We were being given a tour of Quinta Santa Eufemia, a family-owned vineyard of Port and Douro wine grapes. The Quinta is named for the Catholic Saint (about which more later). Senhora Teresa Carvalho of the Quinta’s family first took us on a walk in her vineyards and a visit to the small bottling plant. Later, the family and staff served a group of us lunch; salad, bacalao, (cod), a bean stew with meat, and opened several Port wines for us to taste.
Bernardo Rodrigues de Carvalho founded the Quinta in 1864. It is now managed by the fourth generation of vintners; great-grandchildren carrying on the family tradition. Port wine goes back still further; the Port vineyards of the Douro valley are the world’s oldest designated wine region, dating from the 18th century.
As we savored the delicious food and Port, co-owner Senhora Teresa, stood in the dining room and began to tell us of the legend of Santa Eufemia, who lived during the early days of Christianity, near the present-day Istanbul, when the Roman empire ruled.
Eufemia, a Christian maiden, was told she was to marry a noble, but the brave girl refused, and for her crime, she would be fed live to the lions. Written accounts say that she was in hiding with fellow early Christians to worship their God and resist a Roman order to take part in sacrifices to a Roman diety.
At this moment in the tale, I looked outside and noticed a strong wind had suddenly risen, blowing up the mountainside.
Teresa continued that when the moment of Eufemia’s public death arrived, the lions, instead of killing and devouring the condemned young Eufemia, suddenly stopped short and bowed down before her, (and, perhaps, licked her wounds received at the hands of Roman torturers).
Just as Teresa spoke this, a sharp gust of wind blew through the open doorway and pushed a large straw and wooden figure off the alcove behind her and onto the dining room floor. She stopped and turned to recover the straw man. Someone else scrambled to close the front door. I remember thinking out loud, “It is still a pretty powerful story”.
And so the ancient miracle of Santa Eufemia, as passed through the generations, lives on today.
And so, as we tasted the family’s Ports, pairing them with freshly cooked regional dishes, we could consider a humbler, more mortal miracle; winemakers working with the unique terroir of Quinta Santa Eufemia to coax stunning wines from the soil of these steep mountain slopes.