After 11 years living here, I guess I can say I’m a little from Alentejo. But I was born in Mozambique, my father was from the Portuguese Beiras region and my mother from Minho, I lived in South Africa, and only came to Portugal in 2004.
I met Nuno Bicó on a hunting ground near Mértola, and Herdade do Ribafreixo was born from that meeting, a project built from scratch. I think we’re one of the few wine projects that chose the climate, the terroir, the vineyards, and the rootstocks!
Vidigueira benefits from the proximity of Serra do Mendro. This natural barrier creates a corridor of winds blowing from the Atlantic, but because the mountain wraps around this place, it naturally stops them. Thus, the thermal amplitude is higher, which is essential to produce white wine. Also, the schist in the soils makes them a lot more mineral.
We chose the highest point of the property to build the cellar because we needed it to be underground. And I thought, with this view, it would be a great opportunity also to open a gourmet restaurant.
Our vineyards are always beautiful, seen from the restaurant. In the Winter, the fields also have their charms, with just the leafless trunks. In the Spring it becomes more luscious and, then, in the Summer, the vineyards are in full, with bunches of plump grapes waiting to be harvested. And the Autumn is gorgeous: we have different types of vines, so some of the leaves turn red, others turn yellow, others turn brown. It’s like a rainbow in the vineyard.
Even if you come to Alentejo for just one day, you’ll have a terrific time here: you can do wine tastings, go on a guided tour of the winery (and see it work during the week), you’ll be amidst a spectacular vineyard, and the restaurant has breathtaking views. It will be a full day!
I’m impatient. I like things done yesterday, not today or tomorrow. But I realised there’s a little something called Nature, ruthless and with its own timing -- the growth of vineyards, how the quality of wine changes over the years, etc. Today, at least in that area, I’ve begun to pace myself with nature’s rhythm.
Our story and mission
Unlike other “herdades”, Ribafreixo is not a property that we inherited. We bought several smaller farms, with pastures, olive groves, and dry land, that we consolidated into one large property. Where there used to be an old house, we built the farming centre and planted everything from scratch. We replaced everything with new vineyards, except for a plot of Antão Vaz vineyards that is now 45 years old.
My professional background is in high-tech, not the wine industry. This allows me to have an outside view of the business that gives it a different perspective. At the moment, we produce wines that are unbeatable in the quality/price ratio.
Building everything from scratch allowed us to prepare the soil, using techniques to work the hard land better and drain it. We also worked a lot on developing the vineyards and, after two years, we began producing wine. Our vineyards are 7, 8, and 9 years old. One year ago, we planted an extra 22 acres of vineyard that should start producing in two or three years. We don’t buy wine, and we don’t buy grapes -- it’s all produced by us.
I firmly believe that 80% of a good wine is as great as the fruit that enters the cellar. That’s why we produce wine in a minimalist way: without any chemicals and using cold processes. Until 2011, we produced in a nearby village, but now we have a modern winery which can produce up to one million and a half of bottles. At the moment, we produce 700,000 bottles.
Committed to white wine
I knew Alentejo as much as I knew 80% of Portugal… After he moved from Mozambique to South Africa, my father came to Lisbon. I came to Alentejo every now and then, but I would mostly visit the homelands of my parents. Today, I think Alentejo is gorgeous -- wild, with the plains and open space -- and it’s a quite different side of Portugal.
Vidigueira makes excellent white wines but also great red wines. The wines here have high acidity, because of the climate, the high concentration of minerals, and the terroir, but are also very fragrant.
I think I’m even becoming slightly territorial with Alentejo. Nowadays, when I hear someone telling a joke about Alentejo people without any Alentejano around, I tell them those jokes are best told to “alentejanos” because they have a great sense of humour!
They found Antão Vaz grape seeds at the São Cucufate Roman ruins near Vidigueira. That is an endemic grape varietal in this area.