Rising from the ashes, the Dão’s phoenix 2017 vintage
I’m in the Dão all this week. It has been a terrific opportunity to get under the skin of a region which, in recent years, has seen an exciting injection of fresh blood. Meanwhile, the region’s established players continue to hone their craft to great effect. The whites, especially Encruzado and Encruzado-led blends have, once again, deeply impressed me.
It was particularly heartening to hear that 2017 – the driest and earliest year on record – produced great quality in good quantity. It’s important to communicate this message because, I suspect, 2017 will mostly be remembered for the widespread havoc wreaked by the horrendous forest fires on 15th October. Lives, property and vineyards were lost here last month. Everywhere I went (and the Dão is sizeable), I saw huge swathes and bizarre pockets of scorched forest and dessicated vineyards.
Fortunately, many of the producers I met had narrow escapes owing to a change in the direction of the wind. However, you may have read Decanter’s report about the fires, quoting Sara Dionísio & António Lopes Ribeiro of Casa de Mouraz and Luís Lourenço of Quinta dos Roques, whose vineyards were severely affected. A warehouse rented by Sara & António was also completely destroyed, resulting in substantial stock losses. [Since i wrote this post, the couple have launched a crowd-funding campaign in order to support their goals of replanting six hectares of vineyards, replacing destroyed farming equipment and building a new warehouse and cellar. Click here to find out more and/or to contribute to this worthy cause].
In Tondela, where Casa de Mouraz is surrounded by blue gum plantations, the more combustible leaves of this popular cash crop (which is cultivated for paper production) exacerbated the situation. Dionísio told me there were “big balls of fire from the sky,” temperatures hit 30 degrees at midnight and it was so hot that stones split. Lourenço was glad that Roques is mostly surrounded by pine trees, otherwise the damage could have been worse.
The vineyard pictured above came off lightly compared with Roques’ worst affected vineyard, which looked blow-torched in parts. Looking on the bright side Lourenço, a natural born optimist, was grateful that, because it was so dry, the harvest was done and dusted well before the fires. However, as you can see from my video interview with him at the vintage which was most damaged by the fires, he is not so optimistic about the future of farming in Portugal’s interior.
Specifically, he is concerned that greater value should be attached to agriculture and agricultural products if Portugal’s interior is not to become even more deserted. A view which was echoed by Dionísio and Lopes Ribeiro, who told me about government measures currently under discussion which set compensation for the primary sector (agriculture) at 50% versus 85% for the industrial and services sectors. Yet, as Lopes Ribeiro points out, “if there are no farmers, there is more forest and more risk in future.”
So there is much more at stake than the fate of damaged vineyards. The Dão CVR (wine commission) is hosting a meeting tomorrow at 11am for growers and producers to meet with the Minister of Agriculture and Frederico Falcão, President of the Instituto da Vinha e do Vinho (IVV) to discuss the issues. Doubtless compensation levels, blue gum plantations, forestry management/clearance and firefighting budgets will be on the agenda, but how to incentivise people to build a future in the countryside poses much bigger questions.
Meantime, can I encourage you to support the Dão. Come visit. There is a Rota dos Vinhos – a wine trail – so you can discover for yourself the wonderful wines, producers and food of this region. Buy the wines. I’ll post my highlights soon.