number three, Wine and Soul. Sanda and Jorge wanted to create wines with passion, soul, and a sense of place. And they’ve nailed it with Wine and Soul. Located in a particularly scenic part of the Douro, the Pinhao Valley, here you can take a tour of parcels of 80 year old vines tucked into terraces carved out by dynamite a century ago.
NEIL: Number four, Ryan’s LAB in Porto.
NEIL: Run by expert Douro wine guide Ryan Opaz, this cavernous Porto wine shop focuses on sustainable wines, but also delivers bespoke tours, helping guests discover Portuguese food, always with a sustainable local slant. If you’re lucky, Ryan might even offer you a shot of his homemade vermouth.
ANDRÉS: And number five, Quevado Tasting Room, Gaia. Oscar’s tasting room on the opposite side of the river and Vila Nova de Gaia is a cool, cavernous warehouse of elegant whitewashed walls, where people come to taste ports while a fado singer bathes guests in the traditional melancholic song of Portugal – fado.
Ask for one of Oscar’s jammy twanys or try our particular favorites, a 20 year old vintage white port. Just remember to keep it in the fridge.
NEIL: That’s all for this week, guys. Passport will be back next Tuesday with the much anticipated return of MisInfoNation. This time, fast cars, beautiful people, big sunglasses, football, pizza, pasta, the Catholic church, exorcisms and the mafia.
That’s right. This time, me and Andrés get to the bottom of the biggest lies, myths and stereotypes of Italy with help from our friend Dario D’Flores Arcias. We’ll see you then. Ciao.
NEIL: This week’s show was written, produced by Jennifer Carr and edited by Harriet Davies and me.
A huge thanks to Francisca Van Zeller, Luisa Ortzabal, Luisa Amorim, Ryan Opaz, Joao Brites, Antonio Graca and Oscar Quevedo for making this episode happen.
Our theme tune and music in this episode by the incredible Nick Turner with other tuneful support from Mondo Jermo, T8, hint of mint, Music Box Classics, Imilly, Auracle and Riverdeep Mountaindew.
The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski. Eliza Engel is our production assistant. Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijansky are cold white port at sunset. They also executive produce the show which is hosted by me and a man who only opens wine bottles with his teeth or by shooting at them with an old pistol, Andrés Bartos.
We’ll see you in the next place.
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