Fruit orchards and vineyards line the driveway, and the impressive mountains of Montejunto contribute to the scenic view. More than eye candy, however, the peaks also influence the climate, making this area one hour north of Lisbon a paradise for grapes.
As we reach the end of the dirt road, a friendly dog, whom we later learn is named Noruega, and cousins Joana and José Vivas are there to greet us. We’ve come to Quinta do Olival da Murta, a sprawling property in Cadaval, to learn more about the natural wines made by Joana, José and three other cousins of theirs, and how they have opened the grounds to other natural winemakers, fostering a collaborative community of like-minded individuals.
The Lisbon region is one of the most productive wine regions in Portugal, but the quality of these wines hasn’t always been the best. Tellingly, Murta started out with 100 hectares of vineyards; now, it has 20. The oldest mention of the farm dates back to 1909, but it was only in 1940 that their great-grandfather Manuel Vivas, who was originally from Spain, bought it. Slowly, the Vivas have transformed this large family estate into a small winery specializing in low-intervention natural wines.
Formerly an archaeologist, Joana is now the winemaker and leads the wine production with José, who used to work in bank management. Together with their other cousins Francisco, Madalena and Mafalda, they decided to put the farm on the map again, with a focus on high-quality grapes and natural winemaking. Their first wine, Serra Oca, was produced in 2013.
They specifically chose organic farming and are happy they did so: “With grapes and wines, the chemical influence is even more noticeable, we couldn’t do it the conventional way,” says José. More than just vineyards, they have expanded into a diverse farm, cultivating aromatic herbs and fruit trees. They also make seasoning specialties such as wine salt (DOP sea salt from Tavira in a reduction of their wines) and oregano salt.
The cousins have inherited quite an extensive property. The main winery hides a complex fermentation system of old cement vats (called Algeria amphorae) where the grapes used to be vinified back when their grandfather was producing large quantities of wine. These gigantic units need 18 to 20 tons of grapes to work properly. “The scale and the dimension of winemaking that used to be done here is like comparing cooking in a canteen to cooking for a family,” explains Joana.
Both Joana and José have fond memories of busy harvest times. “There was a loud noise, like an explosion up in the tanks and we would run to see the all the mix going down from a kind of upper pool to the deposit. We still remember the smell and that noise,” says Joana. As teenagers they worked picking grapes. “Another favorite activity was coming here to taste the grape juice and to check the density and alcohol level with our grandfather,” adds José.
Since the winemaking process has been scaled down, the Vivas now use smaller tanks, which are easier to work with and more aligned with their aims. But Joana and José wanted to try the old method last year, just to experiment. They spoke to former workers, including one who still works and lives on the property. “It was really tough work – we went with Francisco [one of their cousins] inside the deposit and the three of us together removed the [mashed grapes] through the tiny doors,” says Joana. “It was so hot and there was so much C02 inside that we had to come out often to breath and get some fresh air. It’s a hard and dangerous process, and in the end the wine was not that good, so we’re not doing it anymore!”
Yet all the old facilities are being preserved, including another area with a distillery to make aguardente (brandy) – perhaps the historic stills will inspire the family to make a small museum in the future. For now, it’s worth visiting the farm for a wine tasting of Serra Oca, the brand that the cousins created for their wine (Quinta da Murta, the property’s original name, is already registered by another producer). Serra Oca means something along the lines of “hollow mountain range” and is inspired by Portuguese writer José Saramago’s descriptions of Montejunto in his book Memorial do Convento (Baltasar and Blimunda in English).
They currently make two amber (sometimes referred to as “orange”) wines with skin contact (curtimenta in Portuguese), which offer a distinctive expression of the terroir: fresh, mineral, with a great acidity, and influenced by the mountains and the Atlantic. One is a monovarietal (moscatel graúdo), the other a blend of arinto, fernão pires and moscatel graúdo varieties. As for reds, they have two types: the monovarietal castelão and a blend with castelão, aragonês and touriga nacional.
Having downsized production, the cousins decided to open up the premises to other producers (there are many warehouses and buildings on the property to house workers, as the winery was originally quite isolated), transforming the quinta into a community of natural winemakers who share the same philosophy and love for nature. In one of the larger buildings we find Tiago Teles and António Marques da Cruz, who are now making wine together under their COZs label in Murta.
“This cooperation is natural to us – we’re learning with each other, and lending machines to them and vice versa.”
“They are now part of the family,” José says, while introducing us to António and Tiago. “They have really adopted us,” Tiago responds. There’s clearly an easy friendship and camaraderie between them. “This cooperation is natural to us – we’re learning with each other, and lending machines to them and vice versa,” António adds. It almost feels as if this harmony seeps into the wines made here.
Now good friends, Tiago and António first connected at a wine event in Porto. “We met around 2013, had mutual friends and started working together in 2015 but it feels like we have been friends for a long time. We share the same values, ethics and aesthetics,” says Tiago. By the time they met, each was already producing wines of their own: Tiago had started making Gilda in 2012 and later Maria da Graça, both reds, in the Bairrada region, and then, in 2015, went further north to produce Raiz, a white, in Arcos de Valdevez, part of vinho verde country. António, on the other hand, began working as a winemaker at his family’s vineyard in 1989 and is the producer of Quinta da Serradinha, one of the first wines certified as organic, which in Portugal only became a reality for wine in 1994. “People had no idea what it meant, they thought organic meant without alcohol,” António remembers.
The duo began COZs, their joint project, in 2015 – they teamed up to revive the abandoned vineyards at Quinta dos Cozinheiros (hence the name) in the Figueira da Foz area. It was an easy decision to work together. “We share the same views and values about winemaking, and we have the same love for the land and the vineyards,” says António. Yet as the project grew, they ran into some issues at the original vineyards and decided to purchase some vines in Montejunto in 2017. They still felt lost, however, until they found Quinta do Olival da Murta, where they started working in 2018. “We had so much space and so many warehouses that it became the perfect spot for [António and Tiago] to work,” Joana says. Plus, since Tiago lives in Lisbon and António in Leiria, Murta is a good meeting place, roughly in the middle.
“Three years ago it was unthinkable, we couldn’t imagine what we have now,” says António as we chat in their brand new winery, ready at the last minute for this year’s harvest. It’s huge and has four new wine vats in cement, bought in Italy. “All these wines should be oxygenated through a porous material like wood, clay or cement, and cement is the lesser porous [of the three],” António explains. They are using the cement to store the white wine while the reds are kept in wooden barrels. Happy with this year’s harvest, the duo is looking forward to the natural wines made in the new space (COZs Pop is made with only Vital grapes, a white Portuguese variety, and COZs is a monovarietal castelão, but both are vibrant, maintaining the region’s identity).
The Vivas have built a true natural wine hub, with the potential for more interesting projects on the horizon – other wine and cider producers are already working on the farm, and there’s room for more. And this new generation of natural winemakers is reinvigorating the industry. We think Tiago, who wrote about wines before he started making them, put it best in his book Wines With Terroir: “The producer is the craftsman who dates Nature, who cherishes and protects the vines, who disciplines the wild temperament of fermentation so that, in the end, we can make contact with a civilized and passionate liquid.”
Editor’s note: Inspired by our Wine Clubs in Tbilisi, Lisbon and Athens and the grape harvest season, we have asked our correspondents to share the stories of winemakers and wine shops that are making a splash in their city for our Wine Week 2020.
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