A great find: Julia Kemper organic wines from the Dão

Last month, I made another exciting new Dão discovery – the wines of Julia Kemper, from Quinta do Cruzeiro.
Júlia de Melo Kemper, a Lisbon lawyer, told me that the quinta has been owned by her family for some 400 years.  She acquired it after her father asked her to manage the farm in 2003.  Motivated by vivid childhood memories of time at the farm with other members of her large family (11 uncles and aunts and over 50 cousins), she says she feels a strong sense of connection with the land.

Though it had always produced wine for private consumption, Kemper set out to make it a going concern, spurred on by the knowledge that one of her relatives, Carlos Lucena Ferreira de Almeida de Mello Cabral, had entered his red wine in a Berlin exhibition in 1903 where it was declared among the best.

Vines & Wines, who work with many of Beira’s leading small estates, helped her plant 15ha of vines, matching grape variety and rootstock to the farm’s different soil types and micro-climates.  The French organic specialist Daniel Noel and his team defined the correct organic strategy and, she says, “a near-perfect eco-system with a bio-diversity that complements itself, ultimately leading to reduced diseases on the vines” has been created, complete with a waste water treatment unit to prevent pollution.  The estate is certified organic.

Though she admits it’s not easy juggling the demands of a law practice and making wine she says “a walk through my vineyards when the sun is shining compensates for the efforts it takes to simultaneously run a farm and a law office.”  And during harvest, Kemper manages to take off enough time to be present during vinification.  She makes the wines in consultancy with Vines & Wines in the original 1950s winery, which has also been restored.  Today, granite lagares in which the red is foot trodden, have been augmented by stainless steel vats.  Like Kemper, the wines are elegant, yet expressive, with understated oak, lovely fruit purity and balance.

Julia Kemper Branco 2009 (Dão)

A typically Dão hint of vegetality to the nose doesn’t prepare you for this 50:50 Malvasia Fina and Encruzado blend’s ripe, round and juicy honeyed tropical and stone fruits.  Very pure, present and fluid, the fruit is expansive without being imposing, with no hard edges of oak or alcohol to detract from its delicacy – just a soft kiss of oak from barrel fermentation. But it’s no push over either.  On day 2, I finished off the bottle and it tasted just as good and made a perfect companion for roasted green peppers stuffed with chilli oil licked cous cous with spinach, fresh tomato and chopped hazelnuts, topped with local sheep’s cheese, Serra d’Estrela  – magnifique! 13.5%

Julia Kemper Tinto 2008 (Dão)

This blend of 60% Touriga Nacional 15% Tinta Roriz 15% Alfrocheiro 10% Jaen puts me in mind of Loire Cabernet Franc with its bright, fresh nose and palate and mineral-sluiced acidity.  In the mouth its supple and juicy plum and blackberry fruit is subtly edged with cinnamon and supported by ripe but present tannins.  Though aged for 12 months in French oak, it wears the oak very lightly. Just lovely – a super digestible, elegant wine to savour on its own or with food. 13.5%

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