First peek: Filipa Pato’s & William Wouter’s new vines, wines & cellar
When I interviewed Filipa Pato for a Blend feature (here) a couple of years ago, she was chasing a dream. To live and breathe her vines and wines. What better way than to construct her home/adega over the renovated winery overlooking her vineyards in Óis do Bairro, Bairrada?
Since last year when William Wouters – Pato’s husband and business partner – sold his restaurant in Belgium, the couple and their two sons have lived in Bairrada full-time. Earlier this year, they realised the dream, moving into their splendid new home-cum-cellar (which you can visit by appointment).
With a well tended vegetable garden and hens, it’s a rural idyll, The pair have additionally bought the property next door, another old winery, which will become home to their vinifications. A biodynamic dynamisation station (pictured above) is also located there. Having never used herbicides, Pato and Wouters started cultivating their vineyards biodynamically at the end of 2014. Pato reckons “when you really decide to do biodynamics, you need to be here for follow up all year round.”
It has been worth it. Biodynamics has reaped fast dividends, she says, “invigorating soils, resulting in earlier ripening [hugely important for late cycle Baga in this climate) and healthier, happier vines.”
I spent a couple of days with Pato and Wouters last week and it was fantastic to see how their plans have come together. It’s safe to say 1 + 1 = 3. Take their extraordinarily promising new top Baga cuvée, of which I was granted a tantalising glimpse from barrel (pictured very top, with proud makers). Two glimpses in fact – 2015 and 2016 have been kind (if the latter low yielding) after a disastrous (wet) vintage for Baga in 2014.
New & new/old vines
The core of the flagship Baga is fruit from a small, bucolic valley – very tranquil – overlooked by the village of Silva in Bairrada’s warmer, drier south. This, together with deep chalky clay soils makes it ideal Baga country. The grapes ripen here around 10 days earlier than in Óis do Bairro.
The couple started buying vineyards there in 2014 (and have not stopped). They now own four parcels in Silva and around 15ha in total, all within a 10km radius of Óis do Bairro. Pato explained, “when elderly people can’t maintain vineyards, with no family to take them on, they want someone to take care of their little garden and they have seen what care we take of ours.”
I was entranced by the vineyards of Silva too. As you can see, the valley’s patchwork of vineyards – some over a century old – is beautiful (especially at this time of year). Pruning was underway at the latest acquisition which, having been neglected, produced a miserly 50kg of grapes from one hectare in the couple’s first year of ownership – last year.
With some nurturing (and biodynamics), this year’s crop rose to 600kg. Pato and Wouters have acquired the next door plot – a long, long neglected corridor, which they will plant from scratch with a selection massale.
To keep disease at bay, pruned wood is ‘painted’ with Bordeaux solution (above) and the wood itself is burned (below). Pato notes it’s also handy that there is nearly always a breeze there. A soothing, balmy ruffle during our visit.
Baga prunings make for a glorious inter-row carpet (below).
We spent the day before further north, visiting the couple’s vineyards in Óis do Bairro. Their holdings here include Vinha Barrio, which Pato took over from her father three years ago. The lower, later ripening part is being grafted over to Bical, which comprises most of her plantings here.
A new 1.4ha plot (pictured below) has also been acquired and re-planted at high density to increase competition (6000 vines/ha versus the previous 4000 vines/ha). Ironic since, at the moment, the spindly two year old vines are struggling to develop on account of competition from weeds. Pato plans to invest in an inter-row weeder to knock that problem on the head.
In Horta (pictured below), the couple acquired a half hectare south-facing pot two years ago, planted mostly to 20-30 year old Bical and Maria Gomes. To increase quality, they have planted a new row of vines every other row, increasing the planting density to the desired 6000 vines/hectare.
In 2012, Pato and Wouters acquired and re-planted another small, abandoned parcel on sandy clay soils in Lapas. The lower (wetter) part of the vineyard is planted to Maria Gomes, with Cerceal at the top.
It was owned by Pato’s (paternal) grandmother (pictured), who helped Pato get started when she let her use the family’s original 19th century winery in Amoreira da Gândara rent-free.
Since my last visit, Pato and Wouters have knocked down walls to provide more elbow room. Still, small formats – amphorae and lagares – stainless steel and wooden – rule the day.
For Pato, they are perfect for getting to know their parcels. The smallest go into amphorae. Territorio, which comes from bigger parcels, is partly vinified in amphorae, part in a 2000l Garbellotto wooden vat. Nossa (red) continues to be fermented in open and closed lagares, the latter of which undergoes a longer maceration, the former seeing more extraction (pigeage). Since 2015, Pato is using more whole bunch – 30-40%, adding they act as a useful filter when you drain amphorae (and bring a vibrancy to the wines).
The reds are ageing in the new cellar under the couple’s home. While there is lots of space (including for the couple’s illustrious empties – check out those ceiling girders), Pato and Wouters plan to stay small. Given their production capacity, ideally, they would like to be harvesting fruit from 22ha. Watch this space for more news!
The Post Quercus pair and Territorio were tasted during my visit; the other two in August. I have to admit that I also tasted FP Branco 2015 over lunch and failed to take a note. It was fresh, limpid and dry with subtle substance – much like its older sibling Nossa Calcario. Very good (and clearly a very good year). Highly recommended!
Contact Clarke Foyster for UK stockists.
Filipa Pato & William Wouters Post Quercus White 2015
It was traditional to ferment Bical on skins in lagares. Pato likes to use amphorae instead (for fermenting and ageing) because you can control the process better, especially now the new ones are sealed with an inox cap. (The previous vintage was a little more oxidative, with striking dried honey notes on release; Pato likes the purity of this one). The 2015 (part-de-stemmed) was on skins for 3-4 weeks. Pale yellow and just a touch cloudy, it was bottled without filtration. I’m not keen on the nose initially – it has a touch of cat’s pee which thankfully dissipates with time in glass, when it also fleshes out to good effect – do not chill this one – let it breathe! It reminds me a little of a lean Viognier with its gingery warmth/spice, stone fruits and hints of tangerine peel. The finish – chalky and fresh – gets a little caught up in the skin tannins. Given the inox cap versus the more oxidative seal of last year’s amphora, perhaps it will gain length with age as the tannins resolve (it is not yet released)? Though I find this early-picked style a touch too lean for my palate, it put me in mind of an exchange with leading sommelier Jan Konetzki about skin-contact whites earlier this year. He pairs “smart, agreeable ones” with dishes with “base on salinity and high acidity. Maybe including brine, vinegar, fermented ingredients in cooking. Also spices of Northern Africa and Southeast Asia.” 11%
Filipa Pato & William Wouters Nossa Calcario Bical Branco 2015
Making the cut for my September Wines of the Month, Pato and Wouter’s old vine Bical is a wine of great subtlety and beauty. Pale with golden glints, it’s very fine and delicate in the mouth given its intensity and depth of flavour. If you broach it young, do decant it because, as I discovered tasting it over 3 days, it really rewards time and air to show off its many intricate layers of fruit and minerals, lees and oak. The nose initially shows off the latter – with delicate nougat/dried honey hints, on day two, a touch of vanilla and cedar. Always subtle. Similarly, the mouth fleshes out with time, making for a perfect integration of acidity and very harmonious balance. At first, the flavour profile is markedly salty and mineral with a streak of grapefruity acidity, bruised apple and white peach. As the fruit comes up – white peach/peach kernel, waxy apricot even – the texture becomes suaver, with gently creamy – think pillowy, feather-light – lees. Mica crystals glimmer through the long and limpid finish. A tender wine whose still waters run deep. I re-tasted it over lunch during my visit which very much confirmed first impressions. Pato compares it to the 2010 of which I’m a big fan. In fact only the previous week I’d enjoyed a bottle at home with pan fried scallops, sauteed potatoes and cauliflower puree. Delicious. 12%
Filipa Pato & William Wouters Post Quercus Baga Tinto 2015
While the first example was aged in very old cask, with the new inox cap Pato says it makes sense to vinify and age the wine in the same material (untreated clay, which admits four times more oxygen than a new barrel). She really likes the “very pure way it softens Baga, like opening a flower.” With its peppery back beat, brisk acidity and bright fruit, it’s an energetic, light, very fresh red. Flavours of sour cherry fruit spear the palate; a Cabernet Franc-like edge of cinnamon and Italianate lick of almondy cherrystone add nuance. Pretty, very perfumed (violets), with smooth tannins which, Pato observes, are maturing at lower alcohol thanks to biodynamic cultivation. 11%
Filipa Pato & William Wouters Territorio Vivo Baga 2015
This wine was fermented in lagares. De-stemmed fruit was placed on top of 30-40% whole clusters (so that pigeage didn’t impact much on stems and the stems acted like a filter when the wine was drained off). It was aged partly in 2000l foudre, partly in amphoras and partly in pipas (a third each). Observing how these vessels complement each other, Pato reckons the amphora keeps the aromatics, the foudre lends more structure (oak tannins, which can be dominant on their own), while the pipas’ effect lies somewhere in between. Territorio has a dark nose and tight, well-focused palate of perfumed blueberries wih sour black cherry bite – striking ripeness and purity with freshness. There’s plenty of complexity too – attractive hints of coal dust, a touch of pine needle/resin (which Pato attributes to Silva’s pine trees), sweet cinnamon and, slowly unfurling, a whisp of that smoky minerality to the finish which so characterises this grape’s interaction with Bairrada’s chalky clay soil. The tannins are very fine which, for Pato, is important “because our introduction to Baga should not be too expensive since people need to get to know Baga” (i.e. not be put off by assertive, longer haul tannins). Lovely balance. 12%
Sidecar Susana Esteban Filipa Pato & William Wouters Vinho Tinto 2015 (Portugal)
This is the second edition of Susana Esteban’s off-piste collaborative label; the first was with Dirk Niepoort. It goes well off piste with Pato and Wouters, combining field blend old vine grapes from Portalegre with Bairrada Baga from centennial vineyards (50:50). The wines were both fermented and aged in amphorae. It’s a little reduced on the nose on days one and two and somewhat held back on the palate thanks to its firm if fine fretwork of spicy (Baga) tannins. Still, there’s plenty to conjure with. Herbal and violet riffs, followed by sweet wild strawberry and red cherry, which tumble out of the grip of the Baga component’s spicy tannins through the mid-palate, adding flesh, sweetness and an almost strawberry soda creaminess. Notes which presently contrast starkly with those Baga tannins which, book-end-like, re-assert themselves on the finish. I’m glad I received two sample bottles; I’m holding the other back for at least a year to allow this wine to meld – it’s a bit game of two (regional halves) at the moment or, more accurately, a three parter with Baga dominating both attack and finish. But I’ve no quibble with the Atlantic grape’s freshness and mineral acidity – even a hint of Baga chalky soil smokiness on day two when the tannins seem to give a little ground to the fruit. I’ll be interested to come back to it. 12.5%