From Alentejo with Love: Climate, Soils, and Trellising

The following are questions and answers from Delfim Costa of Enoforum Wines. Delfim and I first met at the first annual Wine Bloggers Conference, when I offered him a ride from the BBQ back to the hotel, as he had just missed the bus. As we talked, I realized that I had had communications with his company a year or two before meeting him at the WBC. I was asked to submit a proposal (from someone else) for what I could do to help his company in the US with publicity. At that time, I was too swamped to even consider that kind of learning curve and division of my time; so I thanked the person, but had to pass.

When I met Delfim at the WBC, however, the timing was right for both of us. For the last year and a half, I’ve been learning and sharing so much about Portugal… a land I’ve come to love immensely, because of Delfim.

I appreciate him a lot, because he’s not only a brilliant businessman, but he’s also an intuitive visionary and one of the kindest people I’ve ever met in my life. Working with him is very easy and most enjoyable. I’ve had a lot of bosses in my time, and I’ve learned a lot from each one, regardless of how they’ve chosen to treat me. I’ve learned over time that it’s a very rare find to have someone come into your life and reiterate the following that you both believe strongly in:

  • The mind of a company rules its wealth.
  • The heart of a company rules its empathy.
  • The soul of a company rules it vision.
  • The body of a company rules its efforts.

He’s put a great company together, and we all get to share the Alentejo.

His biography:

Delfim Costa, an agronomist with a degree from the Instituto Superior de Agronomia in Lisbon and post-graduation on marketing and business. Born in Porto, over many years of his professional life, Delfim has worked in areas as diverse as investment banking, the meat processing industry, and the ceramic tile industry. Lastly, wine was a real return to his origins as an agronomist, and where he feels extremely comfortable, particularly because it brings together three pillars that he believes are important in his life: culture, Portugal and pleasure. Delfim set up Enoforum at the end of 2004, with the aim of sharing the best of this region – the Alentejo – with today’s global world. The building of brands as captivating and complex as wine has a very personal seal and is, deep down, the huge challenge that he has taken on.

“I see wine as an eminently cultural product, as the result of history, the legacy of the peoples who lived in a region, of the specific traditions and environmental circumstances of each region. All this is the terroir, all this helps to distinguish one wine from another. In Portugal, we all feel the weight of history. The same thing happens with wine. And for me, that is the captivating challenge that the wines of the Alentejo pose: to share this world with the world.”

In this blog posting, I’m going to share some of those learnings that Delfim has shared, with Delfim guiding all the facts, so you – too – will know the joys I’ve come to learn about the Alentejo… with love.

[Q]  Delfim, what makes the Alentejo’s climate so exceptional for growing grapes?

[DELFIM]  There are a lot of components.

Markedly Mediterranean, our average temperatures range from 59˚ to 63.5˚F. We have large daily temperature ranges (hot days and cool nights), during the long, hot dry summers, when the maximum daily temperature normally exceeds 95˚F. Winters are cool, and even reach below freezing at night.

Our average annual rainfall is about 24 inches, ranging from higher average values in the north of the region – 31.5 inches in Portalegre; and minimum values of 20 inches in Moura, the south (interior) of the region. In general, rain is practically nonexistent during the period from May to late September, thus ensuring that the grape harvest will take place in dry weather, which is from mid-August to late September.

This period of perfect conditions for our grape growing is one of the highest in Europe. It’s a total of 3,000 hours per year. This is especially the case during the months before and during grape harvest. This guarantees adequate maturation, and assists sugars and color.

[Note the sheep footprints in the soil. They meander among the vines for weed control.]

[Q]  Tell me about your soils.

[DELFIM]  The Alentejo is a collection of vast undulating plains. The main ranges are Portel (a fourth of a mile), Ossa (two fifths of a mile) and the São Mamede (three fifths of a mile) mountain ranges. The surrounding mountain ranges help create the microclimates which have an impact on our wine production.

The vines are mostly located on the geological substrates of plutonic rock (granites, tonalites, syenites, and nepheline syenites). The vines are grown on a wide variety of soil layers (schistose and argilo-calcareous ) that are well suited to their environment.

Also important to mention is that grapevines and olive trees are part of our rustic landscape. Normally planted on poor, shallow solid soils, which are fairly barren, productivity is low; but, these conditions are an essential part of the quality of life.

[Q]  What about your plantings and training Systems?

[DELFIM]  The most widely used trellising system is the “bilateral cordon,” which is well suited to the widespread mechanization of cultivation. There are also some vines with a “double Guyot” system (cane and spur), but these are less common today.

The dry regional climate means that drip irrigation must be used. It’s normally placed on a first wire, which is from 17.72 to 19.69 inches above the ground.

The plant grows from 28 to 30 inches, to the height at which the second wire is put into place. It’s then distributed along the three remaining wires, placed at heights of 47 inches and 70 inches.

The grapevines are normally planted using a spacing of 43 to 47 inches on the line, and from 8.6 feet to 9.2 feet between lines. This means that about 3,000 plants can be planted per 2.5 acres. An average vineyard yield is 7.3 acres to 25 acres.

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5 Responses to “From Alentejo with Love: Climate, Soils, and Trellising”

  1. Tucker Catlin says:

    Hey Jo,
    Lucky lucky you – “working” with the Portuguese!!
    I spent 2 wonderful years as president of a joint venture winery start up in the Douro with Jack Davies and consider those some of my very best years.
    Lucky lucky you –
    Tucker Catlin

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Tucker… Nice to see your name again!

    I’m not surprised you’ve had this to say about the Portuguese. I can’t believe that I’ve got this gig! Pinch myself almost every day.

  3. Jon Leahy says:

    Really liked your entry today. My wife and I just spent the last year between the Alentejo and the upper Duro region / Tras-o-Montes. Loved every square inch and every drop of that great juice there. Seeing your pics makes me homesick (only backwards?) We got back in time to start crush this past fall and before I could turn around, realized it has been 5 months since returning from Portugal… your article really was wonderful to read, made me regret not bringing back more vino!

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Jon. I always feel like if just one person enjoys reading what I write, it’s all worth it. You just made my day… along with Tucker Catlin earlier. It’s interesting that you’re both in the wine business; coincidence, but still very interesting.

    I’ve not been to the Douro, but Delfim has told me that the next trip there (this coming spring, if all goes well for me), we’ll be going to the Douro. I can hardly wait to see those terraces. It seems like it has to be so amazing to be on the river, and looking up that the vineyards, rising to the sky. I’m amazing by the images, and so want to capture it all for myself… I’ll, of course, be sharing.

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