The invitation to be a part of the Quinta do Quetzal project happened by chance.
I had been living in Alentejo for a while when a Dutch friend of mine contacted me because his daughter was getting married and he couldn’t find an original wedding gift. A few days later, my partner and I were driving by and found out there were some vineyards for sale. I called my friend and asked him if a vineyard was an original gift. He thought it was a great idea! We felt Quinta do Quetzal was going to be something different from the start.
If this was a flat land, I wouldn’t have suggested buying the vineyard. But, because I knew the area well, I realised immediately this was the ideal place for wine: the microclimate is perfect for wine, one of the best in Alentejo. The fact that Quinta do Quetzal is on a hill makes it unique. That small vineyard that my friend bought was intended to be symbolic but, in time, the whole family began to enjoy Vidigueira and Vila de Frades. They would come here, buy great bread, oranges, and cheeses, and, unintentionally, the project started to grow.
Wine is our core business but then the Centre of Contemporary Art, with art pieces owned by the family collection (Centro de Arte do Quetzal was referenced at the BMW Art Guide 2019, published by Independent Collectors), came along. It’s the ideal spot to showcase modern art that, like Alentejo, is only apparently simple: This place, chellenges us!
At the restaurant, we get inspiration from Alentejo cuisine. Alentejo gastronomy is very simple: you can make a meal with bread, water, and herbs! That’s what we do at Quetzal, we take that simplicity and create experiences at the table. However, all magic happens on your tastebuds!A trip to Quinta do Quetzal is an experience that can go on for a whole day. People arrive here, visit our winery and our cellar (where W. A. Mozart's music echoes in our ears and the wine resting), pick up their picnic basket, and leave to get lost at the hill. There’s the scents, the smell of flowers, the winery, the art centre… and the landscape!
Quetzal is a South-American bird that dies in captivity. It’s a symbol of freedom and a name that the owners have used before in other projects.
Our story and mission
Before coming to Portugal, I lived in several countries. I’m Swiss, but I was born in Holland and worked in Argentina and Brazil. When I returned to Switzerland, I found everything was too organised and, after a year, when I was deciding what to do next, a friend of mine who lived in Portugal invited me over. I came here to visit and stayed forever.
I was taken aback by the plains, the open space, the people, the gastronomy, the savoir vivre… In Switzerland, everything is too planned, nothing goes wrong, but we live amongst mountains, we can’t see the horizon, and there’s no room to do new things because everything has already been made.
Vidigueira is one of the best regions in Alentejo to produce wine. And because Quinta do Quetzal is on a hill, our vineyards are particularly beautiful.
1995 is a special year for me because it’s the year when I planted the first vineyard. At the time, I was managing a farm here in Alentejo where we built a winery and produced wine. When I came to Quetzal in 2001, I was already passionate about the wine industry.
Our wines, Quetzal and Guadalupe, are named after the farm and the adjacent chapel of Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe. The owners of Quinta do Quetzal wanted to buy the chapel but the deal never went through, and the chapel has, since then, been in ruins. It’s a late 17th-century church, one of the many churches built in the country after the Council of Trent. It’s a kind of hermitage to where people would come on pilgrimage, following a procession, like a path towards enlightenment.
There are seven of these in the area, and this is the one that is both the prettiest and the one in worst shape.
The colours and scents of Quinta do Quetzal change with the seasons. The warm fragrance of the brown-eyed rockroses in the spring is replaced by the smell of must a few months later. At the same time, in the border hill, the vineyard goes from green, to red, and to complete bareness in the winter. Always under the unperturbed surveillance of the three pine trees.
At restaurant Quetzal, eyes eat first. But chefs Pedro Mendes and João Mourato, loyal to the Southern cuisine but with an approach of their own, will do everything to make sure your palate and your stomach are equally satisfied.
A feast for the senses
I know many people from all over the world, but the Portuguese are unique. Things don’t always work out but Portuguese are one of a kind: they like abundance, but they’re happy with little and, in reality, we don’t need much else in life besides good friends and good food. At the end of the day, when I come home and drive by Vila de Frades, sometimes the doors to the courtyards are open and I see men sitting, with a jug of wine, a piece of bread, and a sausage, all having a good time and singing… It doesn’t look like much, but they’re happy. And that’s a very positive thing. In the modern world, we have everything, but that’s not what makes us happy.
The Roman ruins of São Cucufate are nearby. They’re the remains of an ancient farm dating back to the 1st century AD. They're surprisingly magnificent and you can tell the houses, now in ruins, were sophisticated. We're impressed by the lifestyle and their use of resources. The spas and heated water, the balcony that wrapped around the house, the overlapping courtyards with running water fountains, and the water mirror tell us that who ever lived here knew this place was special, a place to truly enjoy life and generosity.
I began to live a little like that too. I like the concept if we can call it that, of living in a place where there’s space. In Évora, when I walk by, I greet 50 or 60 people because we all know each other. I was attracted to this lifestyle.
In addition to that, Alentejo has the vantage point of being far from everything and close to everything. We’re far enough from the busy cities, but we get there quickly if we have to!
Not many people know this, but Vasco da Gama was buried in Vila de Frades for a long time. They buried him here when the body came from India because he had been the first Count of Vidigueira. They only moved his remains to Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon in the 19th century.