Six months ago I met Paulo Mendes. In Avignon. For two days we tasted a lot of Rhône wines together, had some excellent local cuisine, talked wine and all that surrounds it. Sorting tables, shapes of the casks, age of the casks, single vineyards, grape varieties and what kind of approach the new winery should take. The topics were many and I started to understand I was talking to a person with strong feelings for his island and its wine.
Yesterday Paulo and his team had the official opening of Madeira Vintners; a new Madeira wine operation, run by Cooperativa Agrícola do Funchal. Hardly an everyday life event in Madeira nowadays. Anyone remembering the last time it occured? The winery was designed and built with the focus on small lots, terroir driven and vineyard specific wines. Madeira Vintners biggest fermenter holds 10.000 liters and there are four of them. Furthermore they have invested in four fermenters holding 7.500 liters, four with a capacity of 5.000 liters (where two are in stainless steel and two in oak), two for 2.000 liters and ten fermenters holding 1.000 liters. In other words; it’s a small-scale winery.
I’m catching Paulo while he’s visiting growers. The last check, the final directions before the harvest is officialy declared open by the institute, IVBAM. He’s quite thrilled as Madeira Vintners has been able to sign written grape supply contracts on a multi-year basis, with the grape growers they wanted. Thinking half a year back in time, I remember the tone of voice among several critics, that Madeira didn’t need yet a producer and more quantity. Looking at the size of the winery which Paulo now runs, I don’t think anyone can claim it a threat to the others, nor in taking market shares or lowering the quality. Madeira Vintners has shown intentions of developing a segment few have really given enough attention so far(besides Vinhos Barbeito) – the vineyard and terroir specific wines.
You can question if there’s any need for them, fortified wines generally are regarded as not expressing a sense of place in the wines. I think that’s a huge mistake, to have that approach. First of all; Madeira is and will continue to be a niche product. An up-market wine. It has its loyal followers which will buy the end products. Focusing more on terroir, a specific site, a certain soil structure, will only thrill nerds like myself which are in constant search of understanding and gaining knowledge.
Paulo Mendes tells me they have designed a compact winery with focus on flexibility and small lots. Furthermore, he emphasizes the need of easy sanitation also was a key element when building the winery. Being able to control the link between the grape grower and their winery was also a critical factor. Madeira Vintners will work with 50 liters cases that they suggest shouldn’t carry more than 25 kilos. This is a key factor in order to receive grapes not crushed already. Not sticking to the request might end up in penalties for over weighted baskets. He also tells me they will promote clean fruit by offering a bonus for grapes with very low levels of gluconic acid* and of course refusing grapes with high levels of the very same acid.
Will it become a success, Madeira Vintners? There’s only one who can decide upon that if the quality will be at a high level. You! My gut feeling indicates that Paulo & his team are an important factor to continue the work against over production and grape quantity before quality among several vine growers.
The Madeira 2013 vintage? Don’t expect another 2012 as this year has seen more challenges. In other words; for good quality a stricter selection and sorting is called upon.
Local media covering the event.
Photograps courtesy of Madeira Vintners.
* Glucose is converted into gluconic acid by oxidation with oxygen in aqueous solutions. Higher levels of acetic and lactic acid are often noted in wines from noble rot-infected grapes. These spoilage acids arise from growth of yeast and bacteria associated with the mold. The noble rot, Botrytis, oxidize glucose to produce gluconic acid. Gluconic acid is not utilized by yeast or bacteria but it could be used as an indicator of fruit deterioration. In healthy grapes the gluconic acid levels are around 0.5 g/l but in for example grapes which has been infected by the noble rot, the levels go from 1-5 g/l. If we’re talking sour rot or vulgar rot, in which bacterial growth happens along with the mold growth, the levels may also reach 5 g/l. Further reading here.
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