A Ranch in the Portuguese Alentejo

It was uncanny.  We were an hour and a half out of Lisbon, in the vast, hot, plains, ridges and rolling hills of the Alentejo.  And here was the bright summer sun, the grasses turned gold by summer drought, the scattered oak groves in the distance.  It was as if I had returned to the Central California foothills where I had roamed during my college days.

Alentejo Landscape

Alentejo Landscape

We were in the middle of a reconnaissance of the lands of the Almeida family’s Rovisco Garcia ranch.  Francisco Almeida, who looked to be in his 60s,  talked about the cork industry, while his daughter Sofia added her thoughts on management of the

A link to the video of the cork oak woodland at the Rovisco Garcia estate is here.

Artist's rendition of the Alentejo Cork oak Country.  Painting by Urania Pérez

Artist’s rendering of the Alentejo Cork Oak Country. Painting by Urania Pérez, 2015

Farmers like the Almeidas thin Cork oak woodlands (Montados) to allow harvest of the bark of the cork oak (Cortizo). Around 60% of the world’s cork is produced in Portugal.  One year recently, Francisco told us, there was a poor harvest of natural cork.  To make things worse, a small fraction of it imparted an unwanted flavor to wine.  So businesses who manufactured plastic wine stoppers saw an opportunity and jumped in, expanding their sales.  Ever since, natural cork producers in Portugal like the Almeida family have been battling the misconception that the cork supply, although normally far superior to plastic, is not reliable.  

In recent years, the Almeida family has expanded their olive groves to 80 hectares and their vineyards to 28 hectares.  Since the initial release on 2007, their wines have achieved international renown.  They also harvest the acorn of the native umbrella pine (Pinhal Manso), which is  eaten locally.

Umbrella Pine (Pinhal Manso) at the Ranch

Umbrella Pines (Pinhal Manso) at the Ranch

Urania talks things over with the family patriarch

Urania talks things over with the kindly family patriarch, now in his 90’s.

Being out on the distinct landscapes of the Alentejo, with its inviting openness and almost spooky similarity to old stomping grounds, made for an unforgettable day.  Getting to know the Carvalho family, who like the Carvalho family of the Douro, have the same deep connection to the land, was equally memorable.

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