Quinta das Bageiras Visit – Part 2
Interview with Mário Sérgio Alves Nuno
(w4p) Did you hope when you got this project (30 years ago) to get where you are?
(MS) – Almost 30 years … 29 actually. No, I did not expect it to be so fast. I always said (in the beginning) to my father that after ten years we could start earning some money, because the wine process is always very slow … I think Quinta das Bágeiras still has a lot to do: It is not yet, nor from far from near, one of the best known wines in Portugal … And I want it to be. So there’s still a lot to do …
(w4p) Quinta das Bágeiras is a family business: Avô Fausto is a reference. Pai Abel still helps to care for the vineyards. Mário Sérgio is the Chief. Sister is a partner. The wife is the commercial director. Son, the future oenologist. Is this all correct?
(MS) – Hehehe… It is indeed a family exploitation, and I made it a point, from the outset, to involve the whole Family. Germana is not the commercial director, because there are no fixed charges here. In fact, we all have to do everything a little … Frederico if he wants to … of course I can not deny that he would like him to come to work at Quinta das Bágeiras. He has a degree in oenology. The winemaker of Quinta das Bágeiras is Mr. Rui Moura Alves, and will continue to be … One thing has nothing to do with the other … The formation of Frederico is important for him, and eventually for the growth of Quinta das Bágeiras, but will, like the others, have to do everything a little …
(w4p) “Baga Forever”. Don’t you have the chance to bet on other grape varieities? What is Baga so special about? Is it just the identity?
(MS) – The Baga grape varietal is a hard one (as everyone says). And no, it’s not just identity. It has unique characteristics. I often say that the difference between a very good wine and a great wine is a very small thing: a very good wine is one that we drink now and we like very much. A great wine is the same wine, which, if we drink it 20 years from now, we will continue to like it very much. And the Baga grape varietal provides these great wines, which many other grape varieties do not provide … Certainly it can give us identity. If we do not have identity, we will not be able to affirm ourselves in the world. And if we look at the best, let’s see Burgundy for example, it still has only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay … The grape varietal that most identifies Bairrada is Baga. There have always been several other mixed breeds … But they will always only be complementary … They will never be, in my opinion, a reference…
(w4p) The previous question follows on from what happened some time ago: in addition to the Baga wines, a new type of red wine appeared in Bairrada, “New World” type, possibly with Touriga Nacional, but mainly with French grapes: Merlot , Cabernet … So you’ll never bet on it?
(MS) – No, no! I do not even think it makes any sense at all. In the same way I do not think it makes sense that there is something called “Regional Atlantic Wine” in Bairrada. For me, the wine produced in Bairrada is Bairrada! The rest is a commercial subterfuge that will never get us anywhere. What can lead us somewhere, has only one name: Bairrada. It may be more difficult. I know we’re not in France. We are in Portugal. The country itself is less well known in the wine world. But what will give us the identity is the common hat, is the brand Bairrada. That mark will have to be strong. If this brand is strong, all producers will benefit from this..
(w4p) Whites. Avô Fausto/Garrafeira/Pai Abel. What is the real difference between them? I confess that I, being an admirer of your whites, do not know if in blind proof he would know them…
(MS) – Yes, you could. If in fact Baga is the grape varietal that can best identify Bairrada, on the other hand, I am of the opinion that Bairrada is the best region of the Country, and one of the best in the world, to make white wines. For two very simple reasons: proximity to the sea, and clay-limestone terrain. I continue to think that great whites will always be made in clay-limestone terrain and not in sandy terrain … Avô Fausto we only make with a grape varietal: Maria Gomes, and so it is more easily identifiable. We started by making sandy loam, then 60% sandy and the rest clay-limestone, and now we are already 60% clay-limestone and 40% sandy, and maybe (we will see the consumer perception, since we still only have 3 harvests), I think the future will be 100% clay-limestone. I think the great whites of Bairrada are always made of clay-limestone. Avô Fausto is made only with Maria Gomes not by chance. And here is a rule that exists in Bairrada: there are many oenologists who say that Maria Gomes has no longevity, and I completely disagree. And I disagree why? But if we reduce the production of Maria Gomes, and if it is not subject to water stress, and if we follow strictly (as we do in Baga), it is clearly possible make a wine with longevity from this grape varietal. It’s the variety that my grandfather liked best. Maybe not for the same reason as me, but it was the one he liked best. So when it came to the idea of making a white with my grandfather’s name, I did not think of using any other breed than this one.
Regarding the Garrafeira and Pai Abel, I can agree a little with you … It may be harder at the beginning to identify which one is Pai Abel and which one is Garrafeira … Although I think Pai Abel is a wine, let’s say , more polished, more “clean” … while the Garrafeira is more “work of chance” … Therefore, I think that, over time, we can identify well which is which, although both are made with the same grape varieties: Maria Gomes and Bical. In addition, Pai Abel is made from grapes from a single vineyard, and the soil of this vineyard has a large amount of limestone, and this is always very present in the wine, which also helps to identify it.
(w4p) Maria Gomes and Bical. But there is a grape varietal that is becoming fashionable in Bairrada: What about Cerceal??
(MS) – We have also planted Cerceal. We even have a varietal from Cerceal, with a small production of about 800-900 bottles of 2016, which I still do not know when I will market … For me it is an experience. The Cerceal had a serious problem in Bairrada: It was planted in the middle of old vines and rotted very easily. Now you can control it better, but there was another problem: that it was very premature oxidation. So it was, for a long time, abandoned. Now, I think it’s a grape varietal that, for both white and sparkling wines, has an absolutely extraordinary acidic richness … Although today, I think we’re exaggerating, valuing the acidity … I see a lot of people value the acidity in the sparkling wines, but I still think that a grape of Chardonnay in the region of Champagne with 8 degrees is ripe, but in Bairrada it is very green. Therefore, this story of overestimating the acidity, also does not make sense, because wine is not just acidity … The balance of the 2 things is what is important: alcohol and acidity. And Cerceal has this enormous potential.
(w4p) The vineyard (white) of Pai Abel is relatively new (15-16 years old) … So, that of the Garrafeira is older! … It is that people do not have this notion! … And in the red, also happens this?
(MS) – Yes, the grapes in the wine cellar are older. And in red this also happens. The vineyard of Pai Abel (white and red) is a new vineyard … The red vineyard is 22-23 years old.
(w4p) So why is Pai Abel so much more expensive? … Are the onesgrapes better? … Wine is more elaborate?…
(MS) – Well, it’s more expensive, but the difference is not so great! … In Pai Abel, I have fermentation in barrels … I have in fact much more work in Pai Abel than Garrafeira … But also, because in the Pai Abel we have substantially reduced production. In an old vine we usually do not have to have this labor, because it, by nature, will have a reduced production … In the vineyard of Pai Abel we have to make this intervention!
And what I wanted to prove, or demystify, was the following: I do not take any of my old vineyard out of this world! For all of it is very good … But the fact that it is an old vineyard does not mean that it will give rise to a great wine. I think that in Portugal the old vineyards are being deified a lot, some for no reason whatsoever. And I think that from a new vineyard, since the site, or as the French say the terroir (which is much more than just the soil …), is exceptional, then we can have a great wine. It may involve more intervention in the vineyard, but what I wanted to prove was: it is possible to make a great wine from a relatively new vineyard.
(w4p) How did you come up with the idea of marketing “Chumbado”? The first hit was Pai Abel Branco 2011.
(MS) – Firstly, the year 2011 will always be a mythical year. And then because I found that Pai Abel 2011 white was a great wine. And the idea was born in a joke, in a dinner with friends, in which I purposely took the wine to have opinions of third parties … And everyone said that it was a great wine (in blind proof). Then I said that the wine was mine, and that it was hit! … Everyone laughed, and everybody “enjoyed” the term during dinner: I’m lying here, I’m lying there … And on that day, already at around midnight, I came to the office: Industrial Property Institute: and I registered the “Chumbado” brand … But never with the aim of reducing the Region! No! The main objective is for the Region to open horizons !!!! … Because if there is one thing that no one can accuse me under any circumstances, it is that I have not contributed to the success of my region, or that I have ever misled the my region: When it was difficult to sell Bairrada, the vast majority of the producers started to designate Regional Beiras for their wines … Mário Sérgio does not have 1 single Regional Beiras wine register. What I thought at the time is the same as I think now: Our flag is Bairrada, and that is why we must fight … In relation to this particular wine, I thought this would be a way to try to “sting” winemakers themselves, and make them see that wine is not something that can be made in one way, in which people who taste are accustomed to a style, and do not accept that there is a completely different style.
(w4p) Only “numerical question”: 120 000 bottles / year, all grapes from own vines, 60% sparkling … And the other 40%? … And what percentage of export? And which major markets are?
(MS) – Yes, 60% sparkling, 30% red and 10% white. White has been growing in recent times … At the moment, we already export about 35% of our production to many markets … The main market is without a doubt Galicia (sell more for Galicia than for the North of Portugal), and then California (USA). These are the 2 countries to which we export more.
(w4p) Bairrada. What is missing to assert itself more as Region / Brand?
(MS) – Much work is still missing. Bairrada for years, had something unique in the Country: More than 60% of the wine business was held in the region of Bairrada. For example, in Dão, most of the wine was marketed by Bairrada companies. This has a very positive aspect for us, that is the knowledge, the know how, of the wine business … On the other hand, it may have a defect: And it had. In my opinion, it had a defect: It is that the people did not focus on what was of the region! The engines, the companies that decided, did so from a commercial point of view. I have nothing against. Quite the opposite! But, the region has to be led by those in the region! With the young people of Champagne say: “Le Champagne a qui est de Champagne”. And I think this is fundamental, because there has to be some stubbornness, some strategic vision of the region, not doing what we have done for years: to say badly about what is ours (if we say it wrong it is much harder to sell!). We must say the virtues of the Berry … Of course for the Family we can say the defects, but out we must emphasize the virtues more than the defects! Even because all grape varieties have virtues and defects. And we must emphasize the virtues to the utmost. If together we can do this, we can have a future. We at Baga Friends think we should make a huge contribution to the region … And we started 5-6 years ago, when Baga was being started to plant Syrah, Merlot … And in the space of 3 or 4 years until there is already a sparkling Baga Bairrada! … Have only Baga Friends been responsible for this? Of course not, but they gave absolutely extraordinary help. Facts are facts. History is history. The companies were abandoning Baga, and 2-3 years after the Baga Friends appeared, Baga was in fashion! And that was our goal! Our goal is for the region to grow! And if the region grows, we will all grow. And if there are more projects and more people with this kind of vision, it is much easier for Bairrada to be in the limelight, as one of the great wine regions of the world. I have no doubt about that! … Burgundy 60 years ago, it was like Bairrada: Nobody wanted it! Everyone spoke in Bordeaux, and in other regions of France … And today Burgundy is a world icon of wines! …
(w4p) What was the best wine you made? Or the one you liked the most?
(MS) – It is very difficult to answer this question, because there are wines that surprise us with the positive … I am remembering for example the white wine Garrafeira 2012, which is a year that was in the middle of 2 years (2011 and 2013) that were globally better … But 2012 is one of my great wines! But I will continue to say that Pai Abel 2011 red, Garrafeira 2001 red, and Garrafeira 2001 white, are the wines that I like the most! I do not know if they are the best wines of Quinta das Bágeiras, but they are the ones I like the most. Besides, I’m starting to like it more and more (I do not know if it’s because of age, or because I’m betting on these wines) of those wines that I started to drink, when I was a kid, those that my grandfather gave me, more elegant .. And I think that Avô Fausto 2013, that maybe people are expecting it to have a lot of fruit, a lot of color, a lot of complexity … And in fact, there’s nothing like that … It’s a lot of freshness, and very soft tannins. .. And it is, at the moment, one of the wines that gives me more joy to drink. I do not know if I can repeat a wine as identifiable as this 2013, what I want to do as Avô Fausto wine. This 2013 is strictly what I would like to go back and continue to do in Avô Fausto wine.
(w4p) The future? What are the objectives? What do you have in mind? Have you made your best wine??
(MS) – We all want to make our best wine ever! But sometimes we can not … But the goal is always this! … The future is, in the possible ones, not to grow much more … The profile of wine that we have, if the growth is very great, can to be distorted … Because making wine in a wine press is very beautiful, but, making 200 or 300 thousand liters of wine in a wine press, it is almost like having my village full of oil presses … And therefore, it is very difficult … this, to maintain this style of wine, our growth has a limit … But all that I can buy in Bairrada, that I know exists, of vineyards with exceptional aptitude for Baga, this will be the future of Quinta das Bágeiras …
As for the future of Bairrada, the future will be laughable with absolute certainty. This future has started now, it is going much faster than I imagined, and if we do not make mistakes and excesses of trust (sometimes in Portugal it goes very easily from 8 to 80, and it takes time, maturation …) that set everything to lose, that’s what will happen … Already before there were great wines, but now what is being done in terms of communication is much better … I have in my house, more of 600 bottles of old wines from Caves São João … And many of them are absolutely extraordinary wines … So, we knew (very well) to make wine in the 60’s! And today we taste these wines, and we know they are great wines … they have stood the test of time … Therefore, there have been many great wines made in Bairrada … What happened was that there was a period when we did not know how to communicate well … In addition, the taste of the consumer sometimes changes too, and this is cyclical … Now that Bairrada, because its wines are not in fashion, totally change its course, that is what it can not happen … It does not make sense … Even because making wine is not the same thing as planting potatoes: today I plant white and for the year I plant red … No, the vine I plant it today, and in 10 years I start to have results … For all this, it is mandatory that there is a strategic vision of the region itself ..
(w4p) That’s it! Thank you!
(MS) – So? Can we go for lunch already? I warned you that I talk too much….
And in fact, we are already salivating by the Mugasa piglet…
W4P (JUN 2018)