In 2015, we designed and built a new winery for the production of our premium red wines, including Esporão Reserva, monovarietals and the Private Selection. We already had a small winery, built in 2000, but it had limited fermentation options and lacked the capacity to allow for an increase in production of these high-end wines.
The new winery was built on principles of sustainability, using clay soil from the estate, which was compressed into what is known locally as “taipa”, to form the walls, to ensure cooler summer temperatures and milder winter temperatures. The architects also got involved and design features include an eye-catching wavy internal false roof made from wooden barrel staves.
But the importance of this winery has to do with its fermentation and storage advantages – we now have marble lagares for foot treading, cement tanks for fermentation and storage, and clay pots.
We are great believers in the quality aspects of foot treading during fermentation, after many years of experience with this technique in the Douro. It is a very gentle but thorough way to achieve maximum extraction during the fermentation process. The resulting tannins are very fine, well-integrated and the wines have great structure. We decided on marble as it is a local stone, easy to clean, and looks great!
The cement tank option may come as a surprise but these tanks have made a big comeback in the last 5-10 years, particularly in Europe and especially in Bordeaux. They have come a long way since the days of fixed, square or rectangular tanks that most Portuguese cooperative wineries relied on in the pre-stainless steel era. Stainless steel had the advantage of being more manoeuvrable and easier to clean, but being a good thermal conductor, temperature fluctuations both during fermentation and in storage came to be seen as a problem.
The advantages of cement can be summed up as follows: they are now more aesthetically pleasing and can be ordered in a number of shapes, such as tulips, amphorae, eggs and pyramids, to name a few. You can even design your own unique shape. They have thicker walls, providing more stable temperatures, important both during fermentation and storage. They are porous on a microscopic scale, providing a small micro-oxygenation effect similar to that seen with oak.
Wines stored in cement tanks are said to have a more expressive nose, more fruit-forward, more freshness, and a rounder mouth feel when compared with stainless steel and oak barrels.
Moving on to clay pots or amphorae, we are using these to keep up an old Roman tradition, which is still very much alive in the Alentejo. Basically, because of the fermentation process and extended time on skins, the wines have a lighter but very expressive fruit profile, which is ideal for serving by the glass in local taverns. We believe this unique style of wine is ideal for our wine tourism project and we are selling it by the bottle in our cellar door sales and serving it by the glass in our restaurant.
So 2015 marks a turning point for Esporão and our new boutique winery. The winery functioned well throughout the harvest; we were fortunate to have a good year climatically; fruit quality was excellent and we are now excited to evaluate the quality of wines produced with these new vinification and storage techniques.
By David Baverstock, Herdade do Esporão