In conversation with Maria Castro.

31May Posted by Jack Young

Álvaro Castro represents a contemporary vision of Portuguese wine, one that emphasises elegance, refinement and restraint. Wines that have freshness and immense drinkability. We spoke to his daughter Maria to find out more about the estate and their project.

Álvaro inherited Quinta Pellada from his parents in 1980, he released his first wines in 1989, and his daughter Maria joined the winemaking team full-time in 2000. Maria studied Biotechnological Engineering at university, and after spending a vintage in Bordeaux she returned home to apply her knowledge and help her father refine the winemaking processes.

The region

The Dão is cooler than the nearby Douro Valley, it has fresh, damp winters and dry, warm summers. The region is surrounded by three mountain ranges, Buçaco, Caramulo and Serra da Estrela, which provide a shield from the Atlantic winds. Álvaro’s vineyards are planted in Vila Nova de Tazém, in the foothills of the Serra da Estrela, sitting between 450-650 metres above sea level.

“Dão is a cool region. At night the temperature really drops; it’s why with our whites, you really feel the acidity working directly on your palate. They’re fresh”. Maria says.

“And the reds are elegant, not full-bodied. They’re long wines rather than large wines”.

Doing things the Castro way

They work with local grape varieties that they feel are able to capture and express the essence of the region. The whites are made from Encruzado, Cerceal Branco and Bical, while the reds use Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Alfrocheiro, Jaen (Mencia), Tinta Amarela and Tinta Cão, all sourced from three distinct vineyard plots: Quinta da Pellada, Quinta da Saes and Outeiro.  Quinta da Pellada has their oldest vines, which are over 60 years old. Their approach is instinctive and emotion-led.

“My father and I, feel more and more that we want to produce less wine… Less but better, because we can control the process and focus on the details”.

There’s a singularity and instinctiveness to this approach, an artisanal producer led by their love of their vineyards and their region, rather than by financial gain. They work organically in the vineyards, but choose not to label their wines such:

“I don’t feel it’s correct to put it [organic] on the label, we don’t do it to sell wine, we do it because it’s our way.”

She admits, though, that their farming has attracted more interest since awareness around farming and sustainability has heightened in recent years:

 “Things changed a bit for us around 5 years ago, when there was more interest in natural wines. People started visiting and asking about the way we farm, and the way we work in the cellar, and were saying to us – you’re doing it biodynamically, you’re doing it naturally!”

In the cellar

“So I started to research and realised that we are practicing organic, with our methods, and have been for more than 20 years. Why? Because the results are better. We’ve seen over a long period of time.”

Looking after 3 separate sites, making over 10 different cuvées, farming organically for over 20 years and making wine for over 30 years must be exhausting. So has Alvaro retired and decided to leave behind the busy life of being an independent vigneron?

“He’s retired officially, but he’s still working, he just does what he likes now which is making the wines and working in the vines! He leaves me to visit London and do tastings and he stays in the vines!”

Maria and Álvaro personify a fiercely independent winemaking ethos, and produce wines that speak of where they’re from- wines that are thoroughly contemporary and grounded in history.

Maria will be visiting London between 22-23 June, please get in touch if you’d like to taste with her. She’ll also be pouring at FESTA Portuguese Wine Festival at the London Tobacco Dock on 24-25 June.