The designation of origin matters
Despite the positive change from Ribatejo to Tejo in 2009, this region has not yet in Portugal gained a reputation to achieve the highest levels of value. Portuguese consumers choose according to the designation of origin but the almost complete lack of awareness of Portugal internationally ends up avoiding this reticence about wines from the lands adjoining the capital.
Portugal is not internationally known as a producer of great prestige. The Madeira and Port fortified wines are the exceptions even if their consumers do not always identify them as the products of Portugal. Furthermore, the reluctance of Portuguese wine drinkers as regards denomination of origin do not reflect in the choices made abroad. “Bit by bit, wine critics have been giving value to Portugal. The problem is the price perception” – explained Paulo Saturnino Cunha.
Hence, Pinhal da Torre suffers from the prejudice towards Portugal in which the perception of value is low but gets around the national lack of trust. Paulo Saturnino Cunha added that the international consumer, the target of his business, is highly demanding. That termed the saudade market, the emigrant community yearning for a taste of home, is not appropriate for the Pinhal da Torre wines.
The family of Paulo Saturnino Cunha – the various branches that are behind him in terms of time – have been in the region for generations. On both his maternal and paternal sides, the genealogical roots reach back, in one of the cases to a great-grandfather of a great-grandfather. Certainly, he highlighted, he would have still more distant relatives: “Of my four great-grandparents only one was not from here”.
The family’s lands were once large, today covering 43 hectares although the rounding off makes them seem larger. In times past, strawberry production – one of the largest in the country – was the main activity.
From the historical business to different paradigms
Vines have long been cultivated on the properties making up the Pinhal da Torre estate. Formerly, large quantities were the target and sold in bulk. The vineyards stretched to 200 hectares, with Fernão Pires – an emblematic cast of this region – predominating.
In 1993, a reversal in the philosophy was decided on and opting for quality wines with a far lower level of productivity. They took out the vines from the lands of higher quantitative yields and placed others in less fertile soils but resulting in better grapes. Currently, 85% of the soils are sandy. New casts were introduced. Some disappointed for various reasons but the Touriga Nacional cast, for example, has flourished.
The harvesting of the whites begins in August. The red grapes are gathered between September and October. Leaving the grapes on the vine through to the tenth month brings risks, especially rain related due to rot or the reduction in the level of alcohol with higher water levels in the grapes.
Agriculture on Pinhal da Torre forms an integrated production system, preferably organic but not always in practice. “Not every year do we try organic. It depends on the characteristics prevailing. There are years in which if you do not intervene, you’ll not be picking a single grape. There are those who say that they do this but we are not liars”. Therefore, the working practices are not certified but, in parallel, some of the wines do get classed as vegan.
The company runs three estates and two plots of land. Quinta do Alqueve, with limestone soils, spans six hectares. With its sandy soils, Quinta de São João is also made up of a half-dozen hectares. Águas Vivas runs over 30 hectares of sandy soils and rocky outcrops. The remaining terrain features three hectares of alluvium.
The producer invests above all in national grapes casts, over 90%, a differentiating factor in international markets. “Nobody comes to Portugal to buy a Chardonnay”. Nevertheless, out of the preference of Paulo Saturnino Cunha and their good performance in the terroir (natural characteristics) ensure that some foreign cultivars are raised.
Quinta de Alqueve has planted Touriga Franca and Grenache. On Quinta de São João, there are Tinta Roriz (red) and Syrah (red). On Águas Vivas, there is Alicante Bouschet – red and so widely cultivated here, it is perhaps more Portuguese than any other country –, Alvarinho (white), Arinto (white), Baga (red), Fernão Pires (white), Fernão Pires Rosado (rose red), Merlot (red), Ramisco (red), Sousão (red), Syrah, Tinta Francisca (red), Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão (red), Touriga Franca (red), Touriga Nacional (red), Verdelho (white) and Viosinho (white). In Courela Grande (plots), Alicante Bouschet is under cultivation.
Another 11 hectares are shortly due for plantation. The choice for these lands has gone to Alicante Bouschet, Arinto, Sousão, Touriga Franca and, “in principle, Tinta da Barca (red), which will be the only one to enter. On the way out is Tinta Roriz, whose results have not been uniform from year to year. You cannot have a cast that makes a sensational wine every ten years”.
The choice of grape type is obviously not down to the personal whims and preferences of Paulo Saturnino Cunha, such as the Merlot. Some casts are here for their characteristics that aid the longevity of the wines they produce, especially through their acidity. Arinto, Baga, Sousão and Ramisco – the great cast of Colares that produces living nectars after decades maturing – have great potential for storage.
Despite the careful selection of casts, one turned up without being invited. “The Grenache came by mistake. We had requested the vine grower for Tempranillo (Tinta Roriz) from Toro (Castile-León) for half a hectare. Only after some time did we realise that it was Grenache. We usually use it in blends but today provides some very interesting outcomes. In 2017, we decided, as a test, to make it pure. But we have already given it a greater highlight in 2013 in a blend with Syrah” – recounted Paulo Saturnino Cunha.
The winery work is also another option that few producers take on. All of the yeasts are indigenous to confer personality and differentiation the producer explained. “It is a risk when the quality of the grapes is not absolutely healthy. When the grapes are healthy, this is an expression, 100%, of the characteristics of the cast and the terroir. This has always worked. Sometimes, we use just a few selected yeasts but that never represent more than 5%”.
Another important investment comes with the replacement of the vines across 3.5 hectares. Usually, the vine comes from the grower already with rootstocks. Now, the grafting is to take place in the field in a task that few can do and is substantially expensive and implies a year without any fruit, identified the producer. However, “the results are deeper roots, pulling less on the plant, which has its own benefits “, and generating a higher level of final quality.
The teams is small, added Paulo Saturnino Cunha. The fundamental core is made up of Mário Andrade (oenologist) and Nuno de Jesus (winery manager). However, the winery is but one place of work. The vintner testified that the quality begins on the vine, the most important stage in the process.