We arranged to visit Herdade de Coelheiros one morning in December 2019. On that day, we had scheduled two team building events for two company clients, to be held during the afternoon, curiously with games related to Alentejo wines. It was, thus, the only possibility for Diogo and I to meet with Dário Cruz and meet this potential partner for the Portugal Cultural Experience.
We agreed to meet at 10:00 at the estate, next to the wine shop. The property is located next to the village of Igrejinha, located in the municipality of Arraiolos.
The drive between Évora and Herdade de Coelheiros was quick and very pleasant. It took me about 25 minutes, traveling along a narrow but safe road, little busy and that crosses several agricultural and grazing land, typical of the Alentejo fields that surround Évora.
I put a CD of Cante Alentejano to hear on this trip and the lyrics to the song “Ao romper da bela aurora” never seemed so appropriate.
On that cold and overcast December morning that threatened rain, I would find myself again with a wine passion from my past, intense, unexpected and that had endured in my senses and memories over the years.
“Upon breaking from the beautiful dawn
Come the shepherd from the hut
Come screaming in loud voices
The one who loves, loves a lot”
Upon arriving at Herdade de Coelheiros, we were surprised by the modern facilities that perfectly harmonize with the traditional architecture of the typical country houses.
Dário was waiting for us and the first feeling I had was that I had known him for a long time, such was the friendliness, informality and genuineness with which he presented himself.
Dário is young but extremely well informed, entertaining and has great ease in directing the visit according to our interests and knowledge.
It is, in fact, very rare to have someone visiting a wine farm with full knowledge of all wine processes, from drip irrigation techniques, the characteristics of the varieties, the harvest and the winery, the work of the winemaker, etc.
The fact that Dário has a master’s degree in oenology and viticulture from the most renowned higher school of agronomy in Portugal does not explain everything. The passion and personal taste he has in showing his guests all the treasures that Herdade de Coelheiros contains is sincere.
On board the old Land Rover, we were taken on an amazing safari, through a farm of about 800 hectares in size!
My passion for history was nurtured when Dário explained that the origins of the Herdade de Coelheiros go back to the Middle Ages, having been owned by the “architect” of the ambitious Treaty of Tordesillas, D. Ruy de Sousa, a fact recorded by a dated document of 1467.
Knowing that I was visiting a farm that had been owned by a historical figure who had planned the division of the world between Portugal and the newly formed kingdom of Spain, in the golden age of the discoveries, could only foresee an experience “from another world” during that morning.
The association of historical facts with a good dose of romanticized imagination, immediately made me go back to even more distant times.
I imagined that 4000 years ago, the mythical Tartessos civilization could have already chosen Herdade dos Coelheiros as one of the first places in the Iberian Peninsula to plant the first vineyards.
I imagined that 3000 years ago, the Phoenicians were already going up the Guadiana River to negotiate and export these Alentejo wines throughout the Mediterranean.
Could it be that the wine drunk by Ulysses, in his extraordinary Odyssey, when he celebrated the founding of Lisbon, was from the same terroir that I was visiting? Or is it that the Celts, when they arrived in this territory near VI B.C., in addition to having brought new varieties of grapevines, originated the habit of aging the wine in Hungarian or French oak barrels? The oak was a tree of worship for the Celtic druids, which was revered and adored and, it is thought, that the Celts were famous for making barrels. Is this an ancient symbolic form that the Celts had to sanctify wine?
Suddenly, I returned to the present. My historical wine ramblings had been interrupted by the barking of the dog Tina, who had insisted on accompanying us on the visit, always ahead of our Land Rover. We had reached the first stop.
Tina most likely alerted us to the arrival at one of her favorite places: A surprising walnut orchard.
we did not expect to find a long stretch of walnut trees in the heart of the Alentejo. There are about 40 hectares of plantation with this tree, one of the first in scale in the Iberian Peninsula. As the walnut tree is a deciduous tree, it was easy for me to imagine the refreshing shade that these leaves should offer to visitors of the Estate in the summer, while tasting nuts with the wines.
We pass through immense cork and olive trees, which reinforces the traditional and multifunctional character of this property, which, in addition to the vineyard, also produces products of extreme quality such as cork and olive oils.
Dário was challenging us with very pertinent questions and curiosities, such as the various varieties of nuts that exist and he even showed us a machine for extracting the kernels of this fruit.
He spoke of the different varieties of olives present in the olive trees and how sustainability is important in all stages of production in this estate.
The current effort to convert all vineyards into organic production is just one of the sustainability measures implemented.
I was impressed to know that most of the rural workers who work at Herdade de Coelheiros are from the village of Igrejinha and have been working on this property for several generations. This reflects the love and attachment to this land by the local community.
Herds of sheep graze freely in the fields, to the delight of the dog Tina, who takes every opportunity to keep her woolly friends away from the most famous treasure to Herdade de Coelheiros: their vineyards.
During the visit, we stopped at the different vineyards that occupy about 50 hectares of t Dário showed us vines of Portuguese varieties such as Arinto, Antão Vaz, Touriga Nacional, Roupeiro to foreign varieties that adapted perfectly to Alentejo wines: Alicante-Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Aragonez and, surprisingly, the Chardonnay variety. I was excited to know that this grape variety was present in the vineyards of Herdade de Coelheiros because, personally, it is one of my favorite grape varieties and I was very curious to taste a quality Alentejo Chardonnay.
We continued the tour and passed a huge private dam that, in the summer, usually hosts several migratory birds.
We were surprised by rabbits, hares and deer that fled whenever Tina noticed her presence.
After an hour of visiting, I already felt my senses wide awake and anxious for the main reason for my visit to Herdade de Coelheiros: Wine tasting.
Shortly after passing the dam, we saw, on top of a hill, a shelter.
The Land Rover approached and Dário asked us out.
It was a dream scenario what we saw next.
A breathtaking landscape over the entire property and, on a table set up waiting for us, among various regional products to taste, the famous wines of Herdade de Coelheiros.
While Dário was making a fire in the ground, I was amazed at the possibility of tasting these famous wines in the middle of the natural landscape, in the silence of nature, as if it were a secret place and far from the world, to taste the wine treasures that were available before me. My senses were in full swing.
There was traditional Alentejo bread, local cheeses and sausages, jams and pastries, and the oils and nuts produced on the property could not be missing.
The 7 wines were arranged in front of us and I couldn’t resist considering that the most favorable omens were gathered: According to the Bible, it was on the 7th day, after creation, that God rested, because it was time for reflection, withdrawal, meditation. At that moment, I felt before the 7 wonders of the world and not the 7 deadly sins, although sometimes both are side by side.
The rainbow appeared with its infinite 7 colors and I was sure that if I had 7 lives, like cats, this would be one of the moments to repeat in all of them!
I just wanted to whistle the 7 musical notes when Dário started opening the wines.
The tasting was fantastic, the organization and order of the wines perfect and all the conversations came up before each wine.
Dário was an authentic human technical file, but more importantly, it allowed us to be totally at ease in the conversations and stories that the three of us shared.
Diogo and I have visited many wine tourism estates in Alentejo but I have no doubt in considering that this was the best experience we both had.
The magnificent wines, distinct but not in quality, were what I remember most.
The 7 wines were all of superior level and adapted to the most demanding tastes and palates. They seemed to complement each other.
My reunion with the Tapada de Coelheiros Garrafeira could not have been better.
This wine is one of the best wines in Portugal.
Another thing would not be expected in a wine with 18 months of aging in French oak barrels and more than 5 years in bottle.
Cabernet Sauvignon gives it structure and body, color and flavors of dark fruits. Aragonez, on the other hand, gives it spice notes, perhaps wanting to pay homage to former owner D. Ruy de Sousa and the planning of the control of the ancient spice routes in the 16th century by the Portuguese.
Another wine that left me with 7 chakras flooded with good energy was the extraordinary Chardonnay.
Recently, I have been aroused by the fact that many guests of Portugal Cultural Experience, mainly Americans, always mention this variety as one of their favorites.
I already drank some Chardonnay from various regions of Portugal but none made me as vibrant as this one. Perhaps due to the terroir or the bâtonnage process twice a week for six months to show the unctuousness, characteristic of Chardonnay.
This wine definitely made it into my top 10 of my favorite wines ever.
Dário always made me feel free to repeat the tastings and I couldn’t resist repeating this wine 1 or 2 more times. The day was long and I had to stop drinking before the wine made me see Snow White and the… 7 dwarfs!
After the tastings, Dário also introduced us to the cellar, the barrels on stage, the winemaker’s laboratory, the bottling lines, but nothing else distracted me from that Chardonnay flavor in my mouth and the experience we had just shared.
There was still time to go to the wine store to take home some good memories to share with my friends and family.
It’s been a year, but I feel like it was yesterday.
If what you want from a wine tourism experience is to learn, relax, get to know, experiment, taste and immortalize the moment, I guarantee that this experience is a must.
I couldn’t finish this text without the famous… .SSSIIMMMMMMMMM… .of our fabulous Cristiano Ronaldo… better known as CR… 7! 😊