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Visiting Adega Cartuxa

“Now here you will see a difference between the ‘modern’ and the ‘traditional’,” our host says, as we drive towards the elegant, very traditional looking Adega Cartuxa winery in Alentejo. From this mysterious build-up, I am curious what the experience will be like. I have come to Portugal to explore what is new and different … “new news” so to speak, and from what I have read in preparing for the trip, there is some sort of controversy going on between the “traditional” producers and the “modern” producers.

Before I visited all the wineries on this trip, I had surmised that there were “hold outs” who clung to their impossible to pronounce grape varieties and “modern” winemakers who were all for adding international grapes (syrah, cabernet sauvignon).  “Try to really build up the conflict, make it dramatic!” said one of my editors, who envisioned a piece in which the traditionalists were up in arms against the upstarts.

In a week of experiencing over a dozen wineries in Alentejo, I did not see this controversy … yet Adega Cartuxa winery is a good example of how both the modern and traditional approach can be articulated in “one” winery.

So the first thing you notice when you arrive at Adega Cartuxa is its peace and serenity This is natural, as it was once a  former Jesuit house that was designated a national treasure in 1755. Mr. Vasco Maria Eugénio de Almeida, the very religious founder of the winery, set up a non-profit foundation called Eugénio de Almeida Foundation in 1963 and even brought back the Monks who were banished decades earlier. As I enter the “old winery” (no longer in use) I can hear them chant in the barrel room.

It’s a pleasure to explore the old winery, with what looks like incredibly antiquated equipment that was in use before the new winery (located about ten minutes away) was built.  There are ceramic tanks, and even amphoras (though the amphoras are just for show and ambiance).

Yet what I found most fascinating was an odd looking fermentation tank (above)  that involves the use of C02 from the fermenting wine to mix the pulp and juice of the red wine. The objective is a sort of low-technology pumping over method, where the pressure of the C02 gas causes the fermenting juice to rise to the top, and pump through and over a tube that leads to a flat looking lagares type shallow basin above. The juice flows down the same tube, effectively dispersing the cap and helping to mix the juice and the pump to give the wine more color and extract the tannins.

At any rate, after the visit to the old winery we visit the new, modern winery (below) which has shiny new state of the art equipment and an optical machine so that only the very best berries are selected.

Tasting Room

The Tasting room is actually located in the old winery, and is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 7pm from April to October, with tours (see the website for more information)

It is a fabulous space – very clean with modern touches, yet created in an old world style Contact the winery for various tasting programs (you can arrange for food pairings and decide on how many wines to be tasted).

On this visit, I tasted a few of the brands. My favorite wine was the Pera Manca brand, naturally the top brand of the winery. It is only made in good years the Eugenio do Almeida Foundation reserves for the exceptional wines. I tried the 2010 white, very elegant, savory, and buttery made from the grapes Antao Vaz and Arinto. It is planted in the winery’s vineyards (granitic soil) and hand picked,de-stalked, and gently crushed. Fermentation takes place in both stainless steel vats and in French oak barrels at controlled temperatures. The wine matures on the lees for 12 more months with battonage and nine more months in barrel prior to release.

Another wine I liked was the Cartuxa Red Reserva 2009, made from Alicante Bouschet and Argonez grapes, again on Granitic soil. The process is similar: after sainless steel fermentation and a 26 day maceration the young wineis matured in new French oak barrels for 15 months.

The medium range wines, called “EA” would be a hit in New York. They are ‘ready for immediate consumption” and enjoyment. Again, in the white 2011 you will find the typical blending grapes of Roupeiro, Antao, and Perrum. They are pressed and made ready for fermentation at 16 C in stainless steel vats. After fermentation the wine is filtered, blended, and stabilized.

The EA red 2011 is made from Aragonez, Alicante, Bouchet, and Syrah grown on granitic soil. They are also fermented in stainless steel then filtered and bottled for immediate consumption.

Fabulous visit and truly fabulous wines.

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