“Welcome,” says Lisa, a friendly young woman from the hospitality department of Herdade do Freixo, welcoming us from our bus to the gorgeous vineyards of the estate. It is a searing hot day, but the blue sky and bright yellow sun are a pretty backdrop for the vines.
The vineyards are established, but the newly built, stunning underground winery is state of the art. It is purposefully hidden from view to blend seamlessly into the landscape, in the new modern architectural fashion. If you’ve seen the Guggenheim museum in New York, with its spiral core walkway, you may have an idea of how it is all arranged.
The objective with the design was to create the opportunity for gravity flow winemaking, yet also create a pleasant sensory experience for the workers. Even though the winery is under the ground, the skylight at the top of the winery and some vertical windows from the sides of the buildings allow the inflow of natural light. By some reports, the expense of building it is over ten million euros.
In terms of winemaking, the aim of Herdade do Freixo is to produce classic wines that represent the essence of their birthplace, and also protect the land in terms of agricultural, visual, and environmental impact.
As you probably heard, great wine begins with great soil. And as we walk in the vineyard, I can’t take my eyes off the soil — it is studded with marble and expensive looking rocks – the kind you would pay quite a bit for in a shop.
In the winery, we pace ourselves down the walkway in a spiraling fashion, stopping every ten feet or so to admire a glass-enclosed “secret room” along the way.
For example, at one point there would be a fermentation room for white wine, then a fermentation area for red wine. Then there would be a maturation room for white wines and so on and so forth.
About mid-way down the spiral, in a room filled with tall stainless steel tanks, it was astonishing to see an actual window, into which visitors can peer into a comfortably furnished library. A chair is arranged right in front of that window, as if an invisible person is watching us — well, either us or the wine in the fermentation tanks.
Around the next bend, we have the opportunity to visit this library. It is filled with both ancient books and wine, and the aromas from these leather bound books is interesting, a combination of leather and spice. A moment later, around another spiraling turn, we find ourselves in a dining room reserved for VIPs who come for special visits.
In yet another room we find ourselves in a room with a view overlooking the barrel cellar below. Curiously, the barrel cellar is in the shape of a conical 225 liter French oak barrel. The room is also distinguished by a volcanic rock that seems to be jutting itself into the barrel room.
Finally we reach the absolute bottom of this intriguing winery, where the barrels are held for the aging of the red wine. Here enologist Carolina Tome, who among her many roles is also Commercial and Marketing Director, introduces herself and takes us to the tasting room.
During the tasting Carolina insisted that we try her wines – especially her white wines – with delicious snacks she provided, as they are gastronomic wines meant to enjoy with food. In one particular blended white wine she explains that the Arinto grape was fermented in new French oak for four months.
It was a great visit to a very young winery that has more than a century in front of it.